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The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777

Review

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777

Having completed a masterful trilogy of the history of World War II, historian Rick Atkinson has now turned his attention to the American Revolution.

THE BRITISH ARE COMING is the first volume of the Revolution Trilogy. Previously, the Liberation Trilogy was a magisterial history of Europe’s liberation from Nazi Germany, beginning in North Africa with AN ARMY AT DAWN, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, sweeping north through Sicily and Italy in THE DAY OF BATTLE, and concluding in western Europe with THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT. Atkinson spent 15 years writing that trilogy, and his attention to detail and narration is once again presented to readers in this latest effort.

The Revolution was more than George Washington, Redcoats and skirmish lines. Atkinson has written a brilliant military and diplomatic history of the war that created the greatest nation in the world. This is the beginning of where America came from, who we are as a country, and what we believe as a nation. At the same time, he reminds us how far we have come in 244 years, but also how the issues surrounding the nation’s birth continue to perplex us to this day.

"There will be many 'how interesting, I never knew that' observations as readers sink their teeth into this opening volume. Detailed history made readable and entertaining is an unbeatable combination."

The story of the American Revolution has been memorialized, glamorized and fictionalized in books, movies, dramas and folklore to a degree that makes every American familiar with some part of the legend of 1776. But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In Atkinson’s hands, all the characters we might recognize --- King George III, Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold and George Washington, to name a few --- make appearances here. But their stories are told in far greater detail than most readers have previously encountered. In volume one, the first 21 months of the Revolution are laid out in 564 pages, which include numerous maps and charts.

In the years preceding the Revolution, the setting for colonial America and its British parent was a rapidly changing world. The population of the colonies was 2.5 million, doubling every 25 years at a growth rate four times that of England. Two-thirds of the male white colonists owned land compared to one-fifth of Englishmen. Colonists were far more literate, and many more were granted the voting franchise. Even the British world dominance worked against them in the new world. The colonies no longer faced threats from France and Spain, defeated in the Seven Years' War and forced to surrender large territories in North America.

But King George believed that any erosion of authority in the colonies would encourage rebellions in Canada, Ireland, the Caribbean and India. It was perhaps the first invocation of the domino theory. “Destruction must follow disunion,” colonial secretary Lord Dartmouth warned. From March through June 1774, Parliament adopted four laws, known in England as the Coercive Acts and in America as the Intolerable Acts.

The American War of Independence would last 3,059 days. During that time, there would be more than 1,300 military actions, some small and bloody and a few substantially larger. On the waters touching the North American continent, British and American navies would engage in 241 naval battles. Approximately 250,000 Americans would fight for independence, and casualty figures suggest somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of those soldiers would die for the cause of independence. History was against the Americans because, up to that point, no colonial rebellions had ever successfully unlocked imperial shackles. This civil war was not fought under traditional rules of engagement; it would spiral into savagery, with cruelty, casual killing and atrocity.

THE BRITISH ARE COMING features the major battles from the spring of 1775 to the winter of 1776-77. The first shots of the Revolution occurred one year before the formal declaration of independence in 1776, and Atkinson covers the diplomacy with as much precision as the battles. There will be many “how interesting, I never knew that” observations as readers sink their teeth into this opening volume. Detailed history made readable and entertaining is an unbeatable combination. Atkinson’s book promises to portray the American Revolution in a new and vivid account for any student of America’s creation.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on May 31, 2019

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
by Rick Atkinson

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2019
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1627790438
  • ISBN-13: 9781627790437