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A Thorough And Well Organized Study
on December 4, 2012
In 1999 Kevin Phillips published The Cousins' Wars, a comparative study of the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War. In many ways 1775: A Good Year for Revolution is a continuation of one of Phillips' primary theses in his earlier work: that the Revolution was not so much a revolt as it was a civil war, with large numbers of sympathizers on both sides in both Britain and the American colonies. Phillips' new work is also a very well organized and eminently readable examination of the causes of the Revolution and the critical first year of fighting.
The title of the book is based on the idea that many have that somehow the Declaration of Independence was the beginning point of the Revolution, that it emerged more or less fully fledged without much thought or background, and that once it emerged the conflict and the question of independence was immediately resolved. I majored in history and taught high school social studies for many years, so I didn't need to be convinced of the fallacy of this general view, but I found Phillips' highly detailed and well written explanation for why it's a fallacy highly interesting and thorough.
The book is divided into four segments: a brief Part I containing the Introduction, Part II on the buildup and causes of the Revolution, Part III on the critical year of 1775 itself, dealing with the actual military movements on both sides and the accompanying supply and economic issues, and finally Part IV "Consequences and Ramifications" summing up the aftereffects of the first battles and their implications for the remainder of the conflict. I enjoyed reading each section. Phillips is scholarly, but with a background in journalism and politics he is able to communicate more clearly and effectively than is sometimes the case. His decision to focus on four "vanguard colonies" is a good example of this. There are a number of well drawn and detailed maps, effectively named (my favorite is "Imperial Virginia") and well placed in the body of the work. Phillips provides detailed demographic, economic, and cultural data which I appreciated not just as an historian but also as a genealogist, since it allowed me a better idea of life in back country South Carolina, Tidewater Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley, among other areas. Finally, I appreciated Phillips' coverage of the role played by religion and religious differences in the buildup to the Revolution.
It is rare to find a "history book" aimed at the general public which does not sacrifice scholarly rigor, but Kevin Phillips has ably accomplished this in 1775: A Good Year For Revolution.