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Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence Hardcover – June 4, 2007

261 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195181210 ISBN-10: 0195181212 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ferling, professor emeritus at the University of West Georgia, caps his distinguished career as a scholar and popular writer on the colonial/revolutionary period with arguably the best, and certainly one of the most stimulating, single-volume histories of the American Revolution. Exhaustively researched and clearly written, it stresses the contingent aspects of a war where victory depended on making the fewest mistakes. Despite chances to end the war in battle, by negotiation or by international conference, Britain failed for lack of manpower, the decision to wage limited war and an ineffective central government—and above all, comprehensive underestimation of American military effectiveness and political resolve. America's cause, ironically, nearly foundered on reluctance to support a standing army, and a government that wasn't strong enough to plan and execute a concerted war effort. That popular enthusiasm never broke owed much to a stable French alliance and to George Washington, who was a good diplomat, a better politician and an excellent judge of character. Steadily growing into the responsibilities of commander in chief, he achieved legitimate iconic status by the war's end. Ultimately, Ferling demonstrates that independence was won through the endurance of the American people and their soldiers, who held on for that last vital quarter of an hour. (June)
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From Booklist

Ferling, a history professor, is the author of nine books on the American Revolution and early American wars. In his new book, he posits that the War of Independence was so vast that hardly anyone living east of the Appalachian Mountains was untouched. Many civilians were killed, including Indians and the residents of some coastal towns, both of whom were deliberately targeted, and countless others fell victim to diseases that soldiers on both sides spread unwittingly. He points out that his book seeks to explain why America won the war and why the British, despite their many advantages, lost it. One of the book's many well-developed themes is that the war came much closer to ending short of a great American victory than many now realize. It also looks at how wars were waged in the eighteenth century and explores how soldiers and civilians experienced the war. Ferling admits that he came to see both more flaws and greater virtues in Washington's leadership, that he gained a deeper appreciation of General Nathanael Greene, and that he saw General Charles Lee as a tragic figure. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (June 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195181212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195181210
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 2.2 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (261 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark. To learn more, please visit his website:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

243 of 260 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on August 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Historian John Ferling sets out to define the causes for American victory in the War of Independence on the broad canvas of his magnum opus, Almost a Miracle. The author uses a remark General George Washington made after Yorktown - that American victory seemed almost a miracle - as a starting point for his dissection of just how the American rebels were able to defeat the greatest empire on earth. Almost a Miracle is a very well-written, well-argued historical work that sets out not only to narrate facts but to ascertain what they mean and whether or not the actual outcome was indeed a miracle, or only seemed that way at the time. The author handles this material deftly, but there are two issues of bias in his approach that may cause readers familiar with this subject to bristle. First, the author has a tendency to emphasize defects with familiar heroes of the Revolutionary era (Washington, Hamilton, Lafayette, Franklin), while praising men (Lee, Gates) who ended up with less than stellar records. Second, the author - who lives in the south - tends to exaggerate the importance of the south while neglecting to mention colonial demographics, that the percent of the population in the Carolinas and Georgia was small. Overall, Almost a Miracle succeeds in laying out a well-argued explanation for the American victory and if readers can overlook some of the author's bias, they will find a very satisfying intellectual look at why the American Revolution turned out the way it did.

Almost a Miracle consists of four main parts (Going to War, 1775-1776; the War in the North, 1776-1779; the War in the South, 1780-1781; and American Victory, 1781-1783), which are sub-divided into 25 chapters. The book also includes 25 maps, an 8-page bibliography and 75 pages of footnotes.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Bringing to this book nearly forty years of teaching and writing experience, John Ferling is one of the premier authorities on the history of early America.

Ferling is the author of numerous books and articles on the American Revolution, including Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution; The World Turned Upside Down: The American Victory in the War of Independence; and A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (2003), which won the Fraunces Tavern Book Award as the year's best book on the American Revolution.

In Almost a Miracle, Ferling, professor emeritus at the University of West Georgia, has written an engrossing, fast-paced military history of the Revolutionary War, from the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord to the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

At the end of this eight-year war, George Washington remarked that the American victory was "little short of a standing miracle."

How did America emerge victorious?

Ferling's assessment of George Washington is a double-edged sword. Often out-generaled, Washington made several egregious blunders that, had the British commander (Howe) acted aggressively, would have ended the war almost before it began. Washington also was slow to recognize the importance of Britain's "Southern Strategy," believing that military action in the "backwater" South was of small importance.

And yet, Washington's Fabian strategy and tactics (employing frequent "hit-and-run" retreats and a defensive war of posts), held the tattered American forces together, through brutal winters at Valley Forge and Morristown, to live and fight another day.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By James T. Kennedy MD on June 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Almost A Miracle is terrific telling of the Revolution, including its details, strategies, participants, daily human realities, the roles of luck and chance, and the might-have-beens of history. As a New Yorker I could actually picture Ferling's recreation of Washington's eight-abreast march down the Post Road as it proceeded from place to place and finally to Broadway as the last Continentals, black and white, re-took York Island in November 1783. That's good writing. I finally learned why a small city in South Carolina would be named for a Rhode Islander. Buffs and newcomers alike will enjoy the flow and perspective in Ferling's version of this oft-told tale. No Founding Era collection could be complete without it.

Reviews require criticisms too, and I have two: a book like this would benefit greatly by an Appendix or two that included a timeline and a cast of characters (sort of like White's Bitter Ocean). Secondly, all books have typos and grammatical faux pas - this one has too many.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful By HB on June 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I know my mediocre review of this book is against the mainstream and I understand that Mr. Ferling's attempt to cover such a vast topic in just one book is a difficult task, but having said that, I found the book a little disjointed and lacking the detail I have come to expect from Mr. Ferling's other books. A simple example is The Battle of Brooklyn where the moraine running along (Guana Heights and Flatbush Pass) is barely touched upon. This battle as well as the others, are so fascinating that to just brush on them does no justice to the battles nor the hardships the "rebels" faced. This is NOT a book where the reader will sit with the map and be able to follow every step of the battle-far from it.

The topics are too fascinating, at least for me, who has read many detailed accounts of The Revoluton, to accept a summary approach with a few quotes stuck in for authenticity.

I could go through the same as it pertains to Ticonderoga, NJ, etc. but you get the picture.

If you are looking for a general overview of the Revolutionary War this is as good as it gets, but if you are looking for a book that involves you in a "being there" perspective wanting a copy of the map by your sided so you can literally follow the treks of the armies over and around the geographical and often geological obstacles, this is not it.

Mr. Ferling, also, in my opinion, throws in many quotes that I found out of place and somewhat slowing the reading process.

In summary, while I respect Mr. Ferling as much as any contemporary in early American History, this book is a far cry from his others, particularly A Leap in the Dark.
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