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Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America Hardcover – October 5, 2004

346 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former navy secretary Webb (Fields of Fire; etc.) wants not only to offer a history of the Scots-Irish but to redeem them from their redneck, hillbilly stereotype and place them at the center of American history and culture. As Webb relates, the Scots-Irish first emigrated to the U.S., 200,000 to 400,000 strong, in four waves during the 18th century, settling primarily in Appalachia before spreading west and south. Webb's thesis is that the Scots-Irish, with their rugged individualism, warrior culture built on extended familial groups (the "kind of people who would die in place rather than retreat") and an instinctive mistrust of authority, created an American culture that mirrors these traits. Webb has a genuine flair for describing the battles the Scots-Irish fought during their history, but his analysis of their role in America's social and political history is, ironically for someone trying to crush stereotypes, fixated on what he sees, in almost Manichaean terms, as a class conflict between the Scots-Irish and America's "paternalistic Ivy League-centered, media-connected, politically correct power centers." He even excuses resistance to the "Northern-dominated" Civil Rights movement. Another glaring weakness is the virtual absence of women from the sociological narrative. Webb interweaves his own Scots-Irish family history throughout the book with some success, but by and large his writing and analysis are overwhelmed by romanticism.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In telling the story of the Scots-Irish in America as a robust and passionate tale, novelist Webb writes straightforward, no-nonsense, readable history that clips right along while it is also very personal and highly idiosyncratic about a people who, he claims, are largely invisible--taken for granted--to the general public and who, seldom thinking of themselves in ethnic identity terms, mostly don't know their culture. Webb maintains that Scots-Irish attitudes form the bedrock of American society, especially among the working class. Scots-Irish culture has produced American presidents from Andrew Jackson to Bill Clinton, soldiers from Ulysses S. Grant to George Patton, pioneers, preachers, and others whose most common characteristics may be described as fierce individualism, persistent egalitarianism, and a strong sense of personal honor. Perhaps the most visible examples of broad and ongoing Scots-Irish legacy are the fundamentalist Christianity (a potent combination of Scottish Calvinism and headstrong populism) of America's Bible Belt and country music. Webb begins the Scots-Irish saga in Scotland, where, he says, the Scots-Irish character was formed, moves on to the Ulster Scots of what is now Northern Ireland, and follows them to the Appalachians and points beyond as well as through the American Revolution, the Civil War, and up to the present day. Popular history at its finest. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1st edition (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767916883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767916882
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (346 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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302 of 313 people found the following review helpful By Leonard J. Wilson on September 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Born Fighting by James Webb is the history of the Scots-Irish over the last 2000 years. A few highlights:

1. Scotland was effectively created by the Roman Empire when Hadrian's Wall was built across Britain at the approximate location of the current border between England and Scotland. Rome controlled Britain south of the wall and the native Celtic tribes controlled the north. (Rome also effectively created the modern boundary between France and Germany when Caesar conquered Gaul but stopped at the Rhine.)

2. After the Norman Conquest, English kings attempted repeatedly to subdue the Scots and extend their rule to all of Britain. The victories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce maintained Scottish independence through the rein of Elizabeth I. Upon her death, the throne passed to James I of the House of Stuart who already ruled Scotland as James VI. One could almost say that Scotland thereby absorbed England, but the relative population sizes of the two countries gave England the upper hand almost from the beginning.

3. In the meantime, the Protestant Reformation had been underway in northern Europe, leaving Scotland strongly protestant (Presbyterian), England more mildly protestant (Anglican), and Ireland still Roman Catholic. To bring Ireland into the protestant fold and increase its loyalty to the British Crown, James I established the Ulster Plantation and encouraged protestant Scots to settle in Ulster starting in about 1610. These settlers from Scotland to Ireland became the Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish).

4. In the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the English Parliament deposed King James II principally because he attempted to reestablish a Catholic monarchy.
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113 of 121 people found the following review helpful By John C. Duff on January 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I had to log on and write a review of James Webb's brilliant and wonderful book " Born Fighting : How the Scots-Irish Shaped America." I bought the book in November, and after skimming through it and reading the first two chapters, I immediately ordered a copy for my father as a Christmas present. After finishing it, he told me it was the greatest present he had ever received, and that many of Webb's passages brought tears to his eyes. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American History, and for those millions of Scots-Irish Americans unaware of their heritage this is a must-read.

In "Born Fighting" author James Webb chronicles the millennial struggle of the Scots-Irish people from fighting to preserve their independence against the Romans and the English, through their migration to Ireland, then to the hardscrabble Appalachian frontier and beyond. Webb describes how the values of these fiercely independent, determined and impoverished people pervaded the society and culture of America, and how their influence is reflected in such diverse institutions as NASCAR auto racing, country music, the evangelical movement, the U.S. Armed Forces, and American Democracy itself.

Weaving distant history with personal family history, Webb details the struggle of these proud, impoverished people through their oppression by and resistance to the Romans, the English, the Irish Catholics, the Anglo-American pseudo-aristocracy of the Colonies, and the latter's successors, the so-called "Eastern Establishment." Through it all, the Scots-Irish survive oppression, scorn, war and poverty by drawing on their bottom-up, rather than top down social and political structure, and their collective fighting spirit to triumph.
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114 of 131 people found the following review helpful By Appalachian Classroom Teacher on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As my above moniker indicates, I teach school in Appalachia. I am also Scotch-Irish. Or, as the author of this book and other people say, "Scots-Irish." My ancestors settled in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia in the 1700s. This is where I was born and reared. I attended a university in the Northeast and then returned to Appalachia to teach, and here I will remain. The people about whom James Webb writes are "my people." I can relate to them and I love them deeply.

Webb refers to Scots-Irish as one of the most powerful cultural forces shaping America, producing great Presidents, soldiers, inventors, actors, and writers. He goes on to say that they have "remained invisible." I understand what he means with the word "invisible," but Scots-Irish are far from invisible in the legacy they have left for others to emulate.

Carl Mays, in his PEOPLE OF PASSION book, writes about the early Scots-Irish of the Southern Highlands as "...good-hearted people with faith in God, nature, themselves, and their neighbors." In this book, which makes a good parallel companion and somewhat of a contrast with Webb's book, Mays goes on to share 48 stories that cover the years from 1765-1965 that "demonstrate the principles, the spirit, and the character of the people upon which our nation has been built."

Unlike Webb's book, PEOPLE OF PASSION gives more credit to the Scots-Irish for working together and with others to help establish a backbone in the Southern Highlands. Mays also presents the stories of women who were extremely important to the individual families, communities, and region. I fault Webb for lacking in these two areas.
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