252 of 258 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2000
As an inveterate history buff who happens to live about 1000 yards from Fort William Henry in Lake George, New York (and, incidentally, dined last evening at The Montcalm Restaurant), I make it my business to read every book about the French and Indian War I can lay my hands on. But having read so many which have proved either repetitious, superficial, or both, I have grown increasingly wary of new and ever more "comprehensive" histories of the war. To this point, the very best to my mind remained Parkman's "Montcalm and Wolfe" which is as fresh and readable today as it was when published over 100 years ago. Then along comes Fred Anderson's "Crucible of War", and I guess I have to start changing my mind. The book excels in three respects. First, Anderson is a superb writer, as close as one will find to the Great Parkman. Second, it abounds with terrific maps and illustrations, many of which I have not seen before, from the Clements Collection at the University of Michigan. Third, and most importantly, Anderson does the best job of anyone I know in justifying the thesis that it was this war, and not the Revolution, which was the most significant conflict of the 18th century from "America's" standpoint because it lay the foundation for the inevtiable schism between the Colonies and the Mother Country. Time and again, Anderson demonstrates how almost every Colonial rejection of British hegemony during this period sowed the seeds which bloomed in April, 1775. An absolutely top-drawer read that herewith becomes a must for every serious student of American history and of this fascinating war.
92 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2000
Fred Anderson's stated goal in writing "Crucible of War" was to produce "a book accessible to general readers that will also satisfy...historians' scholarly expectations." I am pleased to report that he attains that goal as completely as anyone could reasonably expect.
Anderson's subject is a relatively small slice of US history--the conflict known variously as the French and Indian War or the Seven Years War, along with the war's immediate aftermath. His narrative is highly informative. He describes how isolated skirmishes on what was then America's western frontier escalated into a true global war, involving every major European power. He convincingly explains how England eventually came to triumph over her rivals, and to inherit much of France's erstwhile colonial empire. Although his focus in on North America, he does not neglect events in Europe. He then shows how events like the Stamp Act Crisis and Pontiac's Rebellion were inextricably linked to the war and its outcome.
Anderson deserves credit for his skillful blend of diplomatic, military, economic and social history into a coherent whole--he should be a model for other scholars in this respect. Also noteworthy is his clear identification of the interest of the four main groups involved in the North American conflict--the French and their Canadian colonists, the English, the American colonists, and the Native Americans--and his untangling of the conflicts both within and between these groups.
While specialists may end up quibbling with some of the details of Anderson's interpretations, he seems to me to have amply demonstrated his claim that the French and Indian War was an extremely important influence on the revolutionary events of the following decades. "Crucible of War" is a genuine classic of historical writing.
85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2000
This is less of a book than an event. Probably the most interesting history book since Schama's "Citizens," and for the same reason: it tells you things you'd probably never otherwise have known, and provides context for them.
While the Seven Years War has always figured front and center in European minds, it's been overshadowed in the US. But, it was the first real 'world war'. It built the British Empire, and sowed the seeds for the downfall of the western part of it, a mere ten years later. Anderson knits the complex events together with great skill, and follows the stories of the many seedy, greedy and incompetent players (along with the patriots and professionals) as they try to first turn back the tide of the French, and then figure out a way to conquer Canada. The insights into the Indian aspects of the war are remarkable. There's a lot of "battles and generals" writing, but he does not neglect the stories of ordinary soldiers and civilians.
A lot of famous folk don't come across too well in Anderson's account. His penetrating comments on Washington and Wolfe won't make him a lot of friends, but, so be it.
You'll come away from this knowing far more about the true reasons for the Revolution, which was almost an inevitable sequel to this conflict. I'd recommend reading it in conjunction with Kevin Phillip's "The Cousins' War."
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2000
When I read Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy, by about page 150 of the first volume, I had become a lifetime Civil War history buff. I now regard that as the most expensive book I ever purchased, because it sparked an interest that resulted in the purchase (and reading) of over 100 other Civil War books. Having just finished Fred Anderson's Crucible of War, I fear that process has begun anew. As Foote's masterpiece created a panoramic portrait of the 1860's, Anderson's work drew me into the 1760's in North America and the Courts of George II and III and painted a vivid and fascinating portrait of the lives of the great and the not-so-great men who fought what probably should be considered the first world war. My interest in the Civil War has always been predominately in battle and campaign studies or in the personalities of great leaders and common soldiers. So when I started Anderson's book, I presumed I would suffer the political stories and enjoy the military content. It is to Anderson's credit as a writer and a story teller that I increasingly found myself rushing through the details of the military encounters and savoring the tales of political combat that truly determined the outcome of this conflict. Anderson's thesis that the Revolutionary War and the events that lead up to it can only be truly appreciated in the context of the Seven Years War is well taken.
In what is, unfortunately, an exception in much history publishing, this book is very well appointed with both maps and illustrations. It is one of the few books to pass the test that (as far as I can recall) every location mentioned in the text is located on one of the excellent maps. As an added bonus, the many period maps and fortress plans are not only well reproduced, but helpful and enlightening as well.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2000
Educational, informative, and entertaining, Fred Anderson's book on the conflict we Americans call the French and Indian War was truly one of the most insightful works of American history I have ever encountered. He offers a good, multi-faceted approach to the period--political, economic, sociological, and cultural. (Especially good is his analysis of the very different relations which Native Americans enjoyed with the French as opposed to the British, and the implications of this difference for later American history.) But he also clearly sees the important role played by the period's "great men," and offers vivid portrayals of such leaders as Pitt, Washington, Amherst, Wolfe, Montcalm, Forbes, and George II and III. His exploration of the political intrigues occurring in England and their effect on the North American war is especially powerful.
I have lived virtually my entire life in the Middle Atlantic region, the cradle of the Seven Years' War--having been born in Pittsburgh, educated in Philadelphia, employed in Albany, and currently residing in central Maryland--but I was never able to fully comprehend the history of this seminal period until reading this superb explanation. Anderson's decision to present the war as an entity separate unto itself--not as the prologue to the American Revolution, the typical treatment of this era in other works of American history, yet a curiously "20/20 hindsight" approach--makes the book all the more enlightening, since the history is presented as it was lived at the time, rather than retrospectively from another era. The author also does an able job of presenting the simultaneous developments in this far-reaching global war in such places as India, the European continent, and the Caribbean.
This book is so well-written that I regretted when it ended; I believe it is destined to take its place besides the works of Francis Parkman as a classic history of this period.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2000
As a French & Indian War buff, I have read most if not all of the books describing it including Eckert's "Wilderness Empire," Pocock's "Battle For Empire," Leckie's "A Few Acres Of Snow," and many others, in addition to traveling to and exploring many of the sites of the vast East Coast Theatre Of Operations from Louisbourg in the Northeast to Fort Niagara in the West.
Fred Anderson's book is by far the best for the following reasons:
1. He tells the story within its context as a World War, not just a colonial war as the others have done;
2. He describes the key political decisions, both in North America, and in England that have a bearing on the outcome;
3. He describes the battles on the European Continent, even India, Africa and the Caribbean Islands that have a bearing on the outcome;
4. He describes the major players with more detail and insight than even some of their biographers deliver; e.g., how George Washington evolved as a Military Commander in the five years from his first skirmish at Jumonville's Glen up to his resignation from the Virginia provincials;
5. He tells the inside story of how England's Prime Minister Pitt secured and used the power to defeat the French in fascinating detail and . . . finally, he places . . .
6. The story within the proper time frame not bound by the seven years of other authors, but beginning with a short history of the Iroquois Conferacy and their influence on the War's origins, and continuing past the previously accepted ending point of 1760 so the reader can better understand the influence of this War and its aftereffects on the American revolution.
And he tells the story in easy-to-read language that makes it a joy to read for amateur historians like me.
Because of reading this book, there are some sites on my must-visit list, sites I was not heretofore aware of.
Mr. Anderson, I raise my glass to you - a superlative job.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2005
Fred Anderson's "The Crucible of War" is an absolutely fantastic book about the French and Indian War. Make sure to read the short preface. In it Anderson describes a scene in which colonel George Washington's scouting party is ambushed by Indians, and just as Washington's group is about to head back, an Indian chief swings a tommahawk into the skull of a injured fighter, literally spilling out brains, in which the Indian chief washes his hands. Thus colonel George Washington helped start a world-wide conflict called the Seven Years War, Anderson explains. It doesn't get any more gripping than that. I was immediately shocked upon reading such a gory opening statement, and I couldn't put the book down afterwards.
Despite the fact that it is loaded with factual material and a slower read, the read itself is fascinating. Don't let the fact that the book spends the first 500 pages going through, step by step, the battles that comprised this conflict scare you off. Anderson seems to weave into each small chapter a deeper meaning or tell how each battle fit into the larger scheme of things.
He makes a fascinating study of the way battles were conducted in the day. And attached to the battles as the conflict goes on, is a running commentary of the larger picture of what was going on in the colonies, Britain, France, and the rest of Europe. The factual information and research are top rate, and the writing is tops, too.
The war itself was definitely part of a larger conflict going on in Europe, and, once again, Anderson concisely and poignantly explains this aspect. For instance, Britain decided that the best way to battle the French in Europe, decrease the pressure on their own shores, to attack the French's weakest side, was to go after the French empire outside of Europe. In this manner, the North American French and Indian War was part of the greater European conflict. This is precisely the problem Thomas Paine was writing about and a major reason he argued in favor of severing the colonies from the British Empire.
I'm a little more ambivalent about commenting on the last 250 pages, which are totally different. After 500 pages of military and political/military information, he goes into the aftereffects of the war in the colonies and the British Empire, particularly, he describes the severe financial strain the War cause the British and how they dealt with it-mainly they tried to extract money from the colonies-thus, the Stamp Act and other controversies which lead to our War of Independence. I enjoyed the second part, but it could easily have been a second book, the content and character of the subject matter was so different.
In the front of the book, Anderson has about 8 perfectly detailed maps of the colonies and Canada and period maps of Europe. For the battles that took place here, I constantly referred back to these maps. Following the action geographically on a map helped tremendously.
Anderson's description of who the Indians were and the war from their viewpoint was also fascinating. They seemed to be much more complex than I expected.
Lastly, a prior commentator mentions that Anderson neglects the French side of the War. The French always seem to be the bad boys, never the innocent victims. I wondered about this as I read. He may have a point.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Amazon introduced an extremely helpful feature with the "Look Inside this Book" function. Unfortunately, the "Introduction" to Fred Anderson's "The Crucible of War" isn't among the pages prospective buyers can peruse online. Reading this book is a delightful, but substantial undertaking. Before starting this 750-page tome, do yourself a favor and carefully read the nine-page introduction to determine if this is really the book you want to read.
First, let's be clear: this is NOT a military history of the French & Indian War. Many of the tepid reviews below express frustration that Anderson didn't write the book they wanted or thought they were getting. In fairness, the cover featuring Wolfe's heroic and idealized death on the Plains of Abraham and the quote from John Keegan claiming that Anderson's work compares favorably with Parkman's classic makes the issue more confusing for the potential reader. But Anderson clearly lays out the primary motivation and objective in writing this book in the introduction - and it certainly isn't to write the definitive military history of the French & Indian War, let alone the larger Seven Years War, of which North America was but one (albeit central) battlefield.
Rather, Anderson's objective is to place the events of the Seven Years' War in their proper historical perspective and, above all, to trace the enduring legacy of the wartime interaction between colonists and their ostensible countrymen: the British regular army, their officers and the Crown-appointed officials serving there. The author notes that there has long been a vigorous debate in academia over the central motivation of the participants in the American Revolution (i.e. was it purely class-based materialism as argued by those of the so-called "progressive" school, or more idealism and commitment to republican principles at maintained by "neo-Whig" scholars?), but striking (and misleading) agreement on the Stamp Act of 1763 as the fundamental point of departure. Anderson argues that this has obscured the importance and centrality of the Seven Years War in shaping the thoughts and actions of the colonies and Whitehall, alike, and ultimately leading to a war of independence that neither side originally sought nor wanted. The 1760s were thus not the pre-revolutionary years that Americans think of them as, but rather "post-war" years.
Anderson is a gifted historian and an enviable writer. Few people could have written a history this rich, this authoritative and yet accessible. If you approach the book as it was intended - a penetrating history of the seminal event of the eighteenth century and the social and economic consequences it wrought in America and England - you are sure to be more than satisfied.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2000
Fred Anderson's book, "Crucible of War" is a wonderfully written and comprehensive work about pre-revolutionary America. In its great depth and majestic sweep it ties together the politics within Britain, the warfare on the Continent, the struggle with the French in North American, the problems the American colonists had vis-a-vis the British, and the importance of the Ohio Country and the Indians livng there. Anderson is deeply learned, writes with great detail and balance, and with a clarity of vision. He provides us with deep insight into the social, political, and cultural confrontations, not only between these groups, but among themselves. He also gives us an understanding of the geographic dimensions of the struggle and how these affected the outcome. All in all, this is a grand synthesis in the classic tradition.
Anderson's thesis is that the war's progression "set in motion the forces that created a hollow British empire" with problems that could not be solved by decisions made in London. Understanding this makes our understanding of the origins of the American Revolution more complete. This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in pre-revolutionary America.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2003
Highly readable account of the Seven Years' War in the crucible of North America. Involving the brutal and exhausting confrontations between the British Redcoats, French troops de la marine and the American tribes.
This book is not your typical and, I have to admit perennially enjoyable account of British glory and Empire building at the expense of France. No. Read the title and I can tell you this is most definitely an American academic writing an American history of what is argued an essentially American war. So this is my review of an American perspective from a British point of view. In its favour this makes for both a revealing and detailed account upon the pretty much indispensable role the Indians and American colonials had upon the successful British-led prosecution of the war. If perhaps not winning it then surely preventing it's defeat, the author puts emphasis on factors such as the Indian nations allying with the British or the massive manpower contributions from the often reluctant colonies.
Whether it is intentional or not Fred Anderson portrays the colonialist support for Britain as recalcitrant. The colonial assemblies' unwillingness to either provide provincial troops or support British troops in the first half of the war, a war that was being fought on their behalf against a confident and bellicose enemy puts the war effort into a hew that never really changes into a favourable one, despite what I believe are the best efforts of the author to 'beef' up their importance.
The fact the Americans insisted on being financially guaranteed by Prime Minister William Pitt before they would contribute any sort of significant measures for defence staggers belief and casts a long shadow upon the story of Britain and her American colonies fighting a war together. The often cited intransigence of the "Americans" (or British colonials depending on the author's retelling of failings or successes) tells us that a revolution of sorts had already occurred between the mother country and its American children, years before that schism was forcefully brought into view in the American War of Independence. So, this is fascinating to read for British readers.
The author rifles through every conceivable detail of the story and rarely leaves a stone unturned in the examination of the war's cause, length and reasons for victory and defeat on both sides; from thorough evaluations from colonial taxation to the enthralling fall of Quebec.
For British readers it is worth mentioning that in all areas Anderson tries to give an American side to the war, which can seem strange to those brought up on General Wolfe and the Thin Red Line and not colonial militia soldiers. The sheer intensity of the war and its importance to the development of a global empire are slightly overshadowed by this American point of view.
Moot points perhaps for a book that paints the fullest picture possible of the French and Indian War, portraying all aspects of the British, French, American and Indian.