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A Few Bloody Noses: The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution Hardcover – May 22, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; 1st edition (May 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585672734
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585672738
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,244,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The American Revolution, writes English scholar Robert Harvey, was a defining event in modern world history, creating "the mightiest nation in human experience." Yet, he adds, in his country the revolution is ignored, while on the American side of the Atlantic it's "clouded by a fog of myth" that prevents understanding. Harvey seeks to illuminate the realities of the conflict. One, as he writes, is the war's strange similarity to Vietnam, not just in the role of guerrilla and militia versus conventional forces, but also in the antiwar strife it produced at home. Another of Harvey's myth-bursting themes is his insistence, contrary to many American textbooks, that the British commanders were not uniformly incompetent, American commanders not uniformly heroic; he cites many examples to show that neither side had a monopoly on either bravery or incompetence. Still another is his argument that the constitutional outcome of the revolution was in many ways a betrayal of the very principles for which the revolution was fought--a charge sure to excite controversy. Harvey's approach is balanced, his writing engaging, and students of the period will learn much from him. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist and former Minister of Parliament Harvey (Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence) projects a British bias but strives for balance while arguing that the Revolutionary War was more complicated than is typically understood. Specifically, Harvey aims to dispel what he terms myths, both large and small, that have persisted about the Revolution, from the idea that the war was motivated mainly by America's "love of liberty" to the notion that Washington's crossing of the Delaware had military significance. Looking at the debates that raged on all fronts between England and the colonies, within the colonies and within England itself Harvey details the complicated web of interests that determined the war's course. Many in Britain thought the colonies were "of little importance and certainly not worth the waste of young men's lives or large amounts of money," and the British army fought a devastating enemy that could wage "a continual guerilla war of attrition." He examines various important battles, as well as blunders and unconscionable acts on both sides. Ultimately, Harvey proposes that the Americans were more concerned about the British blocking their westward expansion than about taxation without representation. Attributions that accompany lengthy quotes will satisfy the general public as to sources, but scholars will find the omission of footnotes frustrating. Still, his thoughtful arguments explore the complexities of both American and British points of view, and offer American readers a new perspective on the crucial conflict. 37 illustrations and 9 maps.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on January 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Journalist Robert Harvey has attempted to write a "corrective" regarding the American Revolution; it's his belief that the Americans have mythologized and glorified the events and people involved, while the British have merely ignored them. Considering both trends to be negative and counter-productive, he has written this book with the hope of bringing both sides into better balance.

At the beginning Harvey states that "virtually every common assumption has to be substantially modified, if not rejected." Some of these "assumptions" that he challenges include: Americans were not just motivated by a love of liberty, but more by economic self-interest and internal social unrest; a large number of Americans opposed resistance to Britain (8% of the population left America after the war); British commanders were incompetent while America's were geniuses; Saratoga was "the turning point" of the War; and French intervention "saved" the colonies from destruction. Harvey's most compelling argument regarding these objections is with the French intervention: he points out, and it makes sense, that when the French decided to back the American cause, it forced the British to concentrate its naval power off the European continent rather than against the colonies. The least compelling concerns his dismissing the British military leaders as being "merely" arrogant or lazy or overconfident - faults in generals that have wrecked many an army.

Harvey is usually pretty fair-minded, and instead of totally debunking standard beliefs (he points out Washington's failures in the War, which the mythologists try to ignore, but recognizes his strengths, too), he re-examines them in a more critical light.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Charles J. Marr on October 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is not a light book, nor is it the objective historical record. It has a point of view, perhaps one might say two or three points of view. Some of it is old hat. The discussion of Lexington and Concord brings to mind Bill Cosby's routine about flipping the coin at the beginning of a game, "The colonials win the toss. They get to stand begind rocks and trees and shoot. The British must wear red uniforms, beat drums and march in rows." And when we get to Guilford Courtyard, the author would have us believe that Cornwallis' action of firing on his own men reveals his tactical skill, not his contempt for the pressed, enlisted and mercenary troops he commanded.
Still it is a useful book. Clearly it reveals that the experience of Vietnam is not an isolated fact. Determined locals, controlling vast territory (or having an available sanctuary) - the Carolina swamps , for example- can play havoc on a professional amy with doctrines of combat, rules of engagement, and extended supply lines. Especially when that local force has the element of time. And this brings up public opinion at home. The text has a wealth of documents from the period demonstrating a situation not unlike that which we experieced in the sixties and seventies. The slow turn of public opinion, the mounting cost in men, money and morale. It was all there then.
The final point, one worth our consideration in an era of disputed vote counts and court interference is the idea that the radicalism of the American Revolution was hijacked by the aristocratic and moneyed classes of this nation via such devices as the ecectoral college. A sort of "we had to destroy this revolution to save it" philosophy. Not a really new idea, but well put here. I am not so sure this book makes as much apology for the colonial system as other reviews imply, but it is after all the work of the losing side ( a rare thing in history), but maybe it's the work of the other winning side.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on June 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
History is written by the winners, and this is British journalist Robert Harvey's attempt to rewrite it from the losers' perspective. Highly readable (often compellingly so), Harvey's account of the American Revolution has much to recommend it, and his narrative offers a nice refresher course in military history. The volume also includes extensive excerpts (with modernized spelling) from contemporary chronicles, lending the book a "you are there" touch.
Throughout, Harvey inveighs against Americans' "heroic view of the Revolution" and "the remarkably enduring nature of the myths." But many of his versions of episodes in American history seem to have been culled from textbooks written fifty years ago. (Of the more than 160 works listed in the bibliography, only 14 were written after 1980.) Not once does Harvey identify the writers with whom he is arguing: his summary of the "prevailing myths" are always prefaced by "It is asserted," "It is claimed," "It is widely believed." For example, he claims that "one of the darkest and least researched corners of the American Revolution was the treatment of the loyalists," but he seems entirely oblivious of the scholarly studies by Christopher New or William Nelson or even of the standard popular account by Christopher Moore. Although Harvey seems to regard his revisionism as startlingly original, there is little that is new here. Instead, he seems to be debating the ghosts of such long-dead historians as Carl Becker and George Trevelyan.
At times, too, he is so intent on offering a contrary view that he traps himself in a corner. For example, he argues that historians "have traditionally ascribed" Burgoynes's disastrous expedition to Albany and surrender at Saratoga "to massive incompetence on the part of the British.
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