on November 5, 2001
Phillips make a compelling argument that the three wars, English Civil War of 1640, American Revolution of 1776, and American Civil War of 1861, all carry the same dynamics between combatants. Those dynamics, Catholic vs. Protestant, Reformer vs. Conservative, Land Holder vs. Artisan, tumble down from one war to the next, and Phillips does a thorough job of explaining them. However, my only complaint with the book is that he was too thorough. I am an avid reader of history as a hobby, so I am a stranger neither to details in demographics nor dealing with person and place names unfamiliar to me. But I read history because it is fascinating stuff with outrageous personalities and remarkable coincidences, things that fiction simply cannot create and call "plausible". This book was more of a thesis--dry and heavy going.
I recommend the book to those who want to look at these wars, and the relationship between the USA and the UK, in a new light. The conclusions are eye-opening and thought provoking. But the path to getting to those conclusions is a tough one, so I do not recommend this book to those who read history as a happy diversion from daily routine.
on May 9, 2000
Every now and then a book comes along which really does live up to the usual publisher's hype that it will change our view of history - this book is one. Although there are a few factual and spelling mistakes (it's "Macaulay", not "Macauley") and the author is clearly not as comfortable with the English civil war as he is with the two other "cousins' wars" (the American revolutionary war and the US Civil War) this is a five-star book for the novelty and interest of its main thesis. It goes a lot further than books such as Fisher's which note the persistence of English regional ethnic communities in the US. It is a study rather of how Anglo-American world hegemony came to be through three trans-Atlantic civil wars. There are some parallels with JCD's Clark's emphasis on the primacy of religious discourse in Early Modern Britain and America, but Clark is a difficult writer and _The Cousin's Wars_ is very readable, and anyway goes a lot further than Clark. The author's emphasis on the divisions within the American colonies at the time of the revolution and on the strength of Whig support for the Americans in England is refreshing. Hopefully "The Cousins' Wars" Atlantic perspective will inspire more English historians to escape from their increasingly narrow pedantic anti-Whig history which has drained the subject of so much of its meaning and interest - and which can by now be clearly seen to be a dead end. And it's nice that the author recognises that Anglo-America also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which together with the UK-Ireland and the USA form a natural community of countries with shared traditions and origins. Time for the Crown to be dumped and all the "Anglo-American" countries to work on closer links?
on February 25, 2000
This is a startling book in many ways. First, the author completely avoids the usual "generals and battles" approach to the trio of wars: The English Civil War, The American Revolution and The American Civil War. Instead, he painstakingly follows what he sees as the 'real story', the religious affinities and social aspirations of the patchwork societies of the time. And how the push-and-pull between groups that can loosely be characterized as puritans and cavaliers sparked each of these internecine conflicts. The detail and clarity of the analysis is remarkable, but then, Phillips is a political demographer and thinker of great weight, who usually confines himself to modern times. You'll never think about the origins of the US, the misfortunes of the Irish, or current affairs in the same way again. It deserves to be read in conjunction with Fred Anderson's "Cauldron Of War", which covers an element that Phillips doesn't spend much time on, the Seven Year's War (French & Indian War). "Cousins' War" is a virtual hymn to the stunning rise and success of the US and the UK, whose centripetal forces shaped the 20th Century. And will continue to be important long into this one. Don't hesitate to buy it!
on January 2, 2001
I just completed Keven Phillips book The Cousins Wars and found it both fascinating and difficult reading. It was fascinating because it demonstrated the importance of religion, politics, sectarianism, and economics in shaping the history of both America and Great Britain. The author persuasively argues the interrelationships between the English Civil War of the 1640s, the American Revolution, and our Civil War. He explains who are the losers and who the winners in this march of history. I was especially moved and disturbed by the facts he presented vis-a-vis England and Ireland, the latter being one of the losers. Oliver Cromwell's invasion, the famine, the lack of English support for industrial growth in Ireland all allowed England to almost destroy the Irish people. Much of the motivation for this was religious--the fear of Popish plots and invasions by Catholic forces. Other losers were blacks and native Americans. The winners were those captains of industry who combined Yankee imperialism with religious ferver. It was difficult reading the book because of the many factions who shaped our history. It was like reading about the Balkans. There are so many nuances within a given group that at times it was hard to separate the good guys from the bad guys. All in all this is an excellent book which adds immensely to our understanding of the British Empire and now our own.
on June 28, 2000
If you are fairly well versed in the American Revolution and Civil War, this is a good book because it views those conflicts from an entirely new angle. Do not read this book if you know little about those conflicts because there is no narrative of the events here; Phillips assumes you know the basics.
I have two criticims. First, there is too much information here. Phillips candidly acknowledges that there are many differences between the three wars he is looking at, and he throws so much information, and it is not very well organized, that the book is not an easy read; you have to stick with it to get his ideas. Those ideas, however, are quite interesting.
My other criticism is that the book does not attempt to explain why various religious groups tended to take certain sides. For example, one of his key points is that the Puritans in England and the Congregationalists in New England were similar and took similar positions in different conflicts. What Phillips never does, however, is examine the beliefs of those religions. Why do they tend to take certain positions? You see the ethnic religious links, but there is no theory of why this happened.
Summing up, this book is tough to get through, but if you are interested in the American Revolution and Civil War, this book presents and unique and fascinating look at those conflicts.
on January 2, 2009
Kevin Phillips argues that the English Civil War, the American Revolutionary War and the U.S. Civil War were all battles in the same civil war. Roundheads versus Cavaliers, merchants versus nobles, Yankees versus Virginians, Whigs versus Tories, North versus South, the names might change but the opponents were essentially the same. According to Phillips, the origins of the struggles lay in geographic, religious, and socio-economic divisions in England.
On the one side were East Anglian Puritans, low church protestant tradesmen and merchants, both those who stayed in England and those who emigrated to New England. On the other side were the bishops, high church Anglicans, aristocrats, and other loyalists, including lower-class footsoldiers from the northern border regions of England who migrated to the inland, mountainous regions of the South and mid-Atlantic North America, while their upper-class allies became the Virginian colonial elite.
The freshness of Phillips's thesis for an American audience comes from his attention to the English Civil War of the mid-seventeenth century. From that perspective, the main conflict of the Revolutionary War was not between Britain and the United States, but between old enemies that cut across national boundaries within the English-speaking world. Then, following that conflict through the U.S. Civil War give a fresh perspective on a war that is in need of one.
Phillips concludes that the outcome of the three struggles led to Anglo American world dominance. It is a sympathetic account, as Phillips clearly approves of Anglo dominance, but the book is worth reading even for those who don't.
on January 6, 2000
Political commentator Kevin Phillips has always seen unfolding events & emerging trends with remarkable clarity. Taking a break from contemporary politics Phillips has, at first glance, written a book about three wars- the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War. However, "The Cousins Wars" reads less like a scholarly analysis of English and American history than a graduate student's thesis.
And what a thesis! Phillips looks at the political implications and makes a startling argument- that these three wars are little more than a continuation of one another, a contest between Catholics and Protestants, a contest between loyalists and revolutionaries, a contest between south and north.
Phillips evidence is strong- the towns and communities which opposed the King in the English Civil War and sent colonists to the new world also tended to oppose the King in the Revolution, and wanted to maintain America during the American Civil War. If all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill said, than the battlelines of these three wars were always drawn by local matters: religion, economics, and geography. Thus these wars led to the triumph of the Anglo-Saxon world of England and America, which has in turn been a blessing upon the world today.
I heartily agree with this assessment. Phillips has a political opinion to make, and it is a refreshingly new one compared with the virulent Marxism that permeates much of contemporary academia.
on December 15, 2000
I read this marvelous book in September of this year. Along with the rest of the country, and the world, watched with fascination at the saga that was the Presidential Election. I also marveled at how closely the electoral map of 2000 matched many of the 18th and 19th Century maps used by Kevin Phillips in his book.
Having read this book has provided me with several intriguing angles on this contest, and its parallels throughout American History. Not simply to the election of 1876, but to the US Civil War, the Revolution, and even back to the English Civil War.
Not directly in terms of specific issues, of course. This past election wasn't really about issues. But to the extent that, culturally, there still exists a strong fault line between what Mr. Phillips would call Greater New England (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest and California) and the Greater South (essentially, everywhere else).
Does the above description ring any bells? Perhaps the states won by Bush and Gore? Hmmm....
This is only the most visible parallel. Although Phillips could not have foreseen the events of the last month, after reading this book, I for one have a greater respect for how deep and true the currents in English and American History have run, and how they continue to run still.
One last note: although this turns some of Phillips' analogies on their head, does anyone else think that the Democrats now run the risk of becoming America's Jacobites, bemoaning the loss of the "true" ruler to foul and illegal actions, while hoping and plotting for the Restoration?
Read the book.
on December 30, 2002
This book details the amazing parallels between British and American history as no other history book I have ever read has done. With a broad net that includes ethnic politics and religion, Kevin Phillips writes a great account of over 200 years of history on both sides of the Atlantic, detailing how the successive uprisings, the three "Cousins' Wars", were caused in large part by uprisings of Puritanism. A convincing and amazing book.
on September 26, 2001
The Cousins' Wars has helped me to understand and appreciate my adopted country, the United States of America, more than any other book or teacher. Phillips's insights into religion, culture, politics and economics as causes of conflict are clear and incredibly revealing. His intertwining of the three great civil wars in terms of these and other factors is a tour de force. I would love to hope that a condensed version of this book would be required for High School History, and that the subject be taught in College courses on American and British History.