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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen have given us another gem of American History in writing Valley Forge, a sequel to their last book, To Try Men's Souls. In writing the review below, I recommend all to read this book on the basis of its historical richness, told through narrative story, as well as its thematic commentary upon what makes America great.

First off, the historical accuracy of this book is phenomenal, and quite frankly, I probably learned more in reading this book than most history books that tend to be three times in size. Historical characters like Moses Wheeler, Horatio Gates, and the great Marquis Lafayette, all occupy very important roles within American history, but few texts go to the lengths that Valley Forge does in noting their stories (for example, Wikipedia, at this moment, doesn't even seem to have a page dedicated to Moses Wheeler, a blackmark for any website that claims superior, historical records).

And while Gingrich and Forstchen have gone to meticulous lengths to stitch the story behind Valley Forge, the most important reason for reading this book is that it is deeply compelling. In particular, with regard to the theme, we become most engaged over the contrasting stories between Marquis Lafayette and Allen Van Dorn.

While a Frenchman by birth, Lafayette is a real, historical character, a young man who studied under George Washington, eventually earning Washington's trust and leading important groups of American soldiers. As described by Gingrich and Forstchen, Lafayette is haughty, anxious and overeager, yet his hunger to birth a country based on enforced freedoms gives him the courage that ultimately wins Washington's trust. As the book unravels, it becomes clear to us that Lafayette feels more at home as an American than a Frenchman, with our own American troops asking him to stay beyond the end of the battle, in implementing the freedoms they hope to birth (and of special note, Lafayette did just that, ultimately earning American citizenship).

Lafayette's wonderful story is contrasted with a fictional character, Allen Van Dorn, who, while raised in America, decides to stay loyal to the English Crown. In wearing the British uniform and providing the British Armies with valuable insights, strategy, and prowess, it becomes clear to Van Dorn that, despite his skills, which are superior to most British soldiers, he will never be accepted as an equal.

Perhaps the most beautiful line from the book is in the later chapters, where Van Dorn, in realizing the passion that the American soldiers have for freedom, looks at his own British brothers, particularly, his good friend, Andre, and senses hollowness, as narrated from the book:

"[Van Dorn] looked at the men around him and wondered what exactly it was that they were fighting for. Andre spoke of adventure, a new campaign, and always the obsession all of them had for promotions, glory, and titles."

It is a sad note, at the book's end, to see Van Dorn regret that he suited with an Army full of shallow intention, but more importantly, that Van Dorn missed out on the most pivotal consequence that the world's history would ever note - the creation of the United States of America.

...and Van Dorn knows, his decision is a mistake that will haunt him into the hereafter.

I recommend this great book to all!
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2010
What an emotionally charged novel! But it's really more than a novel. The authors have unbelievably described what drove the revolutionary fighters and have revealed the finest, minute details of their thought processes. The painstaking detail in this book cannot be described. The detail is so exact that you swear the authors witnessed everything they wrote.

Our studies in school taught us that what has become the United States of America rode on the backs of these brave revolutionary men who were starving, barely clothed and stretched beyond the capacity of the human body and mind and the women who supported them. However, this book takes us inside the war with such detail, to where we seemingly live and breathe with those who fought it, to where we understand in such intimate detail and depth their thoughts and fears, and to where we are so engrossed in a book as to live through it with them!

You will be amazed at how well you come to know the characters and their steadfast convictions to persevere under the worst of circumstances. You come to love characters like `Old Moses.' You're deeply touched when `Deborah Hewes,' a somewhat war-hardened middle aged woman turns her bold facade to tenderness when she looks after an 18 year soldier who she says should be home in bed and not in the dangers of war.

This book has moved me and taught me more than any history book I've ever read on the subject. It finally satisfies the question, "I wonder what it was like back then?" You will never know what really went into the making of this country until you read `Valley Forge'.......and then you will never forget it.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
We all know the images of Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge. Some of us have some vague ideas about the events in the winter of 1777 and early 1778 being critical to the Revolution, but couldn't tell the story of what happened there. Even the few who can recount the facts of the story tell it as an accomplished thing. And somehow knowing the end takes away from the seriousness of the events as they were for the people who lived through them. They did not know the outcome of their first few days at Valley Forge let alone what might come next spring or how long the War would take or who would win that struggle. We take for granted that Washington was the hero of the Revolution and the most important and respected of our Founders. Not so in December of 1777. And this is why this novelization of those events is so terrific. We get to experience the uncertainty. As we read the story we feel the cold, the starvation, the uniforms reduced to filthy rags, and the sense of wanting to die or to try and go home rather than continue the struggle in these incredibly harsh conditions.

Gingrich and Forstchen have added an even more compelling installment to their story of Washington and the Revolution. I really loved "To Try Men's Souls" To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom (George Washington 1) and encourage you to read it, but I think this is even better. They achieved a real sense of bleakness when the Continental Army arrived at Valley Forge with no food, no uniforms, not shelter, and no tools to use to build the small cabins they so desperately needed. The joy at completing the first of them is terrific and is still remembered in history.

While the location of Valley Forge was important to preventing the British pressing further into Philadelphia while also giving Washington space to prevent a surprise attack while also sitting on higher ground and a river to protect the army's side, the truth is the army was in no shape to fight. The reality was that the army might simply disappear from death or desertion. Yet Washington held the men together. They did get food, but not always in ways that inspire pride. Tthey did get tools and the huts were built. We get to experience all this as if we are with the soldiers watching our friends die of the flux (dysentery) losing their feet to frostbite and trying to put some kind of force together to at least impress the British.

I also enjoyed the way the authors presented the British Army as a serious force. They are clearly far superior to the Continentals. They begin the story ensconced safely in Philadelphia and their efforts in the countryside were to confiscate foodstuffs and supplies needed by the Continentals more to deny their enemy sustenance than for their own needs. We also get to experience what these confiscations meant to the farmers so raided. They could not simply go buy replacements. They faced a very real threat of starvation and very difficult months ahead. The authors also depict the reality of divided loyalties, of not knowing where family members were, who they were even fighting for, or if they were alive.

Washington also faced the politicking of Gates to take command of the Army and the loss of confidence by many in Congress. Gates is not remembered as well as he had hoped because of his maneuvering against Washington. We get to experience the pressure this put on Washington while he was dealing with so many other issues.

The arrival of Baron von Steuben in February of 1778 was critical to the morale and training of the Continental Army under Washington. He helped get the men in regular order and organized to fight as a modern army. What he taught them there helped them immensely during the remaining years of the war. He deserves every bit or praise we can give him and then some.

Look, this is a terrific story and is told in wonderful way. Do yourself a favor and read the novel and study the history. This novel will bring the history to vibrant life in ways I had not experienced before and I hope you get the same pleasure from it I did.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Saline, MI
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
I know this is a novel. Even so, the authors take pains to show how George Washington really was the Father of Our Country. At Valley Forge, Washington truly saved the day. The Revolution was teetering on the precipice. It was a short drop over the edge to failure. Washington made sure that it never happened. He did it despite incredible resistance and deprivation.

And he had some help. Some smart immigrants showed up. A guy named Lafayette made sure that France saved our fledgling democracy. And a Prussian, Baron von Steuben remade our army. Then we could win. We would not be here now in this country with these freedoms if guys like Washington, Lafayette, and von Steuben had not had the gumption to make it so. Amen.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2010
I enjoyed reading the prequel, To Try Men's Souls, very much, so I've been looking forward to reading this new novel. As I expected, it follows two brothers - one in each opposing army - who were also in the first book.
Almost from the start, though, I was disappointed by historical inaccuracies, such as a couple about Arnold and Burgoyne on page 23. Apparently, the authors did not ask an expert on the Revolution to read their manuscript.
But I kept reading anyway, and am glad I did. It's a story worth telling.
The book could have been shorter if the authors stuck to the "show it, don't tell it" rule of writing historical fiction. They tend to get a bit wordy in their descriptive passages, and drive home points they made in earlier passages, in an effort to educate their readers. It reminds me of how President Carter fell into the same habit in his novel, Hornet's Nest.
Gingrich and Forstchen do very well, though, when they use dialogue to allow their characters to SHOW, rather than tell, how the war impacted soldiers and civilians during that winter of 1777-1778.
- Gregory Edgar, author of Gone to Meet the British
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2010
I've read Newt's previous books and every time you think you've read the best one, an even better one comes out. I absolutely love the stories about George Washington. It's amazing how we can learn so much from his life, and apply that to the current problems of our country. We need to keep Washington's spirit alive, and Newt and Bill just do an awesome job.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2010
This is a truly remarkable story about the obstacles that George Washington and his men faced at Valley Forge. I encourage everyone to read it to gain a perspective at just how America became the country it is today. A big part of that is because of that courage of the men that winter at Valley Forge. It is an incredible story how they not only endured the harsh winter but became a highly skilled, trained Army in the process.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2010
A second book in what promises to be a fine series about the American War of Independence, and perhaps a message to Americans about the sacrifice necessary to protect our freedoms. The book is not preachy nor political, but factual in discussing what it took to make a nation, and if readers recognize underlying political issues (such as a completely dysfunctional Congress), then what they see is that not much has changed over the last 200 plus years and that solutions lie in leadership rather than intrigue.
What is remarkable, and especially attractive about this book is that our most famous enigma, George Washington, is actually developed as a character rather than a caricature. Readers get to start seeing how honor, stoicism, and character matter. Washington is shown as seeking right over expediency, accepting the difficulties of his situation with strength and dignity, and using the circumstances and challenges to, in the context of team, build the vehicle for not only victory, but for a sustainable Republic. Washington was the antithesis of what we sometimes see in narcissistic politicians who live in the world of a vertical pronoun, and he clearly understood history and how power concentrated in an individual would lead to tyranny, while accepting that individual acts and contributions were the foundation for national greatness.
On top of the story of Washington and the trials at Valley Forge readers get an accurate historical portrayal of various other players on both the British and American sides of the conflict, and their roles are presented with just the right amount of information to make side visits to other research sources to learn more about them about the only distraction strong enough to put the book down for brief stops.
This book is enjoyable, educational, and even given the difficulties of the historical circumstances, uplifting.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2011
This is the sequel to To Try Men's Souls and the second book of their American Revolutions series by the prolific writers' Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. And, it is well done. We are introduced to new historical figures: General Marquis Lafayette, General Baron Von Steuben, General Horatio Gates, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, and Captain John Andre. The fictitious Allen Van Dorn returns as a British Lieutenant, and one of the heroes from the Trenton victory, Peter Wellsley, also returns.

The book centers on the 1777-1778 winter headquarters of the Continental Army at Valley Forge and that of the British Army in Philadelphia. Once again, Congress has been uprooted and is now making their temporary home in York, Pa. At this point, Congress has been nothing but a hindrance to General Washington's army by failing to supply food, tools, uniforms, boots, and usable money. Many of the Congressmen returned home for the winter; the rest were mired down in useless committees that criticized the efforts of George Washington. If you believe the authors, without George Washington and Ben Franklin's work in France, the war would have surely been lost.

Can you imagine General Washington arriving at Valley Forge, in a snowstorm, finding a empty field! Congress had promised cabins built for 10,000 men, food, boots, and perimeter defenses already dug. Thousands died of flux and exposure before cabins could be built. Meanwhile, the British were enjoying their winter in a warm and well supplied Philadelphia. Even though the British were only twenty miles away from Valley Forge, they saw no need to attack during the winter- let Washington's men starve and freeze to death!

After Washington had the shelters built, he needed to find a way to fight the British in a open field. Enter the Prussian Baron Von Steuben, ready to drill the army in modern tactics. In 90 days with the help of 19 year old Marquis de Lafayette, the Continental Army was ready to face the professional army of England! That day would come in June at the Battle of Monmouth, the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

This book was a history lesson, but also a very strong novel. I felt compassion for all the characters, real or fictitious, because of the strong character development, which was lacking in the first book of this series. I can only hope there is a third book in progress. The surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown would be my choice to end this enjoyable work.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2010
Once again these historians have blended their skills into a superb novel. They capture in words what must have been a calamity of colossal proportions. The setting is Valley Forge and described as a place, somewhat secure from the British Army, but offering few comforts for the thousands of men under George Washington's command. The men were starving, had no shoes in the bitter cold and snow, many dying from dysentery (called flux in those days), small pox and other disease. It was a terrible situation. Washington and his officers slowly brought change, found tools to build huts and food for the masses (and not without quasi nefarious methods). "War is hell" was never more apt. With the help of many, including Baron Von Stuben, a Prussian soldier who was out of a job in Europe, decided to fight for the Continental Army. There is intrigue in every chapter. Washington's leadership defined the early United States. In 1777 the Continental Congress was as confused as U.S. Congress is today. It is a book for all, kids and adults alike.

Douglas W. Matheson Ph.D
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