From Publishers Weekly
Born into a prosperous Quaker family in Rhode Island, Greene (1742–1786) had no formal education and remained at his family's forge into his 30s, when he abruptly abjured pacifism as the Revolution gathered steam. Through thorough research, Golway (So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest
), who has written for American Heritage
, makes Greene's numerous and complex accomplishments accessible, committing few excesses of patriotism (and fewer of psychobiography). From the Revolution's earliest stages, Greene was appointed commanding general of the Rhode Island contingent in the Patriots' siege of Boston; Golway shows him as one of Washington's most trusted subordinates, with a mixed record as a field commander and a good one as a very reluctant quartermaster-general (a job that made making bricks without straw look simple). In the war's darkest days, in late 1780, Greene was appointed commander in the Southern theater, where the British had nearly swept all before them. Without ever winning a major battle, Greene, Golway shows, kept his army in the field, supported Patriot militias and suppressed Tory ones, undercut British logistics, eventually forced Cornwallis north to Yorktown and besieged Charleston. Along the way he married and had a lively family life, became a slave-owner (through owning land in Georgia) and then died of sunstroke and asthma. Golway makes a convincing case that Greene should be better known. (Feb. 2)
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Nathanael Greene's historical fame arises from his thwarting of Britain's southern campaign in 1780-81 during the War of Independence. Since the appearance of the previous comprehensive biography more than four decades ago, scholars have collected and published Greene's papers, a project that works to this author's advantage in giving an intimate impression of Greene's qualities, both positive and negative. Much of his correspondence to his wife survives (though hers to him doesn't), enabling Golway to narrate Greene's performance in the battles and campaigns of the war, in most of which he participated. Before the war, Greene was apparently politically inert but became radicalized over British depredations that damaged his Rhode Island enterprises. Although Golway is always attentive to Greene's personal interests (and alludes to Greene's possible embezzlement while quartermaster general of the army), Greene did acquire a nationalist outlook and in fact relocated to the South after the war, albeit to become a slaveholding plantation owner. In a solidly sourced, evenhanded portrait, Golway gives readers a Greene with faults but also with the military strengths on which George Washington relied. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved