Independence Hardcover – June 28, 2011
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“Mesmerizing. Masterful. History written with the gravitational pull of a good novel. A history book that deserves to become a big best seller.” ―Dan Rather
“This is how it really happened. In unequivocal prose, John Ferling captures the combined bluster and outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. He exposes the quirks, while exploring the vision, of the opinionated, opportunistic delegates who were present in Philadelphia in 1776; he shows us just how they rhetorically overcame the "mystique of invincibility" that attached to the British military, before launching America, in the words of one delegate, "on a most Tempestuous Sea." Independence is rich in personality, and Ferling unsurpassed as an authority. This is no ordinary history.” ―Andrew Burstein, author of Jefferson's Secrets, and coauthor of Madison and Jefferson
“John Ferling has established himself as one of the leading chroniclers of the American Revolution, but Independence goes beyond anything he has written before. Instead of recycling the familiar story of the Revolution, he has given us an enlightening and exciting book that proves that history has no guarantees or foreordained outcomes. Expertly blending biographical vignettes with fast-paced narrative and sure-footed interpretation, Ferling captures the mystery of historical contingency in exploring the period between the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the declaration of American independence in 1776. Not even the founding fathers knew what the future would bring; Ferling performs a national public service in reminding us of this basic fact, and demonstrating it with elegance and style.” ―R. B. Bernstein, distinguished adjunct professor of law, New York Law School, and author of The Founding Fathers Reconsidered and Thomas Jefferson
“In clear and elegant prose and with formidable scholarship, John Ferling freshly examines the period that led to declaring independence. By focusing on the character of leaders in both England and her colonies as they intersected with circumstances, he captures the uncertainty of the times and the unpredictable journey to the declaration itself.” ―Edith B. Gelles, author of Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage
“A venerable historian of the American Revolution focuses on the events between the shot heard round the world and the signing of the Declaration of Independence … A lucid, erudite account of a period both terrifying and supremely inspiring.” ―Kirkus
“Noted for his knowledge of the Revolutionary era, Ferling … again gives us a narrative hard to surpass in fluency and authority.” ―Publishers Weekly
“In this splendid book, noted founding-era historian Ferling presents a convincing narrative of American independence that focuses on the role of contingency in the colonial break with the mother country … Ferling's entertaining and edifying work is sure to find an audience among general readers.” ―Booklist
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The taxes were wildly unpopular with the American colonists, not least because they had no representation in the British ministry. Protests to the Stamp Act and other taxes enacted by Parliment were met with fierce resistance. Mobs gathered in city streets, leading colonists took to pen and paper, writing tracts decrying the British government for denying their right as British citizens to determine their own destiny.
From these first days in 1765, when for many the main goal of their protest was reconciliation with the motherland, until the hot days of early July, 1776, when independence seemed like an inevitability, Ferling leads us along the path the Founding Fathers took towards declaring the United States its own country. He takes us through the debates in the British Parliment and the arguments between the members of the Continental Congress. The bloody battles and confrontations between the Redcoats and the Continental Army and the political wrangling of the nascent government in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This is a well-written, thoroughly researched book. My only caveat is this: this is a history book. This is not a novel. You will learn a great deal from this book, and Ferling does try to leaven his writing with humor on occasion, but this is first and foremost a history book. Ferling’s goal is to tell us as much as he can, as accurately as he can, and a fair amount of dryness is the inevitable result. I recommend this book to any history buff (Revolutionary or otherwise), or anyone who wants to learn about the path the United States took towards becoming independent.
Dr. Ferling starts with the premise that the study of history is best looked at when we return to the time itself. History has a way of appearing to be pre-scripted. However, lots of things could happen and change its course. To understand the revolution it is not enough to know that it is a pivotal moment in American History, but one must return and try to retrace the crisis that led to the birth of America. Turning back to discuss the drama of the history adds the elements of humanity such as fear, uncertainty, rebellion, and outrage. Dr. Ferling does not tell the history of a bold nation who unanimously forged together to oppose Britain. There were competing views about the future of the country. Lots of men came together with different ideas about direction America should take and it took a while before they were able to come together and break ties with England.
First, he retraces some familiar background by dealing with the issues and grievances that the Americans perceived were being foisted on them by the British. Along the way he does a very clever job. He slowly starts picking up characters and adding their history into the narrative. Some of the stories like those of John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington one may know. Other stories like that of John Dickinson, Joseph Galloway, Robert Morris, and Roger Sherman one may be less familiar with. He does a stand-up job telling the British side of the story as well and pulls out key aspects in the characters of these men. He spends a great deal of time talking about many of the great English statesmen who opposed the war on the colonies. The way he picks up characters along the way was very clever and they are brought into the story when they are needed to be seen.
While I did not think he was completely unbiased (which I believe no one can be) I thought his perspective on the Fathers was rounded. Let's face it: Most of our founding fathers were W.A.S.P's (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) more importantly, many of them had wealth. Some of the men involved with the independence movement may have been moved at least in part by the economic advantages. Richard Henry Lee for example, (known as Bob Booty behind his back) invested in the Ohio Valley and London did not want to increase Virginia landholding. However, Lee stayed conservative until he saw the success that Patrick Henry had with his more radical tone. Franklin was at first neutral as well. He lived in London before the revolution and wanted to make good money and influential connections there. It was a series of events that led Franklin towards becoming involved in American Independence. There were trade possibilities that no doubt interested many of these men. If America won the trade market would open wider and the wealthy would certainly benefit.
The downside to the book was the extensive vocabulary. Most of the words I understood but there were words that Dr. Ferling uses that I was not aware existed. Now, it was not so difficult for me because I am fairly well-read and am able to decipher the word in the context, plus, kindle has a dictionary feature to help with exact meanings. However, this may not be as accessible to one who may be struggling to read. I should be clear to say that his vocabulary was not a problem but it may present a problem to a reader. So make sure if you are buying a non-kindle version to keep a dictionary on hand to reference from time to time. Other than that I really did not feel there was anything to complain about. One reviewer suggested that the book was slow in spots and I will agree with that. However, it was not terribly slow and I actually found the book to be fun most of the time.
So my recommendation is that this book is a valuable work to add to one's collection on the Revolutionary War. When an author leaves me wanting to read more of his or her works than I think that says a lot about the writer. Dr. Ferling definitely knows what he is talking about. He not only tells us a good story but he goes a little deeper and traces the development of what I believe is one of history's most significant events. He writes passionately and a majority of time fast-paced. He clears up misconceptions about the 4th of July and gives the real date that the decision was made and the date that the Fathers originally wanted to celebrate. On a side note the kindle edition is good and there are no kinks in the book. All in all, I found this book to be lively, informative and entertaining. I have not been as excited about a book in a long time.