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Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 4, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 225 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Revolutionary Summer, the eminent historian Joseph Ellis describes the events surrounding the birth of America during the summer of 1776 (loosely defined as May through October of that year). Ellis's stated aim is to treat the military and political events of the period in tandem, and he skillfully establishes that there were two different sets of goals at stake: George Washington’s Continental Army considered independence an inevitability, while the Continental Congress considered it a last resort. A Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner, Ellis recently retired as the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. Reading Revolutionary Summer is like receiving a distinguished lecture from a man who has dedicated many fruitful decades to breathing life into our understanding of history—he makes Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and others of the era come alive for the reader. —Chris Schluep

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A specious coherence marks narratives of 1776 in which the Declaration of Independence inevitably occurs while the Continental army’s doughty defense of New York ensures that independence would become fact. Events are not, however, so tidily told, avers historian Ellis, who restores contingency to his account of the storied summer and fall of 1776. Identifying a central problem of the historical situation—“Was there any realistic chance for the British to win?”—Ellis recounts efforts of moderates within each warring party. On the American side was the rout of anti-independence John Dickinson by the radical John Adams, while Ellis portrays the British side as misunderstanding the colonial rebellion. The commanders George III sent believed in reconciliation with the Americans, and so William Howe conducted the battles of New York cautiously, negotiated futilely with a Ben Franklin serenely sure of American success, and never delivered the decisive blow against George Washington’s army. Even had Howe destroyed the Continental army, Ellis suggests that the British still would have confronted strategic failure against an enemy determined to continue the war. With cogent argument and compact prose, Ellis augurs to attract the history audience. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Ellis commands a 100,000-plus print run for his latest installment on the American Revolution, tapping his popularity built on such standards as American Sphinx (1997), Founding Brothers (2000), and First Family (2010). --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307701220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307701220
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson VINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was particularly excited about reading Joseph J. Ellis' Revolutionary Summer because I had just recently finished Kevin Phillips' 1775. The two books have different focuses: Ellis looks at 1776 as the crucial year of the American Revolution while iconoclastic Phillips puts the emphasis on 1775. Ellis writes that after 1776, "Many fateful decisions and challenges remained ahead - Washington's inspired bravado at Trenton, Howe's bizarre decision to capture Philadelphia rather than seal the Hudson corridor, the endurance test at Valley Forge, the crucial French entry into the war - but they all played out within the strategic framework created in the summer of 1776."

Ah yes, Phillips seems to say, but the events of 1776 played out within the strategic framework created in 1775.

Phillips says, rightfully, I think, that "If 1775 hadn't been a year of successful nation building, 1776 might have been a year of lost opportunity, quiet disappointment, and continued colonial status." In Phillips' view, "1775 is the crucial, early-momentum year of the Revolutionary era" - not 1776. Ellis, on the other hand, like other historians before him (for example, David McCaullough) looks to 1776 as the crucial year of the Revolution. But Phillips argues that this is a distortion and that we in the twentieth century are "excessively" immersed in 1776 "as a moral and ideological starting point." The Fourth of July says it all.

Phillips says he started out to prove that 1775 was as important as 1776 only to discover, the further he got along in his research, that 1775 was more important than 1776. Joseph Ellis, on the other hand, barely mentions 1775. He calls 1776 the "crescendo moment in American history" - particularly the five months between May and October.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Revolutionary Summer, Ellis confines himself to the period from May through October 1776, retelling the story of the initial defeat of the Continental Army and General Washington's realization that survival could be enough to achieve victory.

In a brief summary of the final steps leading to conflict, the author argues that there existed the basis for a possible compromise between colonies and the Crown. There may have been a majority in the Continental Congress interested in continued unity with England. British military initiatives, however, leading to battles in Lexington in April and at Bunker Hill in June of 1775 began to change hearts and minds. "The shift from a constitutional to a military conflict," advises Ellis, "altered the political chemistry forever."

In August, a Royal Proclamation dissolved the comforting fiction that the King did not support British military activity in America while publication in January 1776 of Paine's Common Sense spread and further inflamed the debate about independence. These developments set the scene for Congressional resolutions in May to replace colonial constitutions as well as the more famous Declaration in July.

On August 27, a British Army in which troops averaged 7 years of service humiliated the Continental Army (6 months average time in the field) at the Battle of Long Island. The Howe brothers, in command of British troops, believed that shock waves from this defeat would shake the foundation of the Rebellion. They did not pursue and destroy the struggling Continental Army. Ellis argues that the Howes saw themselves as peace commissioners as well as military commanders. There was no need to destroy the Continentals as the colonial army would disintegrate on its own.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
With "Revolutionary Summer" Dr. Joseph Ellis presents a fresh comprehensive look at the turning point of `The Cause' into the War for Independence. In this impressive book Ellis fills in the blanks that other books on the American Revolution briefly cover as he concentrates on the events during the summer of 1776 when the colonies choose the path that would create a nation.

Ellis has taken this monumental moment of a time in our history when the American colonies stood poised to either wither or bloom and presented it in such a style that the reader can become engrossed with a story we all know how ends. He does this by giving vivid descriptions of the key figures in both the military and political realm without superfluous words.

In this book Ellis presents a look at both sides of the struggle, from Philadelphia where the Continental Congress met where thirteen individual colonies tried to hold common cause to the Parliament in Westminster, London. As well as the political attitudes Ellis covers the military tribulations of the summer of 1776 with a closer look at the commanders. From the problems that General Washington had to contend with such as commanding a rag tag group of inexperienced volunteers, to the over confidence Lord Germain placed in the British commanders Admiral Lord Richard Howe and General William Howe.

Those who hold political offices today need to be reminded what Adams had in mind for our constitutional government when he wrote "Thoughts on Government" in 1776, in particular what Ellis so clearly states "that political power flowed upward from its primal source in "the people" rather than downward from the king.
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