Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth

Scars of Independence: America's Violent BirthScars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced. In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.

Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family. The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict. Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners. While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war. But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.

One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth. Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars. Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history. Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

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Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us

Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to UsCenturies of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years. Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change. In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The name Alexandre Dumas is well known, but before the author and his playwright son was the General. Tom Reiss brings the little known founder of the Dumas family into the spotlight in The Black Count, a born slave of noble blood turned Republican general in the service of France. This giant of a man both of stature in the view of his novelist son cast a long shadow since his death.

Born in modern Haiti as a slave to a French nobleman father, Alexandre life suddenly changed when he joined on his father’s return journey to France to take is family title. However after years of dealing with his father behavior, Alexandre joined the French army and with the coming of the French Revolution into Republican government. His daring feats in the field and dedication to the ideals of republicanism sent him quickly up the chain of command to General. Continuing his lead in front style, Alexandre was sent to lead men on every front that France needed him. But it was his feats during the Italian campaign that truly brought him his greatest fame and yet began his long cold relationship with another General, Napoleon. After more spectacular feats in Egypt and yet more conflict with Napoleon, Alexandre decided to return to France but was then captured in southern Italy only to emerge two year later into a new France in which his desire to service his country was rejected by its new leader. Five years after his release, Alexandre died leaving his young son bereaved. Yet, the legendary events of his life would inspire young Alexandre with a lot of material for his epic heroes including one Edmund Dantes.

The Black Count is a thrilling ride following a mixed raced former slave fighting for the republican ideals of his new homeland even as radical political events shift all around him, yet Alexandre Dumas quickly became a hero to the French until his capture and release into an entirely different France that didn’t appreciate him. Tom Reiss brought to life of a little known French Republican general that had a long lasting impact on history outside of the military and political sphere to the enjoyment of readers around the world.

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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of PowerThomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The complex life and the politics of the third President of the United States in a dramatic period in history are brought to the fore in Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. After nearly twenty years in which Jefferson’s reputation has taken a hit through both scientific revelations and new biographies of his fellow Founders, the pragmatic philosopher who still yearned to daydream comes into better light 200 years after his time in office.

Meacham approached his book as a pure biography of Jefferson not a history of the times, which meant that only events that directly affected Jefferson or his immediately family were focused upon. Thus while Jefferson’s own story began in 1743, Meacham sets the stage with a family history that was also a history of colonial Virginia both politically and culturally. Throughout the next 500 pages, Meacham follows Jefferson in and out of Virginia with stops in Philadelphia, Paris, New York, and finally Washington D.C., but through everything a special focus was on how he developed his political acumen to achieve the vision he had for the United States in the world.

Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings is discussed throughout the book when important moments in both their lives cross. While Hemings is not the focus of the book, the ‘relationship’ is interwoven by Meacham into Jefferson’s complicated thoughts on slavery that is more thoroughly detailed towards the end of the book and is some of the best analysis in the book. Yet, the focus on Jefferson’s political skill in comparison to his contemporaries and his time resulted in a fairly quick book to read (505 pages) that had extensive notes that could have added more to the body of the book and given the book more depth is the basic drawback of the book.

Over the last decade, a new round of biographies of the Founding Fathers has brought praise and more attention to the actual human beings we think of when we hear their names. Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a fascinating read of a man whose words and actions are both celebrated and controversial.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book Two)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book TwoMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The political and military life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, reached both its zenith and low in some of the most turbulent times of both Great Britain and Europe. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two combines the third and fourth volumes of Sir Winston Churchill’s much heralded biography of his ancestor covering the last 17 years of his life, but focusing mostly on the decade between 1706-16.

From the beginning of the book, Marlborough’s approach to both his military and political zenith is fairly short, but the long slow decline towards political exile began to slowly eat away at his authority on the battlefield and gave encouragement to French court of Louis XIV. Churchill throughout the book, details the remaining six campaigns that Marlborough lead the Allies in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession with truly amazing detail to the battles of Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malpalquet and their aftermaths. However, Churchill does not keep his biography in a bubble around Marlborough during the war as other theaters as well as actors–Prince Eugene, other British generals, and the various French marshals.

While Marlborough fought to unparalleled success, his power was undone not by military defeat but by the political forces–including his wife Sarah–at home that first undermined his trust friend Godolphin and later his relationship with Queen Anne. Churchill gives the reader a detailed account of the political climate and intrigue in London during the 10 years saw Marlborough’s political clout slowly begin to ebb then fall precariously after the fall of the Whig Junto to Harley’s Tory administration that used Marlborough has a tool on the battlefield to short shift the rest of the Grand Alliance with secret negotiations with France that lead to the undoing of years of Marlborough’s military success after his dismissal as Commander-in-Chief. Yet, upon the ascension of the Hanoverian George I, Marlborough returned to high political position after traveling to the continent in political exile but let a younger generation deal with the day-to-day details and policies while he enjoyed a restful existence as an elder statesman.

Written during the time of his own political exile, Winston Churchill gives the reader a thorough education of the late-Stuart political upheavals in Britain while at the same time giving them the political landscape of Europe at the beginning of the very turbulent 18th Century, especially the influence of Louis XIV and the dynastic politics of the Hapsburgs and republican Dutch. While a length of 1040 pages of text, not counting 40 pages containing a bibliography and index, may seem daunting to the any reader I can tell you that by the end you’ll have enjoyed learning so much.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book OneMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book One by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first Duke of Marlborough during his life and afterwards was a controversial figure that tended to be seen in a rather bad light by history until Winston S. Churchill set about to fully rehabilitate the English/British general and statesman. Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) contains the first two volumes of Churchill’s four volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill that cover the first 55 years of the general’s life.

The first volume of Churchill’s biography of Marlborough covers the first half of the book from the Duke’s birth to the death of William III at the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. Events and Marlborough’s actions throughout this period colored contemporaries views of him as well as later historian’s opinions of him. Yet this was a turbulent time in English history, as politics was first dominated by Roundheads and Cavaliers before becoming Protestant and Catholics along with Tory and Whig followed by Jacobite and Anti-Jacobite. Without the deep understand that Churchill gives the actions of Marlborough would make him look wish-washy. The second volume consists of the first four years of Marlborough’s time as commander-in-chief of the Grand Alliance as well as de facto co-Prime Minister of England. Throughout this second volume of Churchill’s biography, the life of the commander-in-chief of an alliance was not easy and many of Marlborough’s military plans were frustrated by the want of will by his allies, mainly the Dutch. But it wasn’t until Marlborough marched to the aid of the Holy Roman Empire that he was able to conduct the military operations that he wanted which gave him the first great English victory on the Continent since Agincourt, yet the next year his designs were once again frustrated leading to military and political unrest amongst the Great Alliance.

Given the author’s relationship to his subject and stated purpose to readjust the historical view of his ancestor, one could expect a true glorification of Marlborough but to Churchill’s credit he did not. While Churchill does take time give the reader an understanding of the changing political environment throughout Marlborough’s life and explained his actions in relation to them. When it came to Marlborough’s military operations, Churchill is actually balanced in his approach to his ancestor’s military decisions as well as “what if” scenarios when Marlborough was frustrated in his planning. Yet Churchill savages those who did frustrate Marlborough’s planning through either over caution or plain envy.

Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) gives an in-depth look at the second half of the 17th century and the early part of the War of Spanish Succession through the life of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill writes engagingly and makes a full picture of events that leaves the reader in no doubt the facts surrounding an issue. After finished Book One, you’ll be wanting to start Book Two.

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Jefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation

Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a NationJefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Early in history of the United States, the new nation found itself in a cold war not against a nation across the ocean but across the Mississippi river and the Floridian border. In Jefferson’s America, Julie M. Fenster relates how Thomas Jefferson first as Secretary of State and later as President battled with Spain to define the borders of the United States before establishing a claim on the West which would define the future of the country.

Almost a century before the United States and Spain actually fought a war; the two nations could have fought a war over Louisiana which could have been the legacy of Thomas Jefferson’s administration instead of the territory’s purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was not the event that stopped this war; it only made the likelihood more probable as the southern boundary of the territory was undefined and both nations claiming different demarcations of their respective territories. Jefferson’s solution to both keep peace and stake a claim on the West for the United States was exploration.

The journey up the Missouri, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean by the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark is thought today to be the expedition that claimed the West for the United States. While that much heralded journey is chronicled in this book, Fenster also brings forth the effects by other explorers to study the geography of the Mississippi and southern rivers like the Red and the Arkansas. Men like Thomas Freeman, William Dunbar, Zebulon Pike, George Hunter, and Andrew Ellicott brought their own talents and personalities in exploring the frontiers of the United States and helping Jefferson make a political claim to those frontiers.

The book as a whole is well researched and overall Fenster does give the reader an view of the little known history behind the first great expansion of the United States, however there are issues that do not make this an easy read. Firstly, the first quarter of the book is rather dry and could discourage some readers who would be impressed with the later three-quarters of the book. Fenster took a chronological approach to her writing and detailed several expeditions simultaneously when they overlapped, while I didn’t have a problem with this particular set up and approach there was a drawback in that Fenster did not transition from one to the other that well which at times forced the reader to stop for a few seconds to stop and reread a sentence or two to denote when Fenster was switching from one expedition to another.

Upon completing Jefferson’s America, I found it instructive on this period of the Early Republic in not only the national and international situation but also the experiences that the explorers faced as they traveled around various points in the West.

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