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The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783

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In one of the most “exciting and engaging” (Gordon S. Wood) histories of the American founding in decades, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War. For more than two ce In one of the most “exciting and engaging” (Gordon S. Wood) histories of the American founding in decades, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War. For more than two centuries, historians have debated the history of the American Revolution, disputing its roots, its provenance, and above all, its meaning. These questions have intrigued Ellis—one of our most celebrated scholars of American history—throughout his entire career. With this much-anticipated volume, he at last brings the story of the revolution to vivid life, with “surprising relevance” (Susan Dunn) for our modern era. Completing a trilogy of books that began with Founding Brothers, The Cause returns us to the very heart of the American founding, telling the military and political story of the war for independence from the ground up, and from all sides: British and American, loyalist and patriot, white and Black. Taking us from the end of the Seven Years’ War to 1783, and drawing on a wealth of previously untapped sources, The Cause interweaves action-packed tales of North American military campaigns with parlor-room intrigues back in England, creating a thrilling narrative that brings together a cast of familiar and long-forgotten characters. Here Ellis recovers the stories of Catherine Littlefield Greene, wife of Major General Nathanael Greene, the sister among the “band of brothers”; Thayendanegea, a Mohawk chief known to the colonists as Joseph Brant, who led the Iroquois Confederation against the Patriots; and Harry Washington, the enslaved namesake of George Washington, who escaped Mount Vernon to join the British Army and fight against his former master. Countering popular histories that romanticize the “Spirit of ’76,” Ellis demonstrates that the rebels fought under the mantle of “The Cause,” a mutable, conveniently ambiguous principle that afforded an umbrella under which different, and often conflicting, convictions and goals could coexist. Neither an American nation nor a viable government existed at the end of the war. In fact, one revolutionary legacy regarded the creation of such a nation, or any robust expression of government power, as the ultimate betrayal of The Cause. This legacy alone rendered any effective response to the twin tragedies of the founding—slavery and the Native American dilemma—problematic at best. Written with the vivid and muscular prose for which Ellis is known, and with characteristically trenchant insight, The Cause marks the culmination of a lifetime of engagement with the founding era. A landmark work of narrative history, it challenges the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people, and as a nation.


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In one of the most “exciting and engaging” (Gordon S. Wood) histories of the American founding in decades, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War. For more than two ce In one of the most “exciting and engaging” (Gordon S. Wood) histories of the American founding in decades, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War. For more than two centuries, historians have debated the history of the American Revolution, disputing its roots, its provenance, and above all, its meaning. These questions have intrigued Ellis—one of our most celebrated scholars of American history—throughout his entire career. With this much-anticipated volume, he at last brings the story of the revolution to vivid life, with “surprising relevance” (Susan Dunn) for our modern era. Completing a trilogy of books that began with Founding Brothers, The Cause returns us to the very heart of the American founding, telling the military and political story of the war for independence from the ground up, and from all sides: British and American, loyalist and patriot, white and Black. Taking us from the end of the Seven Years’ War to 1783, and drawing on a wealth of previously untapped sources, The Cause interweaves action-packed tales of North American military campaigns with parlor-room intrigues back in England, creating a thrilling narrative that brings together a cast of familiar and long-forgotten characters. Here Ellis recovers the stories of Catherine Littlefield Greene, wife of Major General Nathanael Greene, the sister among the “band of brothers”; Thayendanegea, a Mohawk chief known to the colonists as Joseph Brant, who led the Iroquois Confederation against the Patriots; and Harry Washington, the enslaved namesake of George Washington, who escaped Mount Vernon to join the British Army and fight against his former master. Countering popular histories that romanticize the “Spirit of ’76,” Ellis demonstrates that the rebels fought under the mantle of “The Cause,” a mutable, conveniently ambiguous principle that afforded an umbrella under which different, and often conflicting, convictions and goals could coexist. Neither an American nation nor a viable government existed at the end of the war. In fact, one revolutionary legacy regarded the creation of such a nation, or any robust expression of government power, as the ultimate betrayal of The Cause. This legacy alone rendered any effective response to the twin tragedies of the founding—slavery and the Native American dilemma—problematic at best. Written with the vivid and muscular prose for which Ellis is known, and with characteristically trenchant insight, The Cause marks the culmination of a lifetime of engagement with the founding era. A landmark work of narrative history, it challenges the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people, and as a nation.

30 review for The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783

  1. 5 out of 5

    Josh Coe

    “Do we really need another book about the American Revolution?” “What’s left to say?” These were my first thoughts when I read the description of this book. We already have 1776 by David McCullough, the (in progress) Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson, Nathaniel Philbrick’s American Revolution Series, Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, and Ellis’s own significant contributions to the subject, including the Pulitzer-winning Founding Brothers. But Ellis’s prowess made me pick it up, and I’m grate “Do we really need another book about the American Revolution?” “What’s left to say?” These were my first thoughts when I read the description of this book. We already have 1776 by David McCullough, the (in progress) Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson, Nathaniel Philbrick’s American Revolution Series, Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, and Ellis’s own significant contributions to the subject, including the Pulitzer-winning Founding Brothers. But Ellis’s prowess made me pick it up, and I’m grateful I did. A book charting the single fraught decade between 1773-83 could easily have been three times as long, and an author as capable as Ellis could have taken this opportunity to display his considerable research and writing skills. Instead, Ellis focused on only the elements most essential to an accurate retelling of the narrative, uncovering forgotten characters and motivations along the way. He succeeded at cutting through myths and modern perceptions to allow the reader to “occupy the past” and experience it as it was lived. One result of his restraint and self-editing is that every paragraph yields interesting information to be pondered and digested, making this single 300-page volume feel weightier than many multi-volume works on the subject. The clarity of the writing allowed me to appreciate Ellis’s major themes of sovereignty and liberty. He understands the revolutionary struggle as a battle for sovereign control, first by the King George III and the British Parliament, and then by the leaders of the fledgling United States. Ellis also emphasized the importance of the idea of liberty for the revolutionaries, but asks the obvious question, “How did a liberty-obsessed rebellion fail to extend liberty to all its constituents?” Ellis provides adequate answers to this question, and makes a point to recount the contributions and experiences of many factions of American society involved in the Cause, including African American slaves, Native Americans, and women. If I have any complaint at all, it is with the profiles of minor figures that separate each chapter of the book. I believe I understand the purpose of them, as some of the profiles highlighted individuals from the disadvantaged groups listed above, and I usually really enjoy creative formats. But these entries felt like little more than Wikipedia articles. For some, they may be welcome glimpses into the personal lives of lesser known individuals. To me, they were a bit cumbersome and not quite long enough to enrich my reading. In all, an excellent book that managed to find something fresh amid well-trodden ground. Thank you to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company for the advance copy!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Westlake

    This is Ellis' most comprehensive work, covering the causes or rebellion and the ensuing fight for freedom. I struggled to understand what difference he was bringing to the discussion; the description of the book did not make clear exactly what unique contribution to historiography the book would provide, nor did Ellis explain in his introduction. After finishing the book, I found it hard to name it. Much of what Ellis includes would already be known to many scholars. He does, however, synthesiz This is Ellis' most comprehensive work, covering the causes or rebellion and the ensuing fight for freedom. I struggled to understand what difference he was bringing to the discussion; the description of the book did not make clear exactly what unique contribution to historiography the book would provide, nor did Ellis explain in his introduction. After finishing the book, I found it hard to name it. Much of what Ellis includes would already be known to many scholars. He does, however, synthesize the arguments of past historians (Ch. 1 discusses Bailyn and Wood), so there is that significance. This is a great book for a popular audience who is looking to bridge the gap between academic work and History Channel "history", but again, for most historians, what Ellis has to say is nothing new. The characters he mentions he is giving voice to are names that most historians are already familiar with: Dickinson, Mercy Otis Warren; although, again, for a popular audience, maybe not so. Ellis does a good job at making the military history readable, particularly with the southern campaign in the war. His final chapter on the legacies of the Revolution also bring in new research into the larger impact of the revolution.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    THE CAUSE, Joseph Ellis’ newest book, is by turns fantastic, engrossing and mired by small details. It manages to provide insight on a truly large scale over a series of events that we are still reckoning with, and on that level it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. However, the tendency to get lost in minutiae, intentionally, overwhelmed me. I wanted more of the great synthesis and much much less of the detail about figures lost to history. I have a better understanding of the issues that THE CAUSE, Joseph Ellis’ newest book, is by turns fantastic, engrossing and mired by small details. It manages to provide insight on a truly large scale over a series of events that we are still reckoning with, and on that level it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. However, the tendency to get lost in minutiae, intentionally, overwhelmed me. I wanted more of the great synthesis and much much less of the detail about figures lost to history. I have a better understanding of the issues that continue to animate the U.S. than I did before reading this book, yet I almost stopped reading it multiple times. I recommend it but urge patience; it is worth the struggle. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    William Bahr

    Read it! Be “Cause” it’s revolutionary! A new way of looking at the Revolutionary War. This is the work of a master historian, looking through a new lens and giving you a capstone course synthesizing and demonstrating what he’s learned through his career-long study of America’s Founding. Specifically, the author gives you an overall picture of the American Revolution’s decade — 1773’s Boston Tea Party to 1783’s US/Great Britain US Treaty of Paris and GB/et al.’s Peace of Paris treaties. The narr Read it! Be “Cause” it’s revolutionary! A new way of looking at the Revolutionary War. This is the work of a master historian, looking through a new lens and giving you a capstone course synthesizing and demonstrating what he’s learned through his career-long study of America’s Founding. Specifically, the author gives you an overall picture of the American Revolution’s decade — 1773’s Boston Tea Party to 1783’s US/Great Britain US Treaty of Paris and GB/et al.’s Peace of Paris treaties. The narrative covers a wide range, from high-level grand strategy to the curious carrying of cooking kettles (with nothing to cook)! First, a comment about the title: “The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents.” The one word translation of the “Cause” (the term used at the time) is “independence,” with the “Discontents” being the Continental Army, Native Americans, Slaves, and the many others who knew what they were against (but not for), and the engine of discontent being Town Meetings. Armed with many rare, out-of-print works, Ellis starts his book by mentioning that certain figures he covers (in particular: John Dickinson, Nathanael Green, John Jay, and Robert Morris) were more highly regarded by their contemporaries than by posterity. The book’s chapters then progress time-wise throughout the decade, with each of the seven chapters ending with a brief profile: 1. Joshua Loring 2. Mercy Otis Warren 3. Harry Washington 4. Catharine Littlefield Greene 5. Joseph Brant 6. William (Billy) Lee 7. Joseph Plumb Martin. A common theme throughout the book is the tension between those wanting local colonial/state control versus “national” continental/federal control. In the former case, local control came with local defense and the glorification of the Minuteman. In the later case, national control came with increased ability to mount a truly successful defense and to gain the international financial credit to sustain that defense. The concern of many of the Founders was that the unity shown in the face of a common enemy (Britain) would turn into troubling disunion and vulnerability when that enemy apparently left the scene. Others, for various reasons, thought the benefits of state (versus federal) supremacy easily outweighed the costs and risks at any time. The author clarifies these issues with example after example. One of the author’s assertions that I thought both intriguing and questionable was one he made starting on Kindle page xiv: “In truth, Great Britain never had a realistic chance to win the war, despite its military and economic superiority. American victory was not a miracle; it was foreordained. How that end happened, however, was a function of chance, accident, and what Washington called providence.” Later, on page 233, Ellis also says: “Even if the British maintained a ground force of fifty thousand troops in country for several decades, a logistical impossibility, the American resistance would have persisted until the British realized that the game was not worth the cost.” — Yes, I agree that the British approach was bound to fail, even if Cornwallis had escaped the trap at Yorktown. However, the case could be made that English colonies would not easily transition to a peaceful commonwealth. While continuing to subject America, Britain could have likely changed itself, becoming increasingly more despotic over all its citizens and leaving America as a collection of failed colonies, no longer able to provide England with the prosperous flow of trade they had previously provided, with a very good chance of never being able to go back. As the author said, Washington might have headed off to the backcountry and lived in a wigwam (before the Indians or a British raiding party got him). Thus, America, as we have now come to know it, would have lost its Indispensable Man, its Primus inter Pares, its General, its President of the Constitutional Convention, and its first national President, and along with him, highly likely the country’s freedom. You don’t think Great Men have a place in history, that it’s just chance, accident, and Providence? Think about all the foreign intrigues that could have later gone forward and led to disunion under the banners of Burr and Wilkinson. Nevertheless, the thought that America was bound to win (and/or be the kind of place it is today) is fascinating. Speaking of fascinating, the book contains uncommon mention of the importance of the Committees of Correspondence, which facilitated colonial defense and allowed the colonies to set up shadow governments. The book also mentions the rise of “True Whigs” (propagandistically positive branding of those against Morris’ unifying financial plans), reminiscent of today’s “Real Americans.” The book also contains any number of “Wow, I didn’t know that’s!” One example is that Hamilton’s unit charging Yorktown’s Redoubt #10 contained Black troops [the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, regarded as the first Black battalion in US military history]. Another of many is that 400,000 souls, the less noticed and almost invisible, but the vast majority of Loyalists, did not leave America but chose to remain in the United States. Despite my high praise for the book, there are some issues about which the reader should be aware. For the record and the author’s possible use in future editions, here are some of them: P 174. “With daily practice, soldiers could double their firepower by loading and firing their muskets four times a minute instead of two.” — By on-line observing a very well-practiced reenactor, I see that in a timed test, an excellent reenactor (not under fire) got off three shots in 46 seconds. With luck, he just might have made it to 4 shots within a minute if he’d have somehow hurried even more. Or, he could have made 4 shots a minute if he had started with a loaded musket. Just saying: it would be very difficult for a soldier to get off four rounds a minute under fire. Most commentators are comfortable saying three rounds a minute. P. 222. “Once ensconced on Kings Mountain, he [British Major Ferguson] issued a warning to the local populace that men should expect to be executed, their wives and daughters abused by marauding loyalists if they refused to pledge themselves to the British side.” — IMHO, it is dubious that Ferguson made such a threat while briefly locating himself at Kings Mountain (SC), immediately before he was surrounded by Overmountain Men (from now TN & KY). More likely, it was his notices put out a month earlier while in NC to warn the Overmountain Men that if they didn’t lay down their arms, he would “march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste the country with fire and sword.” P. 230. “’In this situation, wrote his aide,’ Charles O’Hara….” — General O’Hara was not Cornwallis’ aide, but his adjutant and his second-in-command. P. 231. “…even ordering his [Cornwallis’] artillery to fire on his own troops when they first engaged with Greene’s last line of defense at the courthouse.” — “Not intentionally,” wrote historian North Callahan: “That’s one of the biggest myths about the battle. At one point in the battle, he [Cornwallis] came upon a melee in close combat between the 2nd Battalion of the Guards and 1st Maryland and ordered his soldiers to use a 3-pounder [cannon] to fire on Lt. Col William Washington’s light dragoons [cavalry] that had attacked the Guards and in so doing had come between Cornwallis and his troop.” It’s also been said that Colonel Henry Lee, who was not present on that part of the battlefield, blew the incident out of proportion in his memoirs, from which the unfair charge spread. P 244 “As Gates approached the Yorktown peninsula….” — It was British Admiral Graves. P 248. “…[O’Hara,] the talkative Irishman who had served with him [Cornwallis] throughout the Carolina campaign. O’Hara attempted to surrender his sword to Rochambeau, who declined and pointed him toward Washington, who declined to accept the sword of a subordinate officer and pointed O’Hara to Benjamin Lincoln, who accepted it….” — There are various accounts of what happened, but the most important commonality was that it was Cornwallis’ sword, not O’Hara’s, that was offered at the surrender. P 266. “Howe also chose a bafflingly roundabout maneuver to reach Philadelphia, sailing south to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, then marching north through Delaware. (The maneuver mystified everyone, including John Adams. “We might as well imagine them gone around Cape Horn into the south Seas to land at California,” Adams confided to Abigail.)” — This move by Howe, which was cited as the reason he wasn’t able to support Burgoyne in time before the Saratoga surrender (which brought in the French), was the work of Washington. Washington had ensconced himself at the Middlebrook Encampment (NJ), which would have threatened Howe’s flank should he have tried to march (not sail) from New York to Philadelphia. Howe, wanting to capture Philadelphia, was forced to take the sea route, thus delaying his arrival in Philadelphia and preventing him from helping Burgoyne. P. 273. “…Jay needed to know what Spain as the price for its quite limited, virtually nonexistent contribution to The Cause.” — Wikipedia has an extensive page on the importance of Spain to the independence of the United States. Through its siege of Pensacola, Spain most notably seized West Florida from the British, securing trade routes and precluding the British from attacking eastward from the Mississippi River. In addition, Spain gave the Americans numerous loans, uniforms, weapons, and gunpowder. Spanish money was used to pay for critical supplies for the siege of Yorktown and to fund the payroll for the Continental Army, much arrears in pay. P. 303. “When word reached George III, he expressed disbelief. “If he does that,” he declared, ‘he will become the greatest man in the world.’ He did, and at least for the moment, he was.” — Actually, according to information obtained from painter Benjamin West, George III, when told that Washington was giving up power, said that if he did that, he would be “the greatest character of the age.” P. 318. “…where Lafayette urged Washington to take the lead by establishing a haven for freed slaves in what is now West Virginia….” — This assertion comes from an out-of-print book. Search as much as I could, I find no other source mentioning this. There are plenty of sources documenting a haven in the West Indies (French Guyana) but not what is now West Virginia. P 328. The author mentions the book’s cover as proposed by Norton Publishing, that it took two friends to help him appreciate it, but, to my knowledge, doesn’t explain the cover. For those curious, here are the results of my research: The musket to the left is a breech-loading Ferguson (invented by the aforementioned British Major) Rifle musket, the one to the right is an 18th century, left-handed, fowling (hunting) musket. The cover’s picture is likely from an out-of-print book and depicts Washington at the Battle of Princeton. Be aware that that book uses endnotes (without a separate bibliography), sorted by chapters with the notes numbered. Notes provided within the chapters themselves use graphic symbols. Bottom-line: Any minor issues such as those listed above aside, the book, in challenging many old views of the Revolutionary War, is a very rewarding read. Highly recommended! Of possible interest: George Washington's Liberty Key: Mount Vernon's Bastille Key - the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul, a best-seller at Mount Vernon. “Character is Key for Liberty!” and Strategy Pure and Simple: Essential Moves for Winning in Competition and Cooperation

  5. 5 out of 5

    Henry Conrad

    Honestly, I'm torn (half way through) with making a 5 star review like most folks here already. I don't doubt your judgement. It's just that I've felt antagonized numerous times during the read, like the author was trying to supplant history with modern, political agenda. In early chapters, I get the sense the author is trying to make significant allusions to the early cause as something akin to the rise of communism. Perhaps this whole affair did take on some of history's greatest human flaws, Honestly, I'm torn (half way through) with making a 5 star review like most folks here already. I don't doubt your judgement. It's just that I've felt antagonized numerous times during the read, like the author was trying to supplant history with modern, political agenda. In early chapters, I get the sense the author is trying to make significant allusions to the early cause as something akin to the rise of communism. Perhaps this whole affair did take on some of history's greatest human flaws, but to imbed this thought into the birth of our great nation feels disingenuous. Then, as Washington becomes the focal figure, he is abused often with instances of what this author clearly thinks is either cowardice and/or incompetence. I, of course, want to discover a Washington less flawed, but perhaps this is a better view of history made by flawed individuals? I just don't see this in many other characters. I just get the sense (at least half way through) that Ellis is trying to disparage and insult Washington. I hope this is simply to make his later achievement that much more resplendent. Regardless, as a conservative and admirer of freedom fighters everywhere, I still get these little pokes of "wokeness" injected into the story. It's a bit caustic and annoying to my senses. Am I wrong?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    With The Cause, Joseph Ellis proves that he is among the country's most insightful historians of the Revolutionary Era. His book presents a penetrating analysis of the political, military, social and (most interesting) psychological forces--both British and American--that underlied the principal events of the transformational decade that began on the streets of Boston and ended on the shores of the Chesapeake. In just 300-plus pages of limpid and witty narrative, Ellis unearths insights about th With The Cause, Joseph Ellis proves that he is among the country's most insightful historians of the Revolutionary Era. His book presents a penetrating analysis of the political, military, social and (most interesting) psychological forces--both British and American--that underlied the principal events of the transformational decade that began on the streets of Boston and ended on the shores of the Chesapeake. In just 300-plus pages of limpid and witty narrative, Ellis unearths insights about the thoughts and deeds of the protagonists that I had not fully appreciated before. Throughout, Ellis takes a fresh look at the convulsive events of the decade and keeps his readers mindful of the all-too-human passions and prejudices that had a decisive effect on its successes and failures on both sides of the Atlantic. As Ellis sees it, The Cause had both tragedy and irony built into its fabric--the failure to put an end to the tragedy of slavery and the brutal dispossession of Native Americans and the irony of a revolution determined to win independence that failed to create a unified American nation. This book is an engrossing read for anyone who wishes to understand more deeply the whys and wherefores of the cause for American independence--warts and all.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Richard Brulotte

    After reading this book by Ellis, I can hardly believe that we actually won the Revolution against England. Both sides went into the war thinking it would end quickly, but like the Civil War, it dragged on. Both sides made drastic mistakes in how they conducted the war. The interesting take away was how divided the population was -- with many loyalists and as many patriots -- with many who wanted everything to just return to the way it was before 1773 and just as many wanting us to be free -- an After reading this book by Ellis, I can hardly believe that we actually won the Revolution against England. Both sides went into the war thinking it would end quickly, but like the Civil War, it dragged on. Both sides made drastic mistakes in how they conducted the war. The interesting take away was how divided the population was -- with many loyalists and as many patriots -- with many who wanted everything to just return to the way it was before 1773 and just as many wanting us to be free -- and with most colonies not supporting the Army or the idea of a becoming a "United States". In some ways it was a time much like we are going through now divided in how to proceed. Great read!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    More an intellectual history of the revolution, with a few asides for significant battles. It’s an interesting book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike Stewart

    Ellis' take on the Revolution is remarkably clear-headed, lucid and entertaining. His explanation of the Revolution (he doesn't believe that is an accurate label) its causes, contradictions, failings and legacy is not a typical history but perhaps the the most comprehensible account I have read. For example he only mentions Lexington and Concord in passing; he's more focused on the politics on both sides that led to that moment. Nor does he waste much verbiage on Trenton or other iconic moments. Ellis' take on the Revolution is remarkably clear-headed, lucid and entertaining. His explanation of the Revolution (he doesn't believe that is an accurate label) its causes, contradictions, failings and legacy is not a typical history but perhaps the the most comprehensible account I have read. For example he only mentions Lexington and Concord in passing; he's more focused on the politics on both sides that led to that moment. Nor does he waste much verbiage on Trenton or other iconic moments. Instead he chooses to offer more detailed accounts of the actions of the British Parliament and the Continental Congress, the fighting in New York in 1776 (which he believes was the only time the British had even a remote chance of winning), Valley Forge and the War in the South. Despite this he does not neglect the people involved - Washington, Lord North, the Adams, Franklin, George III are all here. Also, each chapter concludes with a profile of a lesser actor whose experience illuminate our understanding. Ellis also has the knack for asking and addressing the questions that we don't often consider, e.g. why did the British continue to fight after 1777 when they knew that had lost? or why did Washington decide to defend New York in 1776? This is an essential book for understanding the Revolution and what it means to us today.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Darren Nelson

    Insightful and concise account of American Revolution. A key point is the "Cause" being the one thing that could and did keep the otherwise divergent colonists together, but also discouraging a reckoning with slavery which would have alienated the southern colonies even then. Others pts include the rapid change in American view of King George, the role of views of Parliamentary Supremacy leading to the British government's stubborn provocation of the colonies, and the original American demands b Insightful and concise account of American Revolution. A key point is the "Cause" being the one thing that could and did keep the otherwise divergent colonists together, but also discouraging a reckoning with slavery which would have alienated the southern colonies even then. Others pts include the rapid change in American view of King George, the role of views of Parliamentary Supremacy leading to the British government's stubborn provocation of the colonies, and the original American demands being more about asserting what they took to be traditional long-standing rights they were losing as subjects. Ellis is so nicely balanced in sensitivity between the modern reader's retrospective judgment of 18th century attitudes and an appreciation of historical figures on their own terms and in context. A new fan here-

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    It's not that this book is bad; it isn't. It just doesn't need to exist. Joseph Ellis, a wonderful historian, seems to have fallen into that most dangerous of academic pits, writing a book for the sake of writing a book. I am by no means a Revolutionary Historian, and yet there was literally nothing in this book I didn't know already from reading other books. That is never a good thing when reading history. If you have nothing new to say, say old things in a new way. If you can do neither, don't It's not that this book is bad; it isn't. It just doesn't need to exist. Joseph Ellis, a wonderful historian, seems to have fallen into that most dangerous of academic pits, writing a book for the sake of writing a book. I am by no means a Revolutionary Historian, and yet there was literally nothing in this book I didn't know already from reading other books. That is never a good thing when reading history. If you have nothing new to say, say old things in a new way. If you can do neither, don't write. So, I'd say, overall, if someone has never read anything about the American Revolution, this is an ok overview. It's well enough written to keep someone interested, but there are far better overview histories, and it doesn't work as an in-depth.

  12. 4 out of 5

    andrew

    In this outstanding addition (termed a "culmination" by more than one reviewer) to Joseph Ellis's works concerning the American Revolutionary period, the primary focus is on The Cause, the way that the revolutionaries themselves framed the purpose behind their struggle to separate from England. It is full of fascinating details of political and military aspects of the war both in the colonies and in London. Despite the ultimate success of the revolution, there is a clear discussion of how an adh In this outstanding addition (termed a "culmination" by more than one reviewer) to Joseph Ellis's works concerning the American Revolutionary period, the primary focus is on The Cause, the way that the revolutionaries themselves framed the purpose behind their struggle to separate from England. It is full of fascinating details of political and military aspects of the war both in the colonies and in London. Despite the ultimate success of the revolution, there is a clear discussion of how an adherence by many to a pure interpretation of the Cause contributed to a failure of the revolutionary generation to address the tragedies of slavery and the coming removal of Native Americans.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Kendall

    Ellis focuses on critical episodes in the revolutionary decade.The first part examines the movement of American patriots to the idea of independence. Part Two looks at Washington's escape from New York, and the Valley Forge winter, two ordeals which enabled the survival of the Continental Army. Part Three considers the protracted war in the South, the French-led victory at Yorktown, and the difficult peace process. Each chapter concludes with the introduction of a relatively unknown, but signifi Ellis focuses on critical episodes in the revolutionary decade.The first part examines the movement of American patriots to the idea of independence. Part Two looks at Washington's escape from New York, and the Valley Forge winter, two ordeals which enabled the survival of the Continental Army. Part Three considers the protracted war in the South, the French-led victory at Yorktown, and the difficult peace process. Each chapter concludes with the introduction of a relatively unknown, but significant, personality. This is history at its best, written in elegant style. If you are going to read one short book on the American Revolution, this might be it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    B: Outstanding overview of the creation of what would become the United States. Ellis illustrates many parallels with contemporary events, including: The strain between fear of strong central government and the need for a strong central government; Conspiracy theories; British attempt to control of and withdrawal from the colonies with Afghanistan. The author gave an interview just before I read this book in which he believes the reason the colonies didn’t abolish slavery was democracy, the foun B: Outstanding overview of the creation of what would become the United States. Ellis illustrates many parallels with contemporary events, including: The strain between fear of strong central government and the need for a strong central government; Conspiracy theories; British attempt to control of and withdrawal from the colonies with Afghanistan. The author gave an interview just before I read this book in which he believes the reason the colonies didn’t abolish slavery was democracy, the founding fathers couldn’t lead where the majority was unwilling to go. Food for thought for progressives and conservatives as well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pegeen

    Succinct summary of the Revolution; postulates that the Cause had a variety of foundational reasons that caused people to join in . These varied differences and distrust of a “ federal “ government seem very timely. Militia v Continental Army is for me the most eye opening aspect of this history . The “prudent” revolutionaries succeeded yet the price was the glaring evil of the continuation of slavery and the deadly decimation of Native Peoples. I listened to the audio book, and turned the narra Succinct summary of the Revolution; postulates that the Cause had a variety of foundational reasons that caused people to join in . These varied differences and distrust of a “ federal “ government seem very timely. Militia v Continental Army is for me the most eye opening aspect of this history . The “prudent” revolutionaries succeeded yet the price was the glaring evil of the continuation of slavery and the deadly decimation of Native Peoples. I listened to the audio book, and turned the narration up to 1.3 speed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael E. Pressman

    Ellis is always an enjoyable read. I found his book cogent and insightful. In this day of revisionist history and looking through different centuries with 20th century vision and being so smug about it, he manages to blend present historical insight with the perspective of the age that people were living in. The fragility and the tug-of-war between states rights and the concept of a union is laid out with precision. Our founding fathers had as much difficulty in keeping it together as our presen Ellis is always an enjoyable read. I found his book cogent and insightful. In this day of revisionist history and looking through different centuries with 20th century vision and being so smug about it, he manages to blend present historical insight with the perspective of the age that people were living in. The fragility and the tug-of-war between states rights and the concept of a union is laid out with precision. Our founding fathers had as much difficulty in keeping it together as our present non-leaders.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    Another enjoyable and interesting history book by Professor Ellis. He has a way of describing motivations, and interactions bringing the history to life. He points out ironies, hypocrisies and foibles, evoking cringes, chuckles and jaw dropping. His books are always well documented and always easy to read. Another wonderful few hours with American History.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I stopped reading this book. It’s anti-American. It’s trying to rewrite history and say that America is a racist nation from its inception. The founding people in this country just wanted to be free. Not enslaved to ideological bullshit.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie Huskey

    I can't think of a better work to supplement what I was taught during my [Bicentennial era] school years. Although I'm not sufficiently familiar with the literature to know if Ellis says anything new here, "the Cause" -- a brittle and self-contradictory tangle of ideas that motivated the American Revolution, and perhaps continues to influence us -- is much easier to understand after reading this. I can't think of a better work to supplement what I was taught during my [Bicentennial era] school years. Although I'm not sufficiently familiar with the literature to know if Ellis says anything new here, "the Cause" -- a brittle and self-contradictory tangle of ideas that motivated the American Revolution, and perhaps continues to influence us -- is much easier to understand after reading this.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bobby Eubanks

    Great Read I found this very easy to. I rated high because it contained a lot of information that I was not aware of. The short biographies dispersed throughout the book was an added bonus.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark B

    The clarity of the events and persons in these founding years is now imprinted on my mind. After many years and books on the subject, Ellis brings it all together very well.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Neil Funsch

    Not a bad account. A good primer for those who want to know about the American Revolution. I just felt that there was not much new information and fewer new insights.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Very well done. Told from a slightly different angle than the usual sequence of battles, etc. This book is more about how the patriots stayed true to their visions during and beyond the actual war.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Does a great job of explaining the origins of the split between the people who think they won the war by fighting in militias and the people who think they won as part of the Continental army.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    Good narrative history. My main complaint is that the maps are too small, and the pictures are not in color

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    The book does a great job showing the beginnings of The Cause and how it expanded beyond the group that traditionally were called radicals. I do think the book does a weaker job showing the discontents since it largely told from them perspective of the patriots.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vegantrav

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  29. 5 out of 5

    JL

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Roberts

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