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Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis: John Adams remains the greatest

Hot damn, Revolutionary Summer.

If you feel like there might be a whiff of scandal around the name of Joseph Ellis, there is! Ellis, who won a Pulitzer for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, also falsely claimed to have commanded a platoon in Vietnam, when what he really did was teach history at West Point. 

Sir. Teaching history at West Point is nothing to sniff at. But I get that you might have some weird "I feel bad for not having fought in a war" thing when you write so much about them. But still. It's ok. You just keep writing short but informative histories about our Founding Fathers.

So Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence unsurprisingly deals with the summer of 1776. The way Ellis differentiates this from SO MANY other books about that year is he says that most people write either about the Continental Congress, or the Continental Army, and you have to write about both because they affected each other. Fair. Point. Sir.

I didn't go out of my way to find this book. I was stuck at Midway Airport in Chicago for two hours and realized my clever "I'll only read things on the Kindle app on my phone" didn't factor in my intense paranoia about my phone's battery, so I went to a Hudson Books and skimmed titles for 20 minutes until settling on this as something I could maybe finish on the trip. 

It's short, about 220 pages.  He starts in the spring of 1776 and gives a quick gloss regarding the events leading up to the official break with England. I realized early on that I know very little about American history, and this was an awesome & quick overview. Ellis obviously is in love with and wants to marry our Founding Fathers, particularly John Adams, which I 100% support. His love of Adams doesn't stop him from saying things like this about him, though:

He had been auditioning for the role of American Cicero in the privacy of his own mind for nearly a decade.

I'm sure you were very good at it, Johnny.

The main thing I got from this book is how thoroughly America was fucked when you looked at the basic facts, and how insane it is we won the war.  That summer was decisive in that General Howe, the leader of the British troops, could have destroyed our army time and time again, but he kept not doing it. 

Our army in 1776 that somehow did not get destroyed

During one foggy night, we had to ferry all our troops from Brooklyn to Manhattan without the heavy British naval presence somehow seeing us and cannoning us to hell. But we did it.

The initial response on the British side was utter disbelief that Washington had somehow managed to extract his entire army without being noticed. The Americans, so it seemed to several British officers, had shown themselves to be wholly inadequate on the field of battle, but brilliant in their talent at running away.

Aw, yeah.

 I'm basically impressed by any historian who can keep things clear and to the point, because historians are famously terrible at that. And his book left me wanting to learn more about the Revolutionary War. What happened to Howe during the rest of his time in America! Did Henry Clinton suck as much as everyone seems to have thought? How did Alexander Hamilton rise through the ranks? And what the hell happened at Yorktown that everyone seems to be so jazzed about?

Totally was into this book. 4 stars for Joseph Ellis.


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