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The British Are Coming: A book review by Bob Morris

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy)
Rick Atkinson
Henry Holt & Company (May 2019)

Another masterpiece to be savored and cherished

I read and reviewed Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns of Last Light — and thus was eager to share his thoughts about the American Revolution. Also, I was curious to know if he offers the same combination of rock-solid research and  lively narrative, one that anchors human experience within an authentic historical context. This first volume of his new trilogy is a brilliant achievement in all respects.

While interviewed by Scott Simon for NPR, Atkinson discusses what motivated colonial leaders to seek independence: “Certainly you had some people, white slave owners in the south for example, who felt pinched economically by the restrictions that have been placed on them. But I think that it’s not romanticizing that era excessively to believe, particularly when you look at the contemporary writings and what it is they believed at the time, that [the founders] had their eye on a grander future than simply a slave-holding country that was a nice place to be if you were white and rich. I think that really we sell them short if we don’t acknowledge that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator’ and all those other fine words out of the Declaration of Independence are what they really believed. They’re aspirational, yes.”

No brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the scope and depth of information and insights that Atkinson provides in this first of three volumes in his Liberation Trilogy but I do hope I succeed in urging everyone who reads this commentary to obtain a copy and thereby accompany him on a thorough, enlightening, and entertaining  exploration of two of the most important years thus far in the history of what became the United States of America. How did thirteen quite different colonies led by a wide variety of personalities accomplish that after declaring independence from the most powerful nation in the world?

That is one of several obvious questions to which Atkinson responds but he doesn’t stop there. Another of his primary objectives is to portray these years in human terms — with all due respect to the nature and extent of colonial ambition — and that includes both revolutionaries and those who oppose them.

Slowly, portraits of major figures reproduced in the book almost seem to come to life. They include George III, Thomas Gage, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Israel Putnam, George Washington, Henry Knox, Benedict Arnold. Horatio Gates, William Howe, John Burgoyne, Charles Lee, Thomas Paine, and Nathaniel Greene.

Also accompanying the text, there are paintings and sketches of major events that include King George’s four-day review of the massive British fleet at Portsmouth; Franklin’s humiliation by the king’s council in the “Cockpit” in 1774; British regiments advancing on Concord in 1775, British regulars landing at Morton’s Point, also in 1775; American seizure of a commanding position on Dorchester Heights in 1776;  also, a “drubbing” of the British fleet off Sullivan’s Island; the Hessian defeat at Trenton;  and Washington’s defeat pf British forces in Princeton before heading for winter quarters in the New Jersey highlands.

Thanks to mini-bios and the illustrations that accompany the abundance of historical material, I never felt overwhelmed.

After completing his Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson has added another masterpiece with this first volume of the Revolution Trilogy. Bravo!



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