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“Happy Birthday America”: New Reads on Revolutionary History 2023

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“Happy Birthday America”: New Reads on Revolutionary History 2023

While parades, BBQs, and fireworks are always on the menu as we gather to celebrate the birth of our nation on July 4th, days around Independence Day can also be a prime time to delve into the rich history of the people and places that make this nation special.

As patriotic fervor surrounds you and you get hungry to learn more about the earliest days of our country — check out one or more of these nonfiction titles that shed some new light on American revolutionary history and about the war for independent America.

american inheritance

American Inheritance : Liberty And Slavery In The Birth Of A Nation, 1765-1795 by Edward J. Larson

Pepperdine University historian Larson explores in this solid account the interplay of liberty and slavery in the decades leading up to and following the American Revolution. Among other individuals and events, Larson spotlights enslaved Boston poet Phillis Wheatley, the 1772 Somerset v. Stewart ruling that American laws protecting slaveholders’ property rights did not apply in England, and Ona Judge, who ran away from President George Washington’s household in 1796. Elsewhere, Larson analyzes meanings of liberty in the writings of John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, and others; and examines how the independence movement, born of opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, employed slavery as its “activating metaphor”.  The result is an accessible and informative overview of the paradox at the heart of the American experiment.

The Cause: The American Revolution And Its Discontents, 1773-1783 by Joseph J. Ellis

Ellis takes a fresh look at the events between 1773 and 1783, recovering a war more brutal than any in American history save the Civil War and discovering a strange breed of “prudent” revolutionaries, whose prudence proved wise yet tragic when it came to slavery, the original sin that still haunts our land.

The Compleat Victory : Saratoga And The American Revolution by Kevin J. Weddle

A comprehensive study of the Saratoga Campaign of 1777. The Battle of Saratoga, which took place over three weeks, was really a series of two large battles and many smaller engagements along the Hudson River north of Albany, New York. As Weddle, a former Army officer who teaches at the Army War College, shows, the outcome was a stinging defeat for the British, whose commander, John Burgoyne, had not long before humiliated the American defenders of Fort Ticonderoga. 

The Enemy Harassed : Washington’s New Jersey Campaign Of 1777 by Jim Stempel

A superb and spirited account of the little remembered but pivotal contest for New Jersey in the aftermath of Washington’s famous Christmas 1776 Crossing of the Delaware. Combining detailed descriptions of the nineteen most noteworthy military engagements with explanations of Congress’ legislative efforts, Washington’s development as a military leader, and Britain’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to pacify New Jersey, Stempel’s vivid prose is sure to captivate anyone interested in the all too often forgotten months between Trenton and the Philadelphia Campaign, ‘one of the most violent, bloody, and consequential periods of the entire American Revolutionary saga.’”

The Founders’ Fortunes : How Money Shaped The Birth Of America by Willard Sterne Randall

In this landmark account, a noted historian investigates the private financial affairs of the Founding Fathers, revealing how and why the Revolution came about and providing a new understanding of the nation’s bedrock values.

george washington political rise

George Washington : The Political Rise Of America’s Founding Father by David O. Stewart

A fascinating and illuminating account of how George Washington became the single most dominant force in the creation of the United States of America.  Stewart makes the case that though George Washington went out of his way to hide it, he was a masterful politician who used his talents to advance the priorities he thought necessary for the fledgling United States. 

George Washington And The Irish : Incredible Stories Of The Irish Spies, Soldiers, And Workers Who Helped Free America by Niall O’Dowd

The Irish played a huge role in the American Revolution, not just on the battlefield but also in the field hospitals and in the framing of the Declaration of Independence. O’Dowd takes readers on a journey into the unexplored contributions of the Irish in the American Revolution and behind the scenes of the relationships of some of those men and women with the first president of the United States.

The Great New York Fire of 1776 : A Lost Story Of The American Revolution by Benjamin L. Carp

New York City, the strategic center of the Revolutionary War, was the most important place in North America in 1776. That summer, an unruly rebel army under George Washington repeatedly threatened to burn the city rather than let the British take it. Shortly after the Crown’s forces took New York City, much of it mysteriously burned to the ground. This is the first book to fully explore the Great Fire of 1776 and why its origins remained a mystery even after the British investigated it in 1776 and 1783. Uncovering stories of espionage, terror, and radicalism, Carp paints a vivid picture of the chaos, passions, and unresolved tragedies that define a historical moment we usually associate with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In The Founders’ Footsteps : Landmarks Of The American Revolution by Adam Van Doren

A tour through the original thirteen colonies in search of historical sites and their stories in America’s founding. Obscure, well-known, off-the-beaten path, and on busy city streets, here are taverns, meeting houses, battlefields, forts, monuments, homes which all combine to define our country–the places where daring people forged a revolution.

The Indispensables : The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped The Country, Formed The Navy, And Rowed Washington Across The Delaware by Patrick K. O’Donnell

Tells the history of the Marblehead Regiment, led by John Glover, which fought at Lexington; on Bunker Hill, formed the Guard that protected George Washington; and conveyed Washington’s men across the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776.

liberty is sweet

Liberty Is Sweet : The Hidden History Of The American Revolution by Woody Holton

A celebrated scholar’s history of the American Revolution, from its origins to its aftermath, which emphasizes the contributions of groups usually omitted in this story: Native Americans, African Americans, and women.

Morristown : The Darkest Winter Of The Revolutionary War And The Plot To Kidnap George Washington by William Hazelgrove

The winter of 1779 to 1780 would mark Washington’s darkest hour where he contemplated the army coming apart from lack of food, money, six years of war, desertions, mutiny, the threat of a devastating attack by the British, and incredibly, a plot to kidnap him. Yet Morristown would mark a turning point.

One Life To Give : Martyrdom And The Making Of The American Revolution by John Fanestil

Fanestil traces the deep history of the tradition of martyrdom from its classical and Christian origins to the onset of the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, he articulates how the tradition of American martyrdom animated countless personal commitments to American independence, and thereby to the war.

Our First Civil War : Patriots And Loyalists In The Revolution by H.W. Brands

Brands offers a fresh and riveting narrative of the American Revolution that shows it to be more than a fight against the British, but also a violent battle among neighbors forced to choose sides, Loyalist and Patriot.

Rebels At Sea : Privateering In The American Revolution by Eric Jay Dolin

Dolin reclaims the daring freelance sailors who proved essential to the winning of the Revolutionary War.   Armed with cannons, swivel guns, muskets, and pikes-as well as government documents granting them the right to seize enemy ships-thousands of privateers tormented the British on the broad Atlantic and in bays and harbors on both sides of the ocean.

revolutionary roads

Revolutionary Roads : Searching For The War That Made America Independent…And All The Places It Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong by Bob Thompson

This book takes readers on a time-traveling adventure through the crucial places American independence was won and might have been lost. You’ll ride shotgun withThompson as he puts more than 20,000 miles on his car, not to mention his legs; walks history-shaping battlefields from Georgia to Quebec; and hangs out with passionate lovers of revolutionary history whose vivid storytelling and deep knowledge of their subject enrich his own.

1774 : The Long Year Of Revolution by Mary Beth Norton

Presents information on the American Revolution and the revolutionary change that took place from December 1773 to mid-April 1775, including the Boston Tea Party and the first Continental Congress to the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Thirteen Clocks : How Race United The Colonies And Made The Declaration of Independence by Robert G. Parkinson

In his celebrated account of the origins of American unity, John Adams described July 1776 as the moment when thirteen clocks managed to strike at the same time. So how did these American colonies overcome long odds to create a durable union capable of declaring independence from Britain? In this powerful new history of the fifteen tense months that culminated in the Declaration of Independence, Parkinson provides a troubling answer: racial fear. He argues that patriot leaders used racial prejudices to persuade Americans to declare independence.

Valcour : The 1776 Campaign That Saved The Cause Of Liberty by Jack Kelly

The wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

Winning Independence : The Decisive Years Of The Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 by John E. Ferling

A masterly history of the lesser-known second half of the Revolutionary War. Ferling reminds readers that American patriots, ecstatic after the 1777 victory at Saratoga, were not expecting the fighting to continue for nearly twice as long as before. He argues that American victory at Saratoga and Yorktown was far from guaranteed—chance, along with military strategy, played a significant role in the founding of the U.S. 

Happy Independence Day!

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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