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Revolutionary: George Washington at War

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In a bold reappraisal of Washington as a young soldier destined be a legendary general, an acclaimed military historian brings to life the man who took on the British and with his leadership came to define the American character. How did George Washington become an American icon? Robert O'Connell, bestselling author of Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, i In a bold reappraisal of Washington as a young soldier destined be a legendary general, an acclaimed military historian brings to life the man who took on the British and with his leadership came to define the American character. How did George Washington become an American icon? Robert O'Connell, bestselling author of Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, introduces us to Washington before he was Washington: a young soldier, champing at the bit for a commission in the British army, frustrated by his position as a minor Virginia aristocrat. Fueled by ego, he led a disastrous expedition in the Seven Years War, but then the commander grew up. We witness George Washington take up politics and join Virginia's colonial governing body, the House of Burgesses, where he became ever more attuned to the injustices of life under the British Empire and the paranoid, revolutionary atmosphere of the colonies. When war seemed inevitable, he was the right man--the only man--to lead the nascent American army. We would not be here without George Washington, and O'Connell proves that General Washington was at least as significant to the founding of the United States as Washington the president. He emerges here as cunning and manipulative, a subtle puppeteer among intimates and a master cajoler--but all in the cause of rectitude and moderation. Washington became the embodiment of the Revolution itself. He draped himself over the Revolutionary process and tamped down its fires. As O'Connell writes, the war was decisive because Washington managed to stop a cycle of violence with the force of personality and personal restraint. In his trademark conversational, witty style, Robert O'Connell has written a compelling reexamination of General Washington and his revolutionary world. He cuts through enigma surrounding Washington to show how the general made all the difference and became a new archetype of revolutionary leader in the process.


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In a bold reappraisal of Washington as a young soldier destined be a legendary general, an acclaimed military historian brings to life the man who took on the British and with his leadership came to define the American character. How did George Washington become an American icon? Robert O'Connell, bestselling author of Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, i In a bold reappraisal of Washington as a young soldier destined be a legendary general, an acclaimed military historian brings to life the man who took on the British and with his leadership came to define the American character. How did George Washington become an American icon? Robert O'Connell, bestselling author of Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, introduces us to Washington before he was Washington: a young soldier, champing at the bit for a commission in the British army, frustrated by his position as a minor Virginia aristocrat. Fueled by ego, he led a disastrous expedition in the Seven Years War, but then the commander grew up. We witness George Washington take up politics and join Virginia's colonial governing body, the House of Burgesses, where he became ever more attuned to the injustices of life under the British Empire and the paranoid, revolutionary atmosphere of the colonies. When war seemed inevitable, he was the right man--the only man--to lead the nascent American army. We would not be here without George Washington, and O'Connell proves that General Washington was at least as significant to the founding of the United States as Washington the president. He emerges here as cunning and manipulative, a subtle puppeteer among intimates and a master cajoler--but all in the cause of rectitude and moderation. Washington became the embodiment of the Revolution itself. He draped himself over the Revolutionary process and tamped down its fires. As O'Connell writes, the war was decisive because Washington managed to stop a cycle of violence with the force of personality and personal restraint. In his trademark conversational, witty style, Robert O'Connell has written a compelling reexamination of General Washington and his revolutionary world. He cuts through enigma surrounding Washington to show how the general made all the difference and became a new archetype of revolutionary leader in the process.

30 review for Revolutionary: George Washington at War

  1. 4 out of 5

    doug.whatzup

    There are any number of more compelling George Washington biographies, more detailed and thorough Revolutionary War histories and more insightful works on the philosophical roots of the American colonies’ break with Great Britain. If you want to learn about Washington, read Chernow, Brookhiser, Ellis, Flexner, Ferling, Freeman or even Washington Irving (by all means, read Irving). If your interest is the war itself and its most noteworthy battles, read Philbrick (Bunker Hill, Yorktown) or Ketchu There are any number of more compelling George Washington biographies, more detailed and thorough Revolutionary War histories and more insightful works on the philosophical roots of the American colonies’ break with Great Britain. If you want to learn about Washington, read Chernow, Brookhiser, Ellis, Flexner, Ferling, Freeman or even Washington Irving (by all means, read Irving). If your interest is the war itself and its most noteworthy battles, read Philbrick (Bunker Hill, Yorktown) or Ketchum (Saratoga) or, presumably Rick Atkinson’s “The British Are Coming” (which I have yet to read). For a more general overview of the break with George III and the British Parliament, I don’t think Middlekauf’s “The Glorious Cause” can be beat, but there are plenty of others – from Ferling and Flexner again and probably David McCullough’s “1776” (which I also have yet to read). Robert L. O’Connell’s “Revolutionary: George Washington at War” is not the best introduction to Washington, the course of the war or the philosophical roots of the revolution, but he does have something to add, even if only at the edges. Other historians have presented a much fuller (and sympathetic) picture of Washington the man, and while O’Connell does offer a somewhat unique insights to his transformation from ambitious social climber to military leader to, finally, the father of his country, one does sense that most of these insights are gleaned from his reading of the biographers mentioned above. His main point – that the American revolution and the subsequent establishment of a constitutional republic would have turned out much differently had a lesser man been at the helm – is a point that's been made many times before. O’Connell’s a military historian, but he tends to gloss over the most pivotal battles, providing students of the war almost nothing that they don’t already know. On the other hand, he describes what he calls “Dangerland,” the sort of no man’s land between Clinton’s forces holed up in New York and Washington’s ragtag troops arrayed around them in the months leading up to Yorktown. If you’ve seen the TV series “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” you’ll recognize some of the key players and action that occurred as Washington waged a more or less guerrilla war against Clinton’s troops while Cornwallis was chasing Greene and Morgan around the Carolina countryside. Because Washington’s intent was to keep the British hemmed in while avoiding major confrontations during this period, it is often given short shrift by other historians. O’Connell, on the other hand, manages to convey just how pivotal and fraught with danger this state of affairs was. As for the Revolution’s philosophical and political roots, O’Connell touches on influences that I haven’t come across before: Britain’s so-called “Country Party,” which may or may not have influenced Washington himself but certainly affected the political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic, and “rage militaire,” the colonists’ early enthusiasm for violent revolution against their British overlords. He also argues that for Great Britain the American Revolution was essentially unwinnable in much the same way the Vietnam War was for the U.S. nearly two centuries later. The only way Britain could have held onto the colonies was by winning the hearts and minds of the colonists, but the very nature of warfare made that impossible, and as one atrocity piled upon another, Washington could win the war simply by holding his army together (no easy task) and waiting the British out. For all its insights, I found O’Connell’s frequent use of colloquialisms jarring at times. I’m probably a word Nazi, but I don’t think the term “numero uno” belongs in a book about the American Revolution. At one point, O’Connell describes Washington aide John Laurens as “gonzo,” and he refers to New York as “the Big Apple” (a term that came into being in the 1920s) and later “Gotham” (which is only real in Batman comics). The Paoli Massacre, a surprise bayonet-only raid on an Anthony Wayne encampment, he calls “a puncture fest.” This kind of language probably works well in the classroom, but as a reader I found it distracting and annoying. I mean, where does he get off referring to George Washington as “GW,” which he does throughout “Revolutionary.” Washington was nothing if not dignified; any biographical treatment of him should honor that. That’s how I see it anyway.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    I received this ARC from Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review. This is an interesting twist on George Washington and the American Revolution. The author looks at the subjects as revolutionists and compares them to other revolutions and revolutionary figures. Rather that a complete history of General Washington, the author concentrates on his childhood and military career. Washington from a young age dreamed of becoming a soldier. The book deals extensively with his mili I received this ARC from Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review. This is an interesting twist on George Washington and the American Revolution. The author looks at the subjects as revolutionists and compares them to other revolutions and revolutionary figures. Rather that a complete history of General Washington, the author concentrates on his childhood and military career. Washington from a young age dreamed of becoming a soldier. The book deals extensively with his military career in both the French and Indian War and especially during the American Revolution. It took me a while to get into the book and to warm to the authors viewpoint, but I enjoyed his discussion of the Revolution. He discusses the central role of George Washington in both the success of the Revolution and it preventing it from turning into the bloodbath that was the French Revolution and other revolutions throughout history. Washington was always a calming influence in preventing the bloody excesses that define other revolutions. Especially revealing to me were the author’s view that the British had lost the Revolution from the start and never had a chance of winning. This view was based on his belief that the British were wrong in their belief that the revolutionary spirit in American was only felt among a handful of revolutionary leaders and not the general populous. He does an excellent job of proving this British belief wrong and that in spite of their victories on the battlefield, they were failing miserably in gaining the hearts and mind of the citizens. And without that they never had a chance of success. One reason for this failure that astounded me, was the extent of the abusive behavior of the British military. I knew about the bitter conflict in the South between the Patriot and Tory factions, but I never knew of the atrocities committed by the British throughout the Colonies. Any chance they had of gaining the support of the populous was lost by this poor behavior. It was surprising to me to learn the extent of looting and rapes committed and the British forces. It was to Washington’s great credit that he strictly forbid this type of vengeful reprisal by American soldiers and this kept the public opinion battle firmly on the side of the Colonists. Overall this was a fascinating look George Washington and the American Revolution, and especially at Washington’s primary role in the success of the war and the remarkable government that was formed. The America that we know never would have existed without George Washington.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Matzke

    While I generally prefer historical fiction to straight history, I found this book to be an interesting study of George Washington. The author used contemporary language for his narrative along with quotes from GW in the stilted style of the late 1700’s. This combination gave the text an element of story telling that made the book very interesting and entertaining. This went well beyond the US History Class version of the Revolutionary War. Insights into the British mindset regarding the colonie While I generally prefer historical fiction to straight history, I found this book to be an interesting study of George Washington. The author used contemporary language for his narrative along with quotes from GW in the stilted style of the late 1700’s. This combination gave the text an element of story telling that made the book very interesting and entertaining. This went well beyond the US History Class version of the Revolutionary War. Insights into the British mindset regarding the colonies helped the reader to understand the dynamics at work on both sides of the conflict. GW is seen as truly the right person at the right time to lead the Patriots to victory over the Oppressors. He knew how to project an image of a confident leader and people responded to that image with their total support. If you have ever wondered about GW and his role in the founding of the United States, this book would be well worth your time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    T B

    This was very good. It's more of a character study of Washington (GW he calls him) than a history or biography. It begins with his early life and tracks him through to the American Revolution but not to his Presidency. It has an excellent analysis of Washington's principles for defeating the World's #1 military power and dovetails that strategy into Washington's character. O'Connell also develops the strengths and weaknesses of Washington's key lieutenants such as Greene, Wayne, Knox and (gulp!) This was very good. It's more of a character study of Washington (GW he calls him) than a history or biography. It begins with his early life and tracks him through to the American Revolution but not to his Presidency. It has an excellent analysis of Washington's principles for defeating the World's #1 military power and dovetails that strategy into Washington's character. O'Connell also develops the strengths and weaknesses of Washington's key lieutenants such as Greene, Wayne, Knox and (gulp!) Arnold as well as insights into the British commanders, politicians and the King. I've read several Washington books and this one adds interesting dimensions to the biographies that I've read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chancellor Fangirl

    A somewhat different look at Washington, this book focuses on him as a military leader. The main thrust of the book is an important one to remember--Washington had the power and charisma to be a very different kind of revolutionary leader, and it was very much to America's benefit that he always put the cause first and refused the greater power others tried to thrust upon him. My one complaint is the book sometimes wanders away from Washington and into the War more generally, when I would have p A somewhat different look at Washington, this book focuses on him as a military leader. The main thrust of the book is an important one to remember--Washington had the power and charisma to be a very different kind of revolutionary leader, and it was very much to America's benefit that he always put the cause first and refused the greater power others tried to thrust upon him. My one complaint is the book sometimes wanders away from Washington and into the War more generally, when I would have preferred to stick with Washington.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This si a very interesting analysis of the role Washington played in the Revolution. Not only does the author give a good but brief history of the war with Washington at the center, he also gives pretty convincing arguments for such ideas as that the British could never have won the war and Washington was the main reason the Revolution ended neither in a bloodbath nor tyranny in a different form.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    Nice to get a sense of the tactician, time, setting and characters. Martha, like her husband, was a bad weather animal. Good reminder that colonists said the british wanted to enslave them, that being the reason they rebelled. Nat Turner, patriot or terrorist?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robin Case

    Very different take on the General George Washington story. Readable, not dry. Covers a lot of ground focusing on the military part of the story. Refers to the subject as "GW". Gives an informal feel to the dialogue.

  9. 4 out of 5

    C. William

    I could not put this book down. If your looking for the way George Washington ran the war this is the book. If you study our revolution or study Washington do not pass this book up.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    This book had some fascinating insights into the Revolutionary War and George Washington. The author was a bit too in awe of GW. A little more objectivity would be in order

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

    The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book. There were many facts that I only discovered after reading this!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ray W

    Good content but O'Connell often floats around a bit instead of staying on topic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Russo

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clare

  16. 4 out of 5

    Guy Evans

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diego

  19. 5 out of 5

    Randy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard Waymire

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allen Leverett

  23. 5 out of 5

    Curt

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul Graham

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Louise

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Schumacher

  28. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Russo

  29. 5 out of 5

    PWRL

    SM

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky Gallego

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