The British Are Coming: The War For America, Lexington To Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy #1), by Rick Atkinson
The reading experience of this book was an odd one for me. On the one hand, this book is a competently written popular history that focuses on military matters that should be appealing to a great many readers aside from the fact that the text is somewhat bloated and the author is fixated on looking at elite perspectives. On the other hand, the book is written by a former WaPo hack journalist and that fact along (as well as the clickbaity title) leads the reader who is inclined to be hostile to current and former Washington Post writers to look for the evidence of hackery in this book, and such evidence can be found. It should be noted, for example, that it would not have been said by Paul Revere or anyone else in 1775 New England that the British were coming because everyone viewed themselves as British. Indeed, the vociferous demands on the part of American colonists about their rights sprang from their conviction that as Britons (albeit colonial ones) they had the same rights that Britons had fought to be recognized going back for centuries enshined in the Magna Carta as well as the demands made of the tyrannical Stuart monarchs of the 17th century. It was not until the American colonists realized that they were not viewed as Britons by imperial authorities with the rights of Britons that they had to figure out what it meant to be American. Yet this is not explained in the roughly 550 pages of text in what promises to be a series that is likely more than 1500 pages of densely written material.
This book has three parts and 22 chapters of material. The book begins with a list of maps and a map legend as well as a list of illustrations and a prologue that discusses the situation in England as George III inspected the fleet, the British Parliament avenged the tea with coercion, and England prepared to war on its own colonists. After that the first part of the book contains eight chapters that cover from the situation in Boston before Lexington and Concord (1) through the battles themselves (2), the beginnings of the siege of Boston (3, 4), the American invasion of Canada (5), the situation in London (6), the defeat of imperial forces in Virginia (7), and the unsuccessful American assault on Quebec (8). The second part of the book then discusses the continuing siege of Boston (9), the defeat of royalist Scots in North Carolina (10), a return again to Boston (11), the retreat of the Americans from Quebec (12), and the frustrations of the American efforts to defend New York City in the face of the imperial invasion (13, 15, 16) as well as the successful patriot defense of Charleston (14). The third part of the book then discusses the naval battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain (17), the American retreat from New York (18), Benjamin Franklin’s experiences in Paris (19), the fierce behavior of the imperial forces in New Jersey that provoked more rebellion (20), as well as American successes at Trenton (21) and Princeton (22), after which the book ends with an epilogue, author’s note, sources, acknowledgements, and index.
Overall, this is not a bad book. If the book had been written by Jeff Shaara, I would have found it modestly enjoyable if a bit limited in its approach. Yet knowing it was written by a former WaPo editor and praised by such hack publications as as the Washington Post and New York Times on its back cover lowers its credibility as a work and makes the little moments in the book where the author labels American founders as hypocrites because they did not immediately end slavery insufferable examples of contemporary liberalism’s anachronistic moralism. Yet there is little here that is too bad that a bit of judicious editing could not have fixed. With a bit of lopping and cropping, especially of the author’s more irritating retrospective judgments on the past, the book would have been free of that contemporary leftist mindset of the author that would prevent this book from being seen as a well-written if hardly exemplary example of military-dominated American history. That is what this book is trying to be, and it is only a shame that the author’s background and perspective get in the way of what should be an obviously successful work that would be easy to recommend.