American Revolution Top Ten Booklist
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress. This act was only the first step towards the creation of the United States. The United States then fought a seven year war to cement its independence from England. The successful fight for independence has had a remarkable impact on world history over the past 200 years. The United States gradually transformed itself from a former colony into a superpower. The impact of this revolution cannot be ignored.
Fortunately, many of the best United States historians have written extensively about this conflict. Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and Gordon Wood's The American Revolution are arguably two of the most important United States history books in general. Since these are two of the best known United States history books and almost every booklist on the American Revolution includes them, we have the left them off the list to make space for some other great books. These books are outstanding for a number of different reasons, but most of these books found new ways to look at the same story. By changing our perspective on the Revolution they also to see and think about aspects of American history that we never considered. Here's our list.
1. Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (Vintage Books, 2012) - Maier's book does a masterful job both explaining the origins of the Declaration of Independence and how the Second Continental Congress transformed itself into a national government. Maier's book may be the best book about the Declaration of Independence. It is absolutely essential if you want to understand why the Declaration of Independence was created and what it was designed to accomplish.
2. Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America:British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire (Yale University Press, 2013) - How did the British Empire lose the American colonies? Instead of being undermined by their leaders or military commanders, O'Shaughnessy focuses on the British side of the war to understand what ultimately undermined their campaign against the colonies. Not surprisingly, he discovers a fascinating story where internal British political and economic concerns, the doggedness of the revolutionaries, and the distance between Britain and the colonies slowly degraded the ability and the willingness of the British to continue fighting.
3. Alan Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence (University of Chicago Press, 2012) - Gilbert's book has been widely described as illuminating the previously unappreciated "revolution within the revolution." African Americans fought on both sides of the Revolution for freedom. While slaves fought for the British because they were freed from bondage, many African-Americans also fought for the colonists for the stated principles of freedom. Tragically, Gilbert persuasively argues that the founders had a unique opportunity to free the colonial slaves at this juncture in American history, but failed to do so. This failure resulted in the slaughter of 600,000 Americans during the Civil War.
4. Gordon Wood, Radicalism of the American Revolution (Vintage, 1993) - Wood's Radicalism of the American Revolution is a masterpiece and it was justifiably awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Wood describes how the the American colonies were transformed from a monarchy to a dynamic democracy. His book explores how a new type of radicalism fundamentally altered the American mind.
5. John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (Oxford University Press, 2009) Ferling's single volume history of the American Revolution explores how the nascent national government defeated the British. Ultimately, the colonies and George Washington wore down the British and forced them out of the former colonies. Ferling book is fantastic place to start learning about the American Revolution.
6. David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (Oxford University Press, 2005) - Fischer's Washington Crossing also won the Pulitzer Prize for history. Instead of looking at the entire revolutionary war, Fischer focuses on Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the defeat of the Hessian soldiers in Trenton. Washington's victory was critical for the survival of the American colonies and Fischer's book explores the people (on both sides) who were involved in this military action. He shows how small actions by different actors on both sides can alter the course of history.
7. Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (Hill and Wang, 2002) - Just as the American Revolution was a beginning a smallpox outbreak began causing chaos and death across the colonies. Fenn describes how the smallpox outbreak almost destroyed Washington's colonial army and spread throughout the colonies during the war. Washington desperate decision to inoculate his troops at Valley Forge saved his troops and the colonies's hopes of independence. After Valley Forge, the smallpox epidemic devastated the slaves who joined the British forces and wiped out Native Americans at the edge of the colonies. Fenn shows the role smallpox played in colonies's drive for independence.
8. T.H. Breen, The Marketplace Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (Oxford University Press, 2005) - Breen's book looks beyond politics to understand what united the colonies against the crown and comes to unique conclusion. The colonists used their shared experiences as imperial consumers to voice their ideas and opinions against Britain through boycotts. The Boston Tea Party was a political expression of the colonists opinions and lead to one of the most successful consumer boycotts in history.
9. Joseph T. Glatthaur and James Kirby Martin, Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution (Wang and Hill, 2007) - Forgotten Allies explores how the Oneida Indians fought alongside the colonies against Britain only to have their culture destroyed. This book tells a completely forgotten and tragic story about a former ally of the colonies during its struggle for independence.
10. Colin Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (Studies in North American Indian History) (Cambridge University Press, 1995) - Unlike Forgotten Allies, Calloway's book explores the impact of the Revolution on eight different Indian communities. The Revolution fundamentally changed the political dynamics for Native Americans. Calloway traces the ways that these Indians communities were changed and destroyed as result of the war. It was the first major book that took this approach to the American Revolution.