Book Review: Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E Cohen (Five Stars)

Book Review: Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E Cohen

Five Stars

The authors noted that successful generals “covet” maps. Students of history likewise. This is a book of maps to be coveted. Better yet, purchased.

Normally, I interleave quotes from books in my reviews; if I could I’d insert maps. But I can’t. If you are at all interested in maps or the American Revolution, find this book. The maps featured not only recorded but, in a few cases, helped make history. Several are newly discovered. “Many had never been reproduced before.” All are beautifully duplicated in this full-color 12 x 13 volume.

The “making history” claim is based on maps which were used contemporaneously by participants in the struggle. Some mislead combatants into blunders that better maps would have identified.

Finally, the volume includes the famous 1782 “red-lined map” by which the peace negotiators in Paris drew the boundaries of the new country. Had British delegate Richard Oswald chosen to guide his pen up the Illinois River, rather than the Mississippi, the fledging nation might have been deprived of much of current Illinois, Iowa Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. And Ben Franklin et al. would still have been pleased with Oswald’s generosity.

Quibbles: The authors are map experts not historians. They misunderstood either the location or the significance of Forts Washington and Lee guarding the Hudson River above New York, as documented by their statement, “But Fort Washington and Fort Lee proved ineffective when the combined might of His Majesty’s army and navy sailed blithely into New York harbor.”

Their accompanying narrative skips several significant battles, perhaps because they lacked good maps of them. Occasionally they threw in what maps they had, for example Cap François on St. Dominque (now Haiti), regardless of their irrelevancy.

My last quibble is that the maps were not reproduced is sufficient quality to allow the viewing of minute details. Yes, I mean, with a magnifying glass. Some of the originals were obviously very large. Reducing them to fit necessarily reduced them too small to read. What’s the point of a book of maps you can’t read? (Should have cost them a star, but this book is too significant to be so petty.)

Unfortunately, the work-around for seeing the maps in detail offered by the authors, a link to Richard Brown’s collection of Revolutionary War maps, did not work. This one does: http://maps.bpl.org/explore/subject/richard-h-brown-revolutionary-war-map-collection

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