Book review: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)
“Washington never allowed the army to disdain its civilian superiors. Fabius was the role circumstances forced him to play, Cincinnatus the character his own more closely resembled.”
If you read only one history book about the American revolutionary period, read this one. That said, readers without a passing knowledge of the 1770s and 80s may get lost in Rakove frequent digressions and flashbacks within flashbacks.
“Where the ideologue Adams believed that a raw lust for power was driving Britain’s leaders to seek dominion over America, Morris preferred to blame obtuse stupidity and miscalculation. But both agreed that British missteps, rather than American desires, had brought the colonies to the point of independence.”
Rakove is of the people-make-history school, but also posits that some people rise to the challenge better than others. This collection of mini biographies is fleshed out by considering more than the obvious giants of the age.
“Madison was at once a constitutional radical, celebrating the capacity of his countrymen to rethink basic questions of republican government, and a political conservative who never underestimated the risks they were taking. That too was part of his political genius.”
Unlike so many modern historians, Rakove keeps his opinions to himself and does not batter the reader with his agenda. There’s plenty of credit and blamer for most everything that went right and wrong.
“All of them shared that one characteristic that Hamilton memorialized in Nathanael Greene. ‘Those great revolutions which sometimes convulse society,’ Hamilton reminded his brother officers of the Cincinnati, had also this merit: ‘that they serve to bring to light talents and virtues which might otherwise have languished in obscurity or only shot forth a few scattered and wandering rays.’”