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The Men Who Lost America: British…

The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and… (2013)

by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy

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184298,894 (4.19)26
"The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame, but were they? This intriguing book makes a different argument. Weaving together the personal stories of ten prominent men who directed the British dimension of the war, historian Andrew O'Shaughnessy dispels the incompetence myth and uncovers the real reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory. In interlinked biographical chapters, the author follows the course of the war from the perspectives of King George III, Prime Minister Lord North, military leaders including General Burgoyne, the Earl of Sandwich, and others who, for the most part, led ably and even brilliantly. Victories were frequent, and in fact the British conquered every American city at some stage of the Revolutionary War. Yet roiling political complexities at home, combined with the fervency of the fighting Americans, proved fatal to the British war effort. The book concludes with a penetrating assessment of the years after Yorktown, when the British achieved victories against the French and Spanish, thereby keeping intact what remained of the British Empire"--… (more)



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Good for the British viewpoint of the American revolution, and for concise biographies of the British players, from the king and cabinet ministers to the military commanders. ( )
  NLytle | Aug 8, 2013 |
History, as the cliché goes, is written by the victors. Nowhere is this more evident than in the mythology of the American Revolution. The men who orchestrated America’s revolt against England have earned an almost religious reverence in the history books (the very act of calling them collectively the Founding Fathers has a certain Divine righteousness to it). But with all great mythology, the heroes must have their adversaries. And those adversaries are bound by the laws of myth to serve as dark mirrors to the heroes, taking in all of the virtues assigned to the victors and reflecting back the vices against which the heroes fight.

Accepted history and truth, however, are not always the same thing. In Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire, we are reintroduced to the villains of the Revolutionary War. What we learn is that far from being the corrupt, inept, and tyrannical men the history books have presented to us, these men were capable, honorable, and often hamstrung by a host of geopolitical, economic, and sociological constraints that made negotiation with the Colonies impossible and dragged on the war far longer than anyone had wanted.

Much of O’Shaughnessy’s book rests on the key point that the origins of revolution did not have their seeds in hatred for King George III, but rather distrust of the British Parliament and the feeling that Parliament did not take the needs of the colonies into consideration. Indeed, early in the war, men on both sides claimed they were fighting for the preservation of both the King and the Empire. It was only as the war dragged on and it became apparent that King George would not (in truth, could not) scale back the excesses of Parliamentary power that the king became viewed as a tyrant and full succession from the British Empire became the only option for the Colonies.

The author does a brilliant job of presenting the profiles of the key British figures of the war and how a host of outside influences undermined their ability to adequately wage war or negotiate for peace. Drawing from a wealth of personal letters, journals, biographies, and news reports of the period, O’Shaughnessy shines a light into the thoughts and hearts of these individuals who were at various times during the conflict more respected in the Colonies than in their own homeland.

The Men Who Lost America is a valuable addition to our understanding of the Revolutionary War and how it shaped both American and British history.

Reviewer’s Note: I was given an Advance Reader Copy for review.

Reviewer’s Note: This title will not be released until June 2013. Review is based on an Advanced Review Copy. ( )
1 vote juliedawson | May 3, 2013 |
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Focusing on the major players in the drama, Mr. O'Shaughnessy explores the reasons for the loss of the 13 North American colonies, the biggest British disaster since the fall of England's French empire in the 15th century. His account is based on an extensive reading of the vast literature and of many original sources. The Men Who Lost America keeps the whole picture firmly in view: Britain, North America, the Caribbean, the balance-of-power politics on the Continent—all affected by the colonial rebellion.

Mr. O'Shaughnessy shows that many of the British military commanders, contrary to the popular idea of them as effete and bumbling aristocrats, were capable men, such as John Burgoyne, William Howe and Henry Clinton, all of whom had been appointed on the basis of merit rather than patronage or seniority. . . . As for the political leaders in London, Lord George Germain, the British secretary of state for the colonies, was a brilliant organizer who ensured that Britain had regained control of the sea by the end of the war. Even the hapless Lord North was a good parliamentary manager, making him seemingly indispensable to King George III. . . .

Mr. O'Shaughnessy's approach has many advantages, though a few disadvantages as well. His biographical sketches turn the war into an absorbing "Rashomon," in which familiar stories are looked at from different angles, with personal experience playing a part. We learn, for example, just how much Germain's robust attitude toward fighting in America was influenced by his traumatic experience in Germany some 15 years earlier, when he was accused of cowardice at the Battle of Minden during the Seven Years' War. Even so, the book's successive chapters—arranged around individuals rather than themes or events—often overlap (the opening chapter on George III, for example, anticipates a lot of what is later said about Lord North), and sometimes they aren't fully explicable without reference to the details of later narratives.
added by TomVeal | editThe Wall Street Journal, Brendan Simms (pay site) (Jul 29, 2013)
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