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Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British… (2000)

by Fred Anderson

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940817,136 (4.29)30
In this account of the Seven Years' War, Fred Anderson demonstrates that the conflict was more than just a peripheral squabble that anticipated the American Revolution, changing the character of British Imperialism with the mother country trying to reshape terms of empire and the colonists' place.
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Though long overshadowed in the traditional historical narrative by the American Revolution, the Seven Years’ War, as Fred Anderson argues, is the most important event in the eighteenth-century North American history. Fought in the untamed wilderness which both France and Britain claimed, the struggle brought an end to the French empire in North America. Yet ironically in doing so, it sowed the seeds for the eventual collapse of Britain’s own empire in the Americas by expanding it beyond a manageable size and creating pressures that ultimately led the thirteen colonies to rebel. This war and its legacy is the subject of this superb book, one that offers a complex and inter-layered narrative of the origins, conduct, and consequences of this often-ignored conflict.

Anderson begins by examining the interaction between the British, the French, and the Iroquois in the Ohio Valley. Sandwiched between the two European empire, the Iroquois Confederacy played one off the other successfully for many years. Yet land concessions to the British in the 1740s soon paved the way for growing encroachment of the Ohio Valley by British colonists, prompting the French to assert their own claims to the region. When war erupted in 1754 (as a result of a clash between a French force and a party of Virginians and Indians, one carefully reconstructed and dramatically retold by Anderson), it expanded gradually into a general conflict between Britain and France, with fighting taking place on nearly every continent.

The war is the dominant focus of Anderson’s book, and he supplies a readable and insightful narrative of the course of the war. While his focus is predominantly on the political and military struggles in North America, he also provides an description of the relevant British politics and a summary of the war in Europe. Particularly notable is his coverage of the Native Americans, which he depicts not as opportunistic savages but as canny political operators who saw themselves as free agents involved in a web of relationships with each other as well as with the colonial powers. Though the book bogs down in his subsequent examination of the postwar adjustments to British victory, these chapters make for fascinating reading by demonstrating just how close the link was between the problems posed by Britain’s triumph and the protests that ultimately would lead to rebellion.

By the end of the book, it is hard to deny the merits of Anderson’s argument. Through his expert analysis and deft interweaving of people and events, he succeeds in restoring the Seven Years’ War to the pivotal place it deserves in American history. Clearly written and supplemented with numerous images and maps, it is a masterful study of the war, one unlikely to be surpassed in its breadth of coverage or quality of its analysis. For anyone seeking a history of the war and its legacy for American history, this is the book to read. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
This is a masterful work of history. Anderson seamlessly blends scholarship with clear and engaging writing. When I first picked the book up I was concerned that it would be a slog, but the pages just flew by.

While providing an excellent history of the French and Indian War, Anderson also tracks the larger trends shaping 18th Century North America, putting the war in the context of relations between the European colonists and the Native Americans as well as the relations between the colonists and Europe. ( )
  JLHeim | Aug 2, 2013 |
Crucible of War sets the stage for the American Revolution. The work explains how the misunderstanding between the Indians, the colonists and Great Britain ultimately led to revolution. It is a definitive work on the happenings and effects of the 7-year War (of French and Indian War if you prefer).

It is a history of what happened in the colonies, in the trans-appalachian area and in parliament in London. It begins with George Washington standing stunned in the midst of a massacre and ends with him giving advice to a friend to go west to settle new land in spite of British law.

It is big book but well-written and well worth reading. It is in sufficient detail to satisfy any non-scholar with plenty of footnotes for those who want to read more and go deeper. ( )
1 vote xenchu | Mar 18, 2010 |
While Fred Anderson's main goal is to put the contingency back in the history of the American Revolution, as the last thing that men like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington could have imagined at the conclusion of the French & Indian Wars is that they would be leading a revolution against London in the not-so-distant future, the pivot of this story would appear to be "blowback" to empire.

Consider that the last round of the game of empire between France and Britain had more to do with the Iroquois Nation losing their hold on their satellite nations in the Ohio County, having compromised the interests of those peoples one time too many. Thus leading to the situation where a subject leader of the Iroquois overrides George Washington to stage a sanguinary massacre against French captives to try and regain his authority, thus leading to a great war.

Or look at how British Empire quickly runs upon the rocks at the end of the Seven Years' War, as differing understandings of what it means to be a British subject could no longer be fudged, between the American attitude that empire was a collaborative effort, and the British effort to forge an efficient system in keeping with their understanding of what constituted proper order. This is while in a maelstrom of demographic changes and economic dislocation, the affects of which would have challenged the most daring of political leaders.

That last point might be the key issue, as the dislocations of empire, even in a winning cause, did open the door to daring leadership in America, and these are the men who swept away the old British order in the 13 Colonies; men who realized that popular sovereignty could now only be disregarded at one's own risk. The thing is that Anderson does not interpret this turn of events in a romantic "great man" fashion, but as a wave of chaos that could only be channeled, not held back. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Oct 5, 2009 |
After three background chapters, George Washington steps onto the stage . . . and stumbles, starting the French and Indian Wars in Colonial America and the Seven Years War in Europe. At the end of that war in 1763 Great Britain had a world empire but the war also started the events that in thirteen more years would trigger the American Revolutionary War. This book tells the story in considerable detail and is very readable. ( )
1 vote patito-de-hule | Dec 20, 2008 |
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In this account of the Seven Years' War, Fred Anderson demonstrates that the conflict was more than just a peripheral squabble that anticipated the American Revolution, changing the character of British Imperialism with the mother country trying to reshape terms of empire and the colonists' place.

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