cover image Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free

Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free

John Ferling. Bloomsbury Press, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-60819-008-9

Noted for his knowledge of the Revolutionary era, Ferling (The Ascent of George Washington) again gives us a narrative hard to surpass in fluency and authority. It covers the coming of the American Revolution from the Stamp Act in 1765 to the Declaration of Independence. Familiar leading characters on both sides of the Atlantic, from Lord North to Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, fill the pages, their motives examined as are the battles raging in both the colonies and Parliament on how to resolve their differences. Ferling treats them all with understanding and balance even while he offers criticism where it's due (as with Franklin's trying to play all sides). The problem is that Ferling's take on the coming of independence is conventional, limited, and out of date. Ferling fails to discuss how the American people's own activities pushed their leaders to take stronger stances, or the worries aroused by the Indian tribes or restive slaves once full-scale war broke out. Of thousands of Loyalists, only Joseph Galloway plays a role. When Abigail Adams puts in a short appearance, it isn't clear why. Ferling had a chance to give us a full picture of the turmoil and confusion of the decade before 1776. It's unfortunate that he hasn't done so. B&w illus. (June)