cover image In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown

In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown

Nathaniel Philbrick. Viking, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-42676-9

Philbrick follows up his previous popular history illuminating lesser-known aspects of the Revolutionary War (Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution) with another insightful and accessible account of its by-no-means-inevitable success. Instead, he argues, drawing extensively on primary sources, the “bitter truth was that by the summer of 1781 the American Revolution had failed.” The Revolutionary Army was underfunded by the 13 states, whose posture of limited support was not challenged effectively by the Continental Congress. That contributed to thousands of “able-bodied citizens refusing to serve,” leaving the army understaffed and the fate of the colonies dependent on the French military. Philbrick’s narrative builds toward a dramatic recreation of what he deems “the most important naval engagement in the history of the world,” the Battle of the Chesapeake. In that undeservedly obscure encounter, French ships under the command of Adm. François de Grasse defeated a British fleet, which made Washington’s victory at Yorktown a “fait accompli.” Philbrick depicts Washington warts and all, including his responsibility for the rift with Alexander Hamilton and his slave ownership, highlighting the disconnect between the ideals of the revolution and its leaders’ enslavement of kidnapped Africans. This thought-provoking history will deepen readers’ understanding of how the U.S. achieved its independence. (Oct.)