cover image Liberty!: The American Revolution

Liberty!: The American Revolution

Thomas Fleming. Viking Books, $39.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87021-9

Not surprisingly, Fleming, who is as well known for his historical novels (e.g., Remember the Morning, Forecasts, Aug. 4) as for his histories and biographies (e.g., Now We Are Enemies), concentrates on dramatic events and colorful personalities in this companion volume to a PBS TV series. Shaped but not constrained by the TV format, the book highlights the role of African Americans, women and Indians whenever possible. Fleming emphasizes political and moral causes, persuading readers that the American Revolution was motivated more by principle than by economic interests. He conveys well the idea that history is people, and that people are more than the sum of their daily affairs. George Washington emerges as able to overcome adversity, shape events and master himself--a legitimate hero for an emerging nation. Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry and Benedict Arnold describe their respective experiences in their own famous words. George III is depicted, not as a mere puppet of England's mercantile interests, but as a monarch determined to preserve royal power in the face of a challenge greater than any since the Puritan Revolution. Other key British and Loyalist figures are also well drawn, but the narrative is stronger yet in its battle pieces. In particular, Fleming's account of the desperation of the fighting at Lexington and Concord stands out, driving home the reality that the revolution was a real war. Capping his exciting reportage on the strife is a compelling overview of the adoption of the Constitution. Its carefully crafted synthesis of freedom and unity, individual rights and public responsibilities, he makes clear, continues to shape a nation ""conceived in liberty."" Scores of well-chosen illustrations, many in full color, enhance the text. BOMC and History Book Club main selections. (Nov.)