cover image Saratoga


Richard M. Ketchum. Henry Holt & Company, $30 (545pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4681-6

In 1777, the British government mounted an invasion from Canada with the objective of splitting the rebellious American colonies into manageable fractions. On a map the task seemed easy. But on the ground, Ketchum (Decisive Day) shows, Sir John Burgoyne's route was dominated by rugged terrain, creating insoluble logistics problems. Even had Sir William Howe advanced toward Albany instead of turning south to Philadelphia, Burgoyne, Ketchum convincingly argues, was unlikely to have gone much farther. The American northern army, Continentals and militiamen effectively delayed the British until enough reinforcements could be concentrated to offer battle around Saratoga. While rehabilitating the reputation of the conflict's initial commanders, Philip Schuyler and Arthur St. Claire, Ketchum also provides a balanced account of the feud between eventual commander Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold--a subject often clouded by the former's subsequent incompetence and the latter's subsequent treason. Arnold's energy and coup d'oeil proved the tactical mainsprings of victory. Gates was the organizer, the ""chairman of the board"" able to weld the disparate elements of his army into the sword that Arnold wielded with such devastating effect on October 7, 1777. Moving beyond the generals and battles, Ketchum puts his readers alongside the enlisted men and the regimental officers who did the fighting and dying, the women who followed them and the civilians who got in war's way. His fast-paced popular history relies on their experiences, recorded in letters, diaries and memoirs, to tell the human side of the American Revolution's galvanizing turning point. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate; first serial to Military History Quarterly. (Oct.)