Ahh, the Fourth of July. Independence Day. America’s Birthday. Can you think of a more quintessential American holiday? While I appreciate a good barbecue and fireworks just as much as the next American, this holiday has a particular importance to me. As a history buff, July 4th will always be a reminder of the amazing struggle that led to our independence: the American Revolution.
What’s that? Your memories of our nation’s fight for independence are a bit foggy? Not to worry, these awesome books will bring all the drama and excitement rushing back. Whether you want to brush up on the true events that shaped our country, or experience the revolutionary era in historical fiction, these books are sure to get you ready to celebrate America all month long.
If you need a refresher on the finer points of the Revolution, 1776 should be your go to. McCullough’s narrative takes us from the start of 1776 with the rebel capture of Boston, through the writing of the Declaration of Independence, to the evacuation of New York, and finally to Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas. Yeah, 1776 was a big year.
See my review on 1776 here for more details.
For all you Netflix lovers out there, this one might sound familiar. Rose’s book inspired an AMC series called “Turn” that follows the story of the rebel spy ring during the Revolutionary War. Facing tough losses and relying on inexperienced soldiers, Washington turned to an unlikely group of spies to discover the enemy’s plans and military strategy. Based on fascinating original research, Washington’s Spies takes you beyond the well known battlefront of the revolution into the dark world of secret agents, treachery, and unbelievable bravery that changed the course of history.
This book is everything I love about historical fiction. It follows the fascinating true story of Margaret “Peggy” Shippen—a prominent (and beautiful) loyalist from Philadelphia who charmed the most famous traitor in American history, Benedict Arnold. Despite her feelings for British spy Major John Andre, Peggy does her part to seduce and influence Arnold to hatch one of the most daring plots of the Revolution. Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid Clara, The Traitor’s Wife mixes true events with wonderful storytelling to weave a dangerous and clandestine tale of love, treachery, and the love triangle that almost destroyed the revolution.
The Improbable Patriot tells the almost-too-crazy-to-be-true story of Monsieur Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a French inventor, playwright, and aristocrat from King Louis XVI’s court. How does he relate to the American Revolution might you ask? Well, he almost single-handedly saved it from complete failure. Using his pull in the French court, he secured arms, ammunition, and most importantly the King’s favor to help the American rebels—and did it with a roguish flair that demands a place in our history.
If you’re looking for a witty, modern take on the revolutionary period, this one is for you. The hilarious account of the story of the famous French patriot Marquis de Lafayette will leave you in stitches, and also very knowledgeable on his life and times. Vowell’s incomparable storytelling mixes history with personal anecdotes to produce a true historical masterpiece of Lafayette’s life and role in the revolution. Her teasing wit pokes fun at every topic she encounters, from American and French politics to cab drivers and her own family members.
Read my review on Lafayette here for more details.
Those of us who are familiar with the American Revolution may know quite a bit about the early years of the war, but what happened in those lost years after the British surrender? The Whisky Rebels delves into the post-revolution era with our two protagonists, Ethan Saunders, a disgraced spy for George Washington, and Joan Maycott, the wife of a whisky distiller on the edge of the frontier. Ethan soon finds himself drawn into an intricate plot to take down Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States while Joan fights to make a life in the harsh wilderness. Their stories eventually intertwine, with the fate of the new nation hanging in the balance. This book has it all: action, adventure, lots of whisky, and cameos by many important historical figures that add depth and color to this exciting novel.
Interested in finding a new story? Check out the meticulously researched America’s First Daughter, the untold story of Martha “patsy” Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter and close confidant. As her family become deeply involved in political struggles, Patsy must decide whether to pursue her own life–and love–and how much she will sacrifice for her father’s reputation and the new nation he created.
Although we generally focus on the leaders of the revolution, our country’s first war was fought and won by the soldiers. It’s incredible that these men were able to endure what they did to fight against crazy odds for what they believed in. What’s even more amazing, is the women that did it too. Revolutionary follows the captivating story of Deborah Sampson Gannett, who ran away from home, disguised herself as a man, and joined the Continental Army. This real life heroine endured brutal winters, fought in dangerous battles, and risked her life to fight for our country’s independence–and for her own.
As the newest book on my list, Valiant Ambition offers an in depth look into one of the most fascinating relationships in the revolution: that between General Washington and Benedict Arnold. The book illustrates the real life drama that unfolded behind American lines as the ever patient Washington sought to keep control of his forces while the hotheaded, charismatic Arnold dreamed of fame and fortune. Sometimes a cautionary tale, Philbrick sums up Arnold’s downfall and inevitable place in history as the villain of the American Revolution in a timely warning, “the greatest danger to America’s future came from self-serving opportunism masquerading as patriotism.” Trump Arnold 2016, anyone? No offense, Arnold…
Ok, so this one is cheating a little bit. A People’s History does cover the Revolutionary War—and from a very interesting perspective. Zinn’s classic covers American history from 1492 to present day, but looks at each event from a different perspective than we generally learn in our history books. The book retells American history, but examines every event from “the people’s” viewpoint, whether they be native people, black slaves, women, or political minorities. Honestly, this should be required reading so do yourself a favor and knock this one out ASAP. You’re welcome.
Did I miss anything?
Might get some anger over the absence of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamiton given it’s recent popularity, but you’ll just have to argue about the relative merits in the comments.
Or just start quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda. That’d be fine too.