Read the Revolution

curated collection of excerpts from exciting, thought-provoking books about the American Revolution

The Will of the People by T.H. Breen
November 13, 2019

The Will of the People

There is no single Revolutionary story. In The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America, T. H. Breen unearths surprising tales of the everyday people and local communities whose participation in the American Revolution helped sustain the war effort. Breen identifies seven stages of Revolution, including rejection, assurance, fear, justice, betrayal, revenge, and reconciliation. His formulation helps restore human passion to the traditional narrative of the American Revolution, providing an alternative understanding of the conflict to those that focus solely on either lofty ideas or gritty realities.

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Battle of Paoli by Thomas McGuire
October 23, 2019

Battle of Paoli

The Battle of Paoli, which took place overnight on Sept. 20-21, 1777, is remembered as one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War. Commonly known here in America as the “Paoli Massacre,” at least 53 Continental Army soldiers lost their lives and roughly 200 were wounded or taken prisoner during this surprise bayonet assault by about 1,200 British troops. Thomas J. McGuire’s engaging book, Battle of Paoli, published in 2000, is one of the best accounts of the engagement.

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A Fool's Errand
October 9, 2019

A Fool's Errand

Being a founding director of a museum is to lead a revolution. Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and now the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian, shares his revolutionary story in A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump. After a century of false starts, the NMAAHC was established in 2003, and the building opened in September 2016, all led by Bunch’s vision of what the museum could and should be.

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The Disaffected by Aaron Sullivan
September 25, 2019

The Disaffected

The American Revolution is often perceived as a war between Patriots and Loyalists, but what about those Americans who found themselves caught between the lines? Aaron Sullivan explores the lives and experiences of these men and women, known as the “disaffected,” in his recent work, The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. He argues that for many Americans, the war was not something to be won or lost, but rather something to be endured. Sullivan’s focus on the disaffected sheds light on Pennsylvania’s fragmented society, subsequently humanizing the War for Independence.

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With Zeal and with Bayonets Only
September 11, 2019

With Zeal and With Bayonets Only

Today marks the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, a hard-fought victory for the British Army during their campaign to capture Philadelphia. This week’s Read the Revolution feature highlights Matthew H. Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, an engaging study of how the British Army fought in battles such as Brandywine during the Revolutionary War. Lieutenant Richard St. George, the focus of the Museum’s special exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, served in the battle as part of the 52nd Regiment’s light infantry company and was wounded in the heel.

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Britons by Linda Colley
August 28, 2019


Dr. Linda Colley's popular book Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837, tells the story of how Great Britain formed a "national ideology" between the Act of Union of 1707 (uniting Scotland and England) and the beginning of the Victorian era in 1837. Dr. Colley writes this complex history in an understandable and interesting way for a broad audience. She counts among her source material popular music, art, and military uniforms to provide a rich, in–depth look at British culture and identity. Although originally written in 1992, Britons shows that the history of Great Britain in the 1700s remains relevant to today's international politics.

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Liberty's Exiles by Maya Jasanoff
August 14, 2019

Liberty's Exiles

The history of loyalists in the American Revolution is not just a national history, it's a global one. Few explain this better than Maya Jasanoff, in her pivotal work, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. Through the stories of ten major characters, Jasanoff explores loyalists' decisions to leave America after the war and their ventures to resettle across the British Empire, from Nova Scotia to Jamaica, Sierra Leone to India. She finds that each journey reveals "a different stamp of the revolution on the world."

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July 24, 2019

Slave Counterpoint

Despite being published over 20 years ago, Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry remains today one of the leading studies on black culture in eighteenth-century America. His work compares slave societies in the Virginia Chesapeake to that of the South Carolina Lowcountry, exploring the contours of black life, such as family, work, diet, medicine, housing, courting, and sex. He finds that slave culture was both African and European, wrought with continuity and adaptation. His thematic approach further reveals the contrast in production in these slave societies—the lowlands cultivated rice and indigo while Virginia became a producer of tobacco and wheat. Morgan concludes by suggesting that although work routines and experiences of slaves were not all that dissimilar in these two regions, perhaps the material treatment of slaves was better in the Lowcountry.

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Rush by Stephen Fried
July 10, 2019


Dr. Benjamin Rush was born in Philadelphia, went to medical school in Scotland, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, surgeon-general in the Continental Army, and a professor of medicine. Besides being a progressive revolutionary, he was also a bold critic of many of his contemporaries, including Washington and Hamilton. In his new book Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, Stephen Fried presents Rush as an accomplished and passionate, but sometimes unpolitic, Founder. For example, shortly after he was appointed surgeon-general for the Middle Department in April 1777, he published his thoughts on keeping soldiers in the Continental Army healthy in a Pennsylvania newspaper. Though history would show his advice was largely correct, he did it without letting his superiors in the army review it or even know he was publishing it.

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