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The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire

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The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame, but were they? This intriguing book makes a different argument. Weaving together the personal stories of ten prominent men who directed the British dimension of the wa The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame, but were they? This intriguing book makes a different argument. Weaving together the personal stories of ten prominent men who directed the British dimension of the war, historian Andrew O’Shaughnessy dispels the incompetence myth and uncovers the real reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory. In interlinked biographical chapters, the author follows the course of the war from the perspectives of King George III, Prime Minister Lord North, military leaders including General Burgoyne, the Earl of Sandwich, and others who, for the most part, led ably and even brilliantly. Victories were frequent, and in fact the British conquered every American city at some stage of the Revolutionary War. Yet roiling political complexities at home, combined with the fervency of the fighting Americans, proved fatal to the British war effort. The book concludes with a penetrating assessment of the years after Yorktown, when the British achieved victories against the French and Spanish, thereby keeping intact what remained of the British Empire.


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The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame, but were they? This intriguing book makes a different argument. Weaving together the personal stories of ten prominent men who directed the British dimension of the wa The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame, but were they? This intriguing book makes a different argument. Weaving together the personal stories of ten prominent men who directed the British dimension of the war, historian Andrew O’Shaughnessy dispels the incompetence myth and uncovers the real reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory. In interlinked biographical chapters, the author follows the course of the war from the perspectives of King George III, Prime Minister Lord North, military leaders including General Burgoyne, the Earl of Sandwich, and others who, for the most part, led ably and even brilliantly. Victories were frequent, and in fact the British conquered every American city at some stage of the Revolutionary War. Yet roiling political complexities at home, combined with the fervency of the fighting Americans, proved fatal to the British war effort. The book concludes with a penetrating assessment of the years after Yorktown, when the British achieved victories against the French and Spanish, thereby keeping intact what remained of the British Empire.

30 review for The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a fascinating work on the American Revolution. It is told as a tale of English leaders--political (George III, Lord North, Lord Germain, the Earl of Sandwich), army (Generals Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, and Cornwallis), and navy (Admirals Howe and Rodney) One narrative of the success of the Revolutionary War is poor leadership by the British. This book, though, contends that many of the leaders were actually very good. Leadership was not, in fact the reason for the American victory. George I This is a fascinating work on the American Revolution. It is told as a tale of English leaders--political (George III, Lord North, Lord Germain, the Earl of Sandwich), army (Generals Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, and Cornwallis), and navy (Admirals Howe and Rodney) One narrative of the success of the Revolutionary War is poor leadership by the British. This book, though, contends that many of the leaders were actually very good. Leadership was not, in fact the reason for the American victory. George III? He is described as a king whose (Page 19) "accession seemed like the dawn of a new age with unbounded promise." And, later in his reign--before medical problems began to cripple him--he was still viewed positively by his people. Hardly the image of the tyrant. Given the increase in the role of Parliament that had been ongoing, his reign is the more intriguing. Military leaders? The Howe brothers were part of a team that routed the Americans in Long Island and Manhattan. Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, as chief lieutenants, were key players in the humiliating defeats of General George Washington's forces. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne was another of the key army leaders. He, too, had been under the command of General Howe. He convinced the British leaders that he could take a force down the Hudson and cut the republic in two. It did not work out, as he was defeated at the Battle of Saratoga and then surrendered to the American army under General Gates. The narrative continues. Including General Cornwallis' string of victories in the South--which amounted to nothing as he ended up surrendering to George Washington's French-American army. In the end, the author concludes, the military commanders--for the most part--did their jobs quite well. There was political turmoil that ended up undermining the military forces--budget problems, the questions about the war by many powerful figures, the involvement of France and Spain in the conflict. In the end, the author concludes that the war was not readily winnable. There were too few military resources committed to the continent. There was not a full political consensus for continuing the war. There were budgetary constraints. Military resources were adequate for victory in battles--but not for occupation to maintain some degree of tranquility. Incompetent leaders? The author notes that many of the team (Page 361) "who lost America were also the men who saved Canada, India, Gibraltar, and the British Caribbean." A thought provoking work, with lessons going beyond the American Revolution.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    In the popular imagination of Americans, the revolution has been reduced to a cartoon, a story dominated by the “heroes”: the colonists that rallied to the cause of independence with enthusiasm, and the brilliant and noble military genius the lead them to victory, George Washington. As far as the British have any role in this myth, they are typically portrayed, cartoonishly, as evil tyrants bent on destroying liberty. All of these assumptions, which make up the popular image of the Revolution fo In the popular imagination of Americans, the revolution has been reduced to a cartoon, a story dominated by the “heroes”: the colonists that rallied to the cause of independence with enthusiasm, and the brilliant and noble military genius the lead them to victory, George Washington. As far as the British have any role in this myth, they are typically portrayed, cartoonishly, as evil tyrants bent on destroying liberty. All of these assumptions, which make up the popular image of the Revolution for many Americans, are utter nonsense. O’Shaughnessy cuts through this nonsense to approach the war from a perspective that Americans rarely bother to consider, let alone appreciate. As O’Shaughnessy shows, British policymakers were far from the corrupt, incompetent tyrants that we think them to be. Most of them were practical, sensical men that were unable to overcome the limitations that geographical and political conditions put them in. The Americans, of course, did not initially fight for independence; they fought for their rights as free Englishmen. Pro-independence sentiment came only later. And most colonists did not especially hate George III; they directed their sentiment against Parliament. Only when King George proved unable to scale back Parliament’s excesses did he become a target of American sentiment. During the early stages of the war, both American and British soldiers and political figures claimed to be fighting for the maintenance of true British monarchy. And it seems that only George III believed that resisting American demands could preserve the empire; everyone else, including the Howe brothers and many parliamentary politicians seriously doubted that the rebellion could be suppressed. The King’s hard-line approach also alienated Americans, who had previously only blamed parliament for their ills. Thomas Jefferson blamed George III personally for the breakdown in British-colonial relations and believed from the beginning, somewhat naively, that George III was scheming to impose tyranny on America. In our popular mythology King George is often called a “tyrant” for no other reason that that he was a monarch. But in reality, George III was the weakest monarch in Europe at the time. The colonial policies that triggered revolution originated not with George III, but with his ministers, and the king frequently acted as a restraining influence on the most extreme of these policies. King George’s involvement was minimal until the Tea Party broke out. The Declaration of Independence exaggerated King George’s role in colonial grievances. He was a useful scapegoat for unpopular policies that he more often than not had little involvement in. The weak management of prime minister Lord North resulted in a divided Cabinet of strong personalities, which inevitably resulted in feuds, indecision, and conflicting initiatives. North was indecisive, lacked a stable following, and was averse to confrontation. He was ultimately responsible for the Tea Act. The Tea Act was not a tax on tea as is commonly believed, it removed the tax on tea in order to make it cheaper and thus save the East India Company from bankruptcy. It was also designed to undercut the prices of colonial smugglers; most colonials received their tea illegally through smuggling, hence the outrage over the Tea Act. The British government mismanaged the war not because they were tyrants, but because they were struggling to manage the most democratic government that the world had at the time. Domestic political opposition to the American war was a significant factor, as was public scrutiny by a free press. Paradoxically, George Washington was more a hero to the British press than any of the generals engaged in putting him down. And the king did not dictate policy and set strategy; he had to obtain the agreement of his cabinet and parliament. Because of the nature of their government, the British war effort was paralyzed by partisan politics and the heated criticism of a free press. British anti-war sentiment was a powerful force. The British decision to employ Hessian “mercenaries” (they weren’t really mercenaries, they were loaned to the British by the German princes in order to keep their military active and experienced) was regarded in the colonies as proof of the British government’s “barbarity.” But in fact, the Hessians were employed by the British because the American war was so unpopular in England; few British citizens were eager to send their own troops to fix a problem they blamed on the government. Contrary to popular belief, the British were not opponents of liberty and representative government. They saw themselves as defenders of liberty and the rule of law, and they believed the best way to safeguard those principles was to uphold the supreme authority of Parliament. When war came, the British were completely unprepared. The national debt imposed budgetary constraints and the navy was in less than ideal shape. The British cabinet had little grasp of global strategy and no inclination for military affairs. British military commanders were hampered by contradictory instructions, a lack of strategic direction, administrative incompetence, and overlapping spheres of authority. On paper, the king was head of the army, but he did not appoint a commander-in-chief for it until 1778. Contrary to popular belief, British officers were not always better trained than their American counterparts. Ironically, the loss of the American colonies allowed the British to globalize their empire. We often hear that Britain had the most powerful military in the world at the time of the Revolution. But in reality, Britain’s army was relatively small due to the British public’s suspicion of a large standing army. Of course, the only time we really hear that the British military was so powerful is when an American makes the common statement, “We defeated the most powerful military in the world at the time.” More likely, this myth was just one of many invented to make Americans feel good about how awesome we are. The navy in particular was in awful shape. The British navy at the time was rather small, its admirals were not household names, and it was spread thin by vast commitments, ranging from the Home Islands to the Caribbean to the Mediterranean to India to Canada. This overextension was a direct cause of Britain’s defeats in the Chesapeake to the French fleet. The entry of the Dutch and the Spanish into the war taxed the Admiralty’s resources further. Britain’s military commanders were typically less hawkish than its politicians. Ruthless tactics and indiscriminate plundering by the likes of Banastre Tarleton were the exception rather than the norm. When Tarleton returned to Britain, he was met with disapproval. Still, Britain’s commanders they were quite capable and courageous to the point of recklessness. The Howe brothers, General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe, had distinguished careers and good reputations. They were both members of Parliament and were sympathetic to colonial grievances. Many members of Parliament who were in the military actually resigned their commissions in protest of the American war. Despite their talent, the operations of the Howe brothers were often hampered not by any military genius on George Washington’s part but by logistical problems that never went away. Supply shortages and logistical problems frequently prevented General Howe from following up his successes. A fractured command system did little to aid coordination. Britain was headed by a coalition government, which did much to hamper coordination.It was also under pressure to keep down the cost of the war. The British army captured every major city during the war, but never had enough troops to occupy and police the territory it captured. In all their major defeats, the British lost only because of superior numbers on the colonists’ part. The American victory in the war was not as total, inevitable or decisive as mythologists would lead you to believe. Britain’s defeat was not total. The British still possessed Canada, the Midwest, Savannah, Charleston, Maine, and New York. And they had successfully prevented France and Spain from seizing India, Gibraltar, and its Caribbean possessions. In all, an excellent account of the revolution that I enjoyed immensely and I’m sure anyone else would as well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    O'Shaughnessy undermines American Revolution myths of British incompetence with a group biography of the very talented, professional and effective commanders who waged a war in America that was fatally undercut by unreachable goals (as I say in class--if you thought collecting taxes was difficult *before*...), vast geography and political divisions in Britain. The author is one of my favorites going back to Empire Divided, so this is a delightful confirmation of my own conclusions. O'Shaughnessy undermines American Revolution myths of British incompetence with a group biography of the very talented, professional and effective commanders who waged a war in America that was fatally undercut by unreachable goals (as I say in class--if you thought collecting taxes was difficult *before*...), vast geography and political divisions in Britain. The author is one of my favorites going back to Empire Divided, so this is a delightful confirmation of my own conclusions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Very, very informative. There's a lot to absorb, so it can be a bit of a drag to get through it at times. If you're interested in this part of history, though, it's very definitely worth it. Very, very informative. There's a lot to absorb, so it can be a bit of a drag to get through it at times. If you're interested in this part of history, though, it's very definitely worth it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    This book is a detailed account of British elites clashing with each other over matters of policy, precedence and place on promotion schedules and political matters unrelated to the war with the American colonies described through a series of linked biographies of four political leaders, three generals, two admirals and one king. They did lose America but not for the reasons many of us have come to believe. British and their German allies/mercenaries were generally brave, resourceful soldiers le This book is a detailed account of British elites clashing with each other over matters of policy, precedence and place on promotion schedules and political matters unrelated to the war with the American colonies described through a series of linked biographies of four political leaders, three generals, two admirals and one king. They did lose America but not for the reasons many of us have come to believe. British and their German allies/mercenaries were generally brave, resourceful soldiers led by generals and field grade officers who had long experience not only in Europe but in frontier wars in North America and India. The generals weren’t hide-bound martinets tied to outmoded and doomed tactics. They adapted to the American terrain and the irregular militia strategies of the rebels. They didn’t stand in serried ranks, firing volleys on command but fought in long skirmish lines and often carried the day with fierce bayonet charges with fifteen inch three sided bayonets fixed on the end of their muskets. This is one place where British discipline and drill were important, carrying home a bayonet charge after a day of fighting. It was strategic, political and diplomatic failures that led to the defeat of the British in America. Even after the surrender at Yorktown they hadn’t been decisively defeated but the army and navy were urgently needed elsewhere, particularly India and the Mediterranean where even graver threats to the crown and the empire were developing. For one thing the British forces were at the end of an untenably long supply line—reinforcements, ammunition, powder, even forage for horses had to be transported by the navy and merchant marine across the North Atlantic. Internal supply lines were overstretched as well—for example when General John Burgoyne lost the second battle of Saratoga his forces depended on convoys from Montreal, 200 miles away over difficult terrain and through still contested by Indians and rebels. The logistics proved unsolvable. The lack of local supplies and dependence on far distant sources (it took eight month for a letter from London containing changes in the chain of command to reach the headquarters of William Howe in Boston, for example, was due in significant part to fundamental miscalculations about those colonists still loyal to the crown. It was wrongly assumed that the loyalists were the majority of American colonists and that they would rally to the British Army. Both of these suppositions were wrong and both were the bedrock of British strategy. Another intelligence failure was the idea that the rebel armies were no more than a poorly armed rabble who would melt before the disciplined ferocity of the veteran Redcoats. The British were shocked at the Battle of Bunker Hill that the rebels were not only willing to stand against musket volleys, artillery fire and bayonet charges but were constantly reinforced by locally recruited militia Rebel sappers and engineers took advantage of any British hesitation to pepper the battlefield with obstacles and fences, often installed while under fire. General James Grant, a senior general on the British side then wrote that the rebel forces had the discipline, subordination, regulation and courage of any army he had faced in years of command—and that the loyalists were deficient in all of those qualities. The rebels didn’t have to win in the field in order to win the war—a good thing since the British won most the battles. They conquered every American city—Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Charleston, Savannah but since it was an army of conquest and not occupation they were unable to hold their gains but faced constant armed rebellion even after victory in the field. The rebels, as in any war of national liberation against a distant colonial power won by simply not losing. George Washington showed his strategic brilliance in keeping his army together and generally refusing battle on any but the most favorable terms. The British army was worn down by constant small actions and skirmishes. The men who lost America, both politicians and generals, were the same men who saved Canada, Gibraltar, Indian and the British Caribbean for the Empire. Charles Cornwallis who surrendered at Yorktown was appointed Governor-General and Commander in Chief of India where he won the Anglo-Mysore wars and pushed through important domestic reforms. Admiral Richard Howe, another subject of the linked biographies in the book, was unable to break the French blockade at Yorktown—the French Navy deployed more, better and heavier gunned ships—but went on to command the Channel Fleet, the most important post in the Navy, and defeated the revolutionary navy and lifted the blockade of Gibraltar by the French and Spanish navies. Andrew O’Shaughnessy notes that opposition politician Charles Fox said that hat the generals had not failed for want of professional skill, bravery or devotion to duty ”but merely from being employed on a service in which it was impossible to succeed”. It is hard not to agree based on this book. Well written and meticulously researched, O’Shaughnessy has an enviable prose style and remarkable command of the sources. Recommended to those interested in the American Revolutionary war and also for those looking for answers regarding how war of national liberation can be won and lost.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This book takes the viewpoint of the British political and military leaders who were the prime decision-makers during the American Revolution. It profiles the following 10 prominent characters who had varying degrees of influence during the course of the war. 1. King George III 2. Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770-1782 3. George Germain, Secretary of State for America in Lord North's Cabinet 4. General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief at the beginning of the war thru 1778 5. Lord Admiral Richard This book takes the viewpoint of the British political and military leaders who were the prime decision-makers during the American Revolution. It profiles the following 10 prominent characters who had varying degrees of influence during the course of the war. 1. King George III 2. Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770-1782 3. George Germain, Secretary of State for America in Lord North's Cabinet 4. General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief at the beginning of the war thru 1778 5. Lord Admiral Richard Howe, brother to William and naval commander at the beginning of the war thru 1778 6. General John Burgoyne, commander of the Saratoga Campaign, defeated at Saratoga in September 1777 7. General Henry Clinton 8. General Charles Cornwallis 9. The Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, 1771-1782 10. Admiral George Rodney Since this book is not a chronological telling and also assumes some familiarity with the events of the Revolution, I would recommend this to readers who already have a good understanding of the events and players of the Revolutionary War. This is an excellent study of the war from a British perspective. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    Interesting take of the American Revolution. Despite knowing the topic, I learned a lot. His strength was the chrono-thematic structure of the book through the eyes of British leaders both political and military. Love the last sentence. I knew it was coming. Even with the ‘loss’ of the American Revolution, no one can argue the world dominance of Great Britain for the 18th and 19th centuries (minimally).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    The Men Who Lost America is a rare history of the American Revolution, one which follows not the revolutionaries, but their opponents: the British leadership of the late 18th century. Although largely till a military history, it offers a greater survey of the war than most, covering the European battles for power in the Caribbean and South America. I requested this volume primarily to learn about British politics at the time of the revolution, since for all the rage fixed on George III, Great Bri The Men Who Lost America is a rare history of the American Revolution, one which follows not the revolutionaries, but their opponents: the British leadership of the late 18th century. Although largely till a military history, it offers a greater survey of the war than most, covering the European battles for power in the Caribbean and South America. I requested this volume primarily to learn about British politics at the time of the revolution, since for all the rage fixed on George III, Great Britain was already more ruled by Parliament than executive command. The sovereign, like the prime minister, emerge from the volume not as villains, but as politicians doing their job. While George disapproved of many of the measures being applied against the colonies, once they had revolted he favored a strong response. Parliament, too, was of mixed opinion; many felt a strong response was warranted, others demurred, and a slight minority even favored American independence. Complicating matters for the politicians and the generals was the fact that investing too strongly in one theater meant leaving others ill-defended. Why wage war in America if it put the more profitable island colonies in the Caribbean at risk? The American Revolution, once it brought in France and then her ally Spain, forced Britain to cover a lot of ground with relatively few troops, and the war in America was altogether different from European struggles. Even as men like Clinton and Cornwallis were being tasked with 'winning the hearts and minds' of the colonists, they were also expected to support the defense of the Caribbean. While American histories of the war depict a pitiful few colonists pitched against the Imperial Might of the British Empire, that empire was sorely overtaxed. The result reminds one of modern American adventurism. The Men Who Lost America was definitely worth the wait for me, despite not delving into British politics as much as I had expected. In focusing on the lives and trials of Cornwallis, Clinton, the Howes, Burgoyne, and others, they become much more interesting characters. Cornwallis, for instance, opposed the various taxes levied against the colonies, as well as the war, but once he was asked to pitch in, he took it as his duty to do his best. Military campaigns considered questionable in hindsight make more sense when we realize that the British generals were also testing the waters of the American people, invading loyalist-held areas to see how many proper subjects would actually come to the defense of the Crown. In short this is a very commendable history of the American Revolution, one which demonstrates how understandable the cause of both sides could be, and offers plenty of room to respect the British leadership -- who, for all their troubles and their ultimate inability to woo back the colonists or conquer them -- kept the Empire afloat in other domains.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    I enjoy reading histories and especially histories of our Revolution. Most of these histories are written from the perspective of the Americans as this war is not viewed as particularly noteworthy to the British. Therefore, it is rare to find a history that deals with the the British views and problems they endured during this conpflict. This book is one of those rare volumes that examines the British side and it does this by giving the reader a brief biography of the 9 primary British character I enjoy reading histories and especially histories of our Revolution. Most of these histories are written from the perspective of the Americans as this war is not viewed as particularly noteworthy to the British. Therefore, it is rare to find a history that deals with the the British views and problems they endured during this conpflict. This book is one of those rare volumes that examines the British side and it does this by giving the reader a brief biography of the 9 primary British characters responsible for the loss of the colonies. After the brief background sketch the author then examines the role of each of these 9 individuals and what they were able and not able to do and why. After reading this book I almost felt sorry for the British military leaders involved in our Revolution. Clearly, this war was their Viet Nam, a hopeless quagmire of an unwinable war in which military leaders had their hands tied by politicians 3,000 miles away acting on bad intelligence or no intelligence at all. While the war was unwinable by the British it was still possible that we could have lost if it weren't for the capabilities of our military leaders which offset the ineptitude of our political leaders in the Continental Congress. The Revolution was ours to lose and that was the only way the British could have succeeded. This was a very well written and highly informative history of our Revolution and well worth reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Lawry

    Growing up in Boston I had long believed King George III was known for "our great disturbances with our North American colonies (Adam Smith's description of the situation in his The Wealth of Nations, 1776.)" Later in life it was pointed out to me that King George was king for 60 years and the little unfortunate situation south of Canada at some point early in his reign was nothing but an afterthought. This entire book reminded me that the senior leaders of the war had other things going on. Han Growing up in Boston I had long believed King George III was known for "our great disturbances with our North American colonies (Adam Smith's description of the situation in his The Wealth of Nations, 1776.)" Later in life it was pointed out to me that King George was king for 60 years and the little unfortunate situation south of Canada at some point early in his reign was nothing but an afterthought. This entire book reminded me that the senior leaders of the war had other things going on. Hanging out with mistresses, contemplating their plantations in the Caribbean, sending Cook out to explore Hawaii, etc. To the British the reign of King George III was one of many other things going on.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth S

    First and foremost, I think this book is an important one. As an American, I can easily attest to just how biased lessons on the American Revolution are at all levels of schooling, except perhaps under the very best college professors. On one hand, this makes complete sense; the winners write history, and of course the victorious Americans want to play up their success. No one ever denies that the British were immensely powerful (and not only in terms of their military strength and prowess) and s First and foremost, I think this book is an important one. As an American, I can easily attest to just how biased lessons on the American Revolution are at all levels of schooling, except perhaps under the very best college professors. On one hand, this makes complete sense; the winners write history, and of course the victorious Americans want to play up their success. No one ever denies that the British were immensely powerful (and not only in terms of their military strength and prowess) and seemed likely to win. Yet at the same time, it’s rare to hear anyone give true credit to the impressive feats on the British side. O’Shaughnessy takes a very thorough swing at filling that void. The breadth of information he brings to the table, along with how readily he acknowledges the many amazing accomplishments of various British leaders, makes The Men Who Lost America a worthwhile and valuable read. On the flipside, O’Shaughnessy does not elevate his subjects too high. King George III is not simply cast aside as mad, but he is also not subsequently painted as a victim of lofty colonial outrage. While the author gives well-deserved credit to these men, he does not overlook their many shortcomings. After all, they did lose the war, and there has to be an explanation for that on the British side, too. I could go on for quite some time about how much I enjoyed reading this book and how pivotal I think it is for anyone with an interest in the American War of Independence, especially for Americans who are almost always presented with one-sided accounts of history. Instead, I will simply say that I highly recommend The Men Who Lost America, and I hope plenty of others will take the opportunity to read it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gerard Costello

    This book is a masterpiece of analytical historical writing. Anyone seeking a good understanding of the American Revolution should read it. The book enilghtened me to the fact that the English, far from being a tyrannical force seeking to crush under heel the rights of man in America, where in fact quite legitimately seeking to put down what they regarded as a criminal rebellion. The popular notion of Washington, Jefferson and the Continental Congress as the standard bearers of liberty rising i This book is a masterpiece of analytical historical writing. Anyone seeking a good understanding of the American Revolution should read it. The book enilghtened me to the fact that the English, far from being a tyrannical force seeking to crush under heel the rights of man in America, where in fact quite legitimately seeking to put down what they regarded as a criminal rebellion. The popular notion of Washington, Jefferson and the Continental Congress as the standard bearers of liberty rising in outrage against the evil oppressors of liberty appears farcical when one considers the fact that the British, following their defeat, helped tens of thousands of former black slaves to escape the United States (including slaves who had been the personal property of Jefferson) and helped to set them up as free men in other parts of the Empire. I also learned a great deal about the geopolitical state of the world in the late 18th century and the specific military, economic and social reasons why the English where unable to win the war in America. O'Shaughnessy combats the lazy and historically accepted view that Lord North and his Cronies where fools and blunderers who, in their boundless incompetence, lost a great Empire, caused a humiliating defeat and nearly bankrupted the country in doing so. O'Shaughnessy places the conflict in the context of the greater world war which brewed and then exploded while the conflict in America was taking place, and also explains the more complex human reasons why the war went badly: high ranking English officers who disliked eachother, political miscalculations about loyalist support, the drain upon the English military of supporting the many loyalists and runaway slaves who did join them in the fight against the Continentals, the deeply racist character of American colonists who hated the English for using runaway black slaves and Indians to bolster their military muscle. I should point out that this book is not just a long, dry analysis of the war, politics, economics etc. It is also a brilliant character examination of the men who lost America. The depth of O'Shaughnessy's research is evidenced by the vivid manner in which he fleshes out Lord North, Clinton, Burgogne, Sandwich, Cornwallis, Germaine, Tarelton, the Howe brothers and Rodney (whose rape of St. Eustatius is in my opinion the most beautifully written part of this book, which, while communicating the seriousness of Rodney's crime, does so in a manner that allows the surreal comic nature of the act to be impressed upon the reader). I feel like my understanding of history, and indeed historiography, has been greatly enhanced with the reading of this great work. I recommend the book to anyone who has the patience to read it and is interested in history or the American Revolution.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    "The Men Who Lost America" is an excellent book. That being said, it is not a book for novices on Revolutionary War history. If you aren't familiar with the events of the war, who partook in what battles, what happened, and what was going on then this book isn't for you. While it is written in such a manner that anybody can learn something from it, I think familiarity with the war will really help people appreciate the book. This book is not a book about the Revolutionary War, but about 10 key Bri "The Men Who Lost America" is an excellent book. That being said, it is not a book for novices on Revolutionary War history. If you aren't familiar with the events of the war, who partook in what battles, what happened, and what was going on then this book isn't for you. While it is written in such a manner that anybody can learn something from it, I think familiarity with the war will really help people appreciate the book. This book is not a book about the Revolutionary War, but about 10 key British figures in the war. It tells the story of these 10 men before durign and after the war. There will be times where the author is describing an event. To somebody familiar with American history, the event might be fairly significant, but in this book it might be mentioned in passing. The author is presenting the event from the British perspective or assumes that the reader is familiar with the event. The book also descibes different events as British victories, but other books will list the same event as an American victory---usually this is the case where the British won a military victory, but was a strategic victory for the US. For example, the Battle of Valcour Lake... the British won control of the lake and defeated Benedict Arnold's Mosquito Fleet, BUT Arnold was hailed as a hero because his objective wasn't to defeat the British, but to delay them enough that the freezing of the lake would halt their progress. He succeeded. In other places, the book talks about the strategy---successes and failures---from the subjects point of view, not from an overarching historical perspective of the evnts or what other participants in the battle or event might be thinking/perceiving. This is ok, because the book does not pretend to be about the war itself (many of the significant battles are mentioned in brief passing assuming that the reader is familiar with the Battle of Saratoga or whatever battle is being talked about.) The book is a collection of short biographies. As long as you keep that in mind, then this book becomes a must read for anybody interested in history. If you are looking for a high level overview or understanding of the Revolutionary War, then this book is not the book for you.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonathon Kycek

    Quite understandably, every nation needs its own origin myth, and the country of my birth is no exception. George Washington wintering at Valley Forge, the traitorous Benedict Arnold, and the larger than life "founding fathers" all are all bits and pieces that make up our war of independence from the tyrannical and fiendish British Empire. Except, like every story, this one has two sides. The Men Who Lost America is a book that attempts to shed light on that "other side." Split up into chapters Quite understandably, every nation needs its own origin myth, and the country of my birth is no exception. George Washington wintering at Valley Forge, the traitorous Benedict Arnold, and the larger than life "founding fathers" all are all bits and pieces that make up our war of independence from the tyrannical and fiendish British Empire. Except, like every story, this one has two sides. The Men Who Lost America is a book that attempts to shed light on that "other side." Split up into chapters that delve into the major players in both the British government and military, I easily learned more from this book about who these men were and what the rational was behind their struggle to keep the Empire whole than I had learned in my 37 years in this former colonial land. Was King George III the Tyrant that our Declaration of Independence portrays him to be? Not really. Was Parliament filled with men who wanted nothing other than to punitively subjugate the colonies? I wasn't seeing it. Was the United States destined to overthrow their overlords from the start? Surely not like we see through hindsight. What I read reminded me very much of what we are told about Abraham Lincoln and the North in our civil war with "the rebellious Southern states." Of a King and Parliament who wanted to maintain the unity of the Union. Of military officers who often felt vexed at the prospects of fighting a war they didn't really want to fight. Of a population who felt a kinship with the breakaway rebels and felt a betrayed by their succession. Certainly the British were not without faults. Petty laws, acts that amounted to war crimes, and an obstinacy that could only lead to war marred what began as their good intentions. But like I said, I already knew that story. I didn't get to know this other side. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who has only been presented with the side you learned about in school. The Men Who Lost America to me isn't a book about an enemy. It's a book that details the breakup of what could have stayed a beautiful relationship.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This book has an interesting and I think a needed theme, the lives of the men who 'Lost America'. Coming from an American background and education, the names Gentleman Johnny, and Charles 'bag a fox' Cornwallis often mean a serious of generals who were either unable to win the war or gentlemen soldiers who had no business being on the battlefield. As the author points out, the British politicians were anything but incompetents but actually quite accomplished in most cases. The series of short bi This book has an interesting and I think a needed theme, the lives of the men who 'Lost America'. Coming from an American background and education, the names Gentleman Johnny, and Charles 'bag a fox' Cornwallis often mean a serious of generals who were either unable to win the war or gentlemen soldiers who had no business being on the battlefield. As the author points out, the British politicians were anything but incompetents but actually quite accomplished in most cases. The series of short biographies cover the generals, politicians, and admirals associated with the American revolution and remind me, and in some cases taught me while the United States was lost, Britain also won some substantial victories and permanent territory in the war. I think with many things and especially history, the other side of a conflict is perhaps the most interesting. We know about Alexander the great and his conquest of Persia for instance, but what about the Persian view of Alexander? Or the opinion of the Carthaginians when Rome was conquering them? And here we can see a little more about the British who fought the Americans. Of course my only complaint is at times the biographies seem a bit short. But this is a forgivable fault as this single volume could never adequately offer a life of so many different people. However it is excellent for a new perspective and look into this period.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Russ

    Really interesting examination of the American Revolution through mini-biographies of the men who led Great Britain during the war. I learned a lot about King George III, Lord North, the Earl of Sandwich, and Generals Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, and Cornwallis, as well as others and the way they interacted with each other, and how their personal relationships sometimes had a great effect on the war effort. I learned that this was not a super popular war on the British home front, which contributed Really interesting examination of the American Revolution through mini-biographies of the men who led Great Britain during the war. I learned a lot about King George III, Lord North, the Earl of Sandwich, and Generals Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, and Cornwallis, as well as others and the way they interacted with each other, and how their personal relationships sometimes had a great effect on the war effort. I learned that this was not a super popular war on the British home front, which contributed to the British loss. And O'Shaughnessy recounts numerous decisions that seemed insignificant at the time, but that ultimately played a major role in the outcome of the war. It is long, it can be a little dry at times, but the biographical approach does make it a little more engaging than some histories. I recommend to those interested in the American Revolution.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul Brewer

    One of the greatest problems in the writing of history, whether by scholars or by amateurs, is to start from the end and then look back to find out why it happened like that. History-makers don't have that option available to them. A better understanding of 'why did this happen' is reached by working forward rather than working back, because blind alleys that at the time looked promising make more sense. O'Shaugnessy's book falls just short of the coveted five-star ranking because he doesn't qui One of the greatest problems in the writing of history, whether by scholars or by amateurs, is to start from the end and then look back to find out why it happened like that. History-makers don't have that option available to them. A better understanding of 'why did this happen' is reached by working forward rather than working back, because blind alleys that at the time looked promising make more sense. O'Shaugnessy's book falls just short of the coveted five-star ranking because he doesn't quite pull off the 'history played forward' trick. Nonetheless, it is a masterwork in helping explain why the Americans won independence in 1783, because he tells the story from the perspective of policy makers in London and with the armies and navies on campaign. The book is structured around prominent individuals in the British war effort, yet maintains a broad chronological direction by allowing each individuals' story to dominate the narrative where their influence was greatest, then summing up their relationship to the rest of the war once their influence begins to wane.. It starts at the top with George III, because it was political choices at the constitutional node of 'the Crown-in-Parliament' that started the war, and ends with the Earl of Sandwich, because by war's end the Royal Navy had managed to recover a global strategic position that in 1779 was looking a ropey proposition -- the Atlantic coastline from the Bay of Fundy to Florida may have been lost, but the British position in the more valuable West Indian and East Indian colonies, plus Gibraltar, the key to the Mediterranean, had been recovered. Throughout the war, O'Shaughnessy defines the bedrock of British war-making as the idea that most of the Americans rejected the leadership of the hotheads in the Continental Congress. Thus, were the Americans able to express freely their opinions, they would prefer to remain part of the empire. The military forces sent to America were seen as protectors of these Loyalists' interests, eliminating the brutal repression of Loyalist opinion by gangs such as the Sons of Liberty. The problem was that the Loyalists were well aware that whatever happened while the army was around, once it was gone the gangs would creep out of their bolt-holes and resume the politically repressive window-breaking and tarring-and-feathering that had already silenced all but the bravest Loyalists. The real 'sunshine patriots' of the American War of Independence were the Loyalists, who couldn't afford to be impulsive in their declarations of loyalty until victory was certain. Victory, however, was never certain. The best chance of a partial military victory may have come had the British descended on the Chesapeake in 1776 rather than New York, and pursued the Southern Strategy that they turned to after the Northern one failed at Saratoga. The second-best chance may have been if Burgoyne chosen to withdraw after the Battle of Freeman's Farm in September 1777. It's quite possible that the financial difficulties that were increasingly afflicting the Continental Congress' war effort would have loomed larger in the Continentals' thinking, in the absence of such a decisive victory and the resultant French intervention. O'Shaughnessy explains why the British chose to do what they did at these decisive moments, and in many others. Most importantly he explains why over-stretched naval forces were the main cause of the British surrender at Yorktown, and gives a good summary of the war's continuing until 1783. There is an extensive academic apparatus of endnotes and bibliography. The prose style avoids being too dry, and there's not much need to review overlapping material as we shift perspective from one leader to another with each successive chapter. (I was forced to set the book aside for about three weeks and it was easy to pick up where I left off.) Recommended for anyone with an interest in the American War of Independence, or anyone looking for a perspective on history from an uncommon point of view.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I picked this up because I've often wondered what the British side to the American Revolution was. The book tells the story of the British side of the Revolutionary War from the points of views of the major players, such as King George III, Lord North, and General William Howe. Each chapter is written like a wartime biography of each figure. I enjoyed learning different things in the book, such as that King George III was actually not protective of the power of the monarchy at all (he endorsed t I picked this up because I've often wondered what the British side to the American Revolution was. The book tells the story of the British side of the Revolutionary War from the points of views of the major players, such as King George III, Lord North, and General William Howe. Each chapter is written like a wartime biography of each figure. I enjoyed learning different things in the book, such as that King George III was actually not protective of the power of the monarchy at all (he endorsed the war because he believed Parliament should rule the American colonies and that the loss of America would be disastrous to Britain). However, I thought the mini-biopic format slowed the pace of the book down. While the sections on some of the more major figures like George III were interesting, sections on people less known to me (such as Henry Clinton) were less so, because I wasn't able to compare the history I was taught to the history I was reading. I also felt that some of the historical facts and vignettes (e.g., Lord Cornwallis's marriage) were less useful to me than more general and theoretical discussions (e.g., the political landscape in Europe at the time of the war). I wished there was more of the latter. I skipped the last few chapters in favor of the Conclusion. Ultimately, a more straightforward analysis of the war from the British side would have been more compelling for me. A history buff who is already familiar with all the key British players of the Revolution may feel differently.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Horn

    This book approaches the American War for Independence from a several unusual angles - both looking at the war from the British perspective and delving in to several lesser known events of the war, some outside of North America. I did find this helpful and enjoyable. However, I did not like the format of this book. It is done as a series of seperate biographies of British politicians and generals from the time. This means that the book is not in chroniological order - each biography has to cover This book approaches the American War for Independence from a several unusual angles - both looking at the war from the British perspective and delving in to several lesser known events of the war, some outside of North America. I did find this helpful and enjoyable. However, I did not like the format of this book. It is done as a series of seperate biographies of British politicians and generals from the time. This means that the book is not in chroniological order - each biography has to cover nearly the entire war to explain what its subject did during that time. This can make it difficult, at times, to get a good sense of the sequence of events. Some sections were also rather dull, as the author seemed to prone to giving listings of character's hobbies or accomplishments. There was also at least one very crude section that was not at all necessary for the flow of the narrative.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    The Men Who Lost America is a fairly 'stodgy' read in a way, with a combination of small font size and dense prose making it slow going, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. O'Shaughnessy paints compelling portraits of the key players on the British side during the Revolution, considering the reasons behind their choices and suggesting that circumstances and incorrect intelligence, rather than plain incompetence, led to their ultimate defeat. Prior knowledge of the major events of the Revolution is The Men Who Lost America is a fairly 'stodgy' read in a way, with a combination of small font size and dense prose making it slow going, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. O'Shaughnessy paints compelling portraits of the key players on the British side during the Revolution, considering the reasons behind their choices and suggesting that circumstances and incorrect intelligence, rather than plain incompetence, led to their ultimate defeat. Prior knowledge of the major events of the Revolution is useful in reading this book, as O'Shaughnessy concentrates his attention on the political side of things. However, for American Revolution scholars and devotees, this is an excellent addition to any library, for it offers a very different approach to the subject that is certain to change the way you view the course of the war and the players therein. 4.5 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patrick O'Connor

    Interesting to read this history from the British perspective. They were overextended against multiple opponents. British forces were configured as an army of conquest when they needed an army of occupation. And never failed to overestimate the support they would get from the locals. Does any of this sound familar?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    An interesting book. Not sure I like the individual biographical approach

  23. 4 out of 5

    Clay Davis

    Learned that the French didn't bury their dead sailors at sea like the British or Americans. Learned that the French didn't bury their dead sailors at sea like the British or Americans.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ian Racey

    Readable and informative. Suffers from some copyeditting sloppiness, such as confusing the War of the Spanish Succession with the War of the Austrian Succession or getting the dates of events wrong by twelve months (placing them in 1777 instead of 1776, etc.). Here we have nine biographies of the ten men (the Howe brothers get a joint biography) who were chiefly in charge of conceiving and implementing British strategy in the American Revolutionary War. Sometimes the portraits drawn are surprisin Readable and informative. Suffers from some copyeditting sloppiness, such as confusing the War of the Spanish Succession with the War of the Austrian Succession or getting the dates of events wrong by twelve months (placing them in 1777 instead of 1776, etc.). Here we have nine biographies of the ten men (the Howe brothers get a joint biography) who were chiefly in charge of conceiving and implementing British strategy in the American Revolutionary War. Sometimes the portraits drawn are surprising: Lord North comes off as a much more sympathetic figure than usual, more inclined toward conciliation than is ever depicted and spending most of the war wishing to resign from office but being prevented by the entreaties of the King. Other times the subjects can seem very much like their received caricatures: Sir Henry Clinton was indeed irascible, vain, petty and impossible to work with. The book's central thesis is that none of these figures were all that incompetent, and that really the major factors leading to Britain's defeat were all systemic: the absence of loyalist manpower in the American countryside, the limitations of eighteenth-century government administration, and the numerical inferiority of the Royal Navy to the combined navies of France and Spain. O'Shaugnessy argues that the British leadership were right to expect a large untapped reservoir of loyalist support, since all their best intelligence indicated that such support existed. Its failure to materialise meant that major strategic victories like the conquests of the urban centres at New York, Philadelphia, Newport, Savannah and Charleston never led to the restoration of British control over their hinterlands that any eighteenth-century military strategist would have expected, and it's the factor that allowed two major British armies to be isolated and defeated far from home in the Americans' two pivotal victories of the war, Saratoga and Yorktown. As far as the deficiencies of the navy go, O'Shaugnessy is at pains to make clear that this is not down to the mismanagement of the Earl of Sandwich, who as First Lord of the Admiralty normally takes the blame from historians, but rather that Sandwich was constantly fighting against the untenable limitations imposed on the navy by the political necessity of budget economies. He was simply never given the capability to produce a navy able to blockade America and provide the army with the support it needed and defend the home islands from the French threat. O'Shaugnessy points out that the British generals in America who are so often derided as incompetent fools are damned no matter what they do: Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton are conservative and indecisive for husbanding their forces and avoiding major losses, while John Burgoyne and Lord Cornwallis are foolhardy and reckless for their bold marches into enemy territory, respectively down the Hudson River or out of North Carolina into Virginia. It was the final two biographies of the book, when O'Shaugnessy turns to the navy (Lord Rodney and Lord Sandwich), because it's here that he comes closest to assigning some of the blame for the war's outcome to one individual, and the individual he chooses is the one British leader to have emerged from the war with his reputation enhanced, Rodney, who defeated the combined Franco-Spanish fleets at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782. But Rodney, O'Shaugnessy argues, needed that pivotal destruction of the enemy forces to exonerate himself from the sacking of the Dutch island of St. Eustatius and the consequences that followed from it (including his recall to England to face an inquiry), since it was because of St. Eustatius that Rodney was not in command at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, and the eight ships of the line that he commanded were absent from the battle, and it is because of the French navy's victory at the Chesapeake that Cornwallis was forced to surrender at Yorktown a few days later.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book seek to defend the British from the accusation that it was their incompetence that led to the American victory in the American Revolution.  Yet in the author's defense of the British leadership, the reveals some of the major blind spots that made American victory possible, pointing out the divided focus of the British leaders as well as some of their character faults that prevented them from providing inspiring leadership.  By and large the author demonstrates at least basic competence This book seek to defend the British from the accusation that it was their incompetence that led to the American victory in the American Revolution.  Yet in the author's defense of the British leadership, the reveals some of the major blind spots that made American victory possible, pointing out the divided focus of the British leaders as well as some of their character faults that prevented them from providing inspiring leadership.  By and large the author demonstrates at least basic competence on the part of British political and military leadership but also demonstrates the way that this leadership was hamstrung by internal weaknesses and divisions.  If this is not exactly incompetence, it does demonstrate that the British effort to crush the American Revolution suffered from some major blind spots that prevented them from acting in the right manner, if it was indeed possible for them to avoid the problems of either being too harsh or too soft or oscillating between the two in a way that ensured failure, as indeed happened.  And Britian's failures are certainly the sort that an imperial America would well understand in later conflicts. This book is a bit more than 350 pages long and is divided into four parts and nine chapters that explore the British war effort from a variety of different perspectives.  The author begins with acknowledgements and an introduction and then moves to discuss the view of the British war effort from London (I), which involved a discussion of George III's role in the American Revolution (1) as well as that of the Prime Minister, Lord North (2), who was loyal to his king but not enthusiastic about the odds of British success.  After that the author discusses those responsible for victory and defeat in the north between 1776 and 1778 (II), namely the Howe Brothers (3), who combined their army and naval authority with a desire to be peace commissioners, as well as the gamester John Burgoyne (4), whose underestimation of the American effort proved disastrous at Saratoga, and also Lord Germain (5), whose efforts at trying to control the war effort came in for a great deal of criticism, besides his criticism for his sexuality.  The author then looks at the two people responsible for the British war effort in the South from 1778 to 1781 (III), namely the scapegoat of British defeat, the cerebral Sir Henry Clinton (6), as well as the dashing and bold but ultimately unsuccessful Charles, Earl Cornwallis (7).  Finally, the author closes with a discussion of those who provided for victory against France and Spain in 1782 (IV), namely Sir George Rodney the impecunious naval hero (8), and the Earl of Sandwich (9), who had a famous rivalry with Germain, it should be noted. How did the men who lost America lose America?  America was lost in a variety of ways.  It was lost because the British underestimated the passion for American independence that had developed since the French & Indian War.  This led the British to try conciliation and overestimate the amount and strength of loyalist fervor until it was too late for victory.  Likewise, the English political body itself was divided as was the political class, and Britian had failed in their diplomacy to the extent where they alienated all of the other powers and so had no allies when they were attacked by France, Spain, and the Netherlands simultaneously in defense of American independence.  Mistakes like the sacking of St. Eusticius and the inability of the British to ensure naval superiority forced Britain to fight on the defensive.  In the end, it was amazing that Britain did as well as they did, but it was their fault that they ended up where they were, since the colonial troubles with America were due to their attempts to force a change in what had been a lengthy policy of salutary neglect, and their failures in diplomacy gave them a lot of enemies who wanted to see them cut down to size, and that was their fault.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Morrissey

    O'Shaughnessy performs a sort of reverse-David Halberstam (a la his much-acclaimed "The Best and Brightest") in relaying the careers of the British civil and military officials who presided over the unsuccessful War with America (1775-1783). Unlike Halberstam's withering critique of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, O'Shaughnessy goes to great lengths to show that the mythology about the "men who lost America" is more smoke than fire, and that British commanders and war organizers O'Shaughnessy performs a sort of reverse-David Halberstam (a la his much-acclaimed "The Best and Brightest") in relaying the careers of the British civil and military officials who presided over the unsuccessful War with America (1775-1783). Unlike Halberstam's withering critique of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, O'Shaughnessy goes to great lengths to show that the mythology about the "men who lost America" is more smoke than fire, and that British commanders and war organizers were plagued by the intrinsic difficulties of waging war across the Atlantic and against a devoted people rather than their own incompetence and bumbling. From King George III to the civil leaders Lord North, Lord Germain, and Lord Sandwich to the military commanders Howe (both William and Richard), Henry Clinton, John Burgoyne, and Charles Cornwallis, the book masterfully offers vignettes of each individual. Rather than bumbling fools, the commanders are shown to be more incisive than history credits such figures for, particularly Henry Clinton, who comes across as a sort of moping Cassandra in military garb (but who ultimately cannot win the war when he assumes chief command after Howe's conquest of Philadelphia). Even the civil officials appear prisoners of brutal circumstances more than evil men hellbent on bloody war and conquest. Lord North in particular is shown to be a deft political figure in the halls of Westminster, constantly wrestling with whether to wage the war or dip into more fruitful and fulsome peace negotiations. O'Shaughnessy paints a historical portrait of a doomed war effort, an inevitable failure born in (i) the overestimation of Loyalist support in America and (ii) the enormous logistical challenges of fighting a quasi-guerilla war three thousand miles from the British Isles. The author may over-do the analysis in this respect: while the underlying analysis is correct, it is also easy to imagine Britain laying waste to Washington's army in Brooklyn or New York or New Jersey in 1776. A more bold commander perhaps could have snuffed out Washington, which may not have led to immediate pacification, but certainly would have fractured the American war effort beyond immediate repair. In sum, O'Shaughnessy's nuanced analysis, told through the stories of the men who allegedly "lost America," does much to revive the reputations of the men individually, and force modern audiences to evaluate war more carefully in terms of a nation's strategic goals and how difficult it will be to accomplish them. Such analysis seems rare, however, as lost wars are laid at the feet of men like Schlieffen (WWI), Westmoreland (Vietnam), Tommy Franks (Iraq) and countless others. If victorious wars demand heroes, lost causes appear to demand scapegoats like Howe, Clinton, North and others.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    As part of an class on the American Revolution in my post-graduate work, I read General Sir William Howe's Narrative of the American Revolution. It really was not so much of a memoir, as a printed copy of his testimony before Parliament. I have been fascinated by Howe ever since I read that Narrative. Why was Howe being called on the carpet in the first place? He was an honorable soldier with a very distinguished service record. His brother Admiral Sir Richard Howe was one of the most innovative As part of an class on the American Revolution in my post-graduate work, I read General Sir William Howe's Narrative of the American Revolution. It really was not so much of a memoir, as a printed copy of his testimony before Parliament. I have been fascinated by Howe ever since I read that Narrative. Why was Howe being called on the carpet in the first place? He was an honorable soldier with a very distinguished service record. His brother Admiral Sir Richard Howe was one of the most innovative Royal Navy officers of the entire century. Yet, the were thought to have not done enough to crush the American Revolution. He let Washington go easy on Long Island and New York, he overextended his position at Trenton, and he launched a seaborne invasion to capture Philadelphia when he might have better been marching north towards Albany to meet General John Burgoyne's army marching south from Canada. That Burgoyne's force would surrender at Saratoga in October 1777 only seemed to call attention to Howe's errors. Typically, Howe is explained as someone who's heart wasn't in the fight. Certainly that is what the British Parliament was thinking, and there was already lots of finger-pointing over who deserved the blame for disastrous war and later the loss of the colonies. What Andrew O'Shaughnessy points out however, is that the failure of the British military and political policy was not the result of several failed men who lost the empire through their incompetence, but from a much deeper and more difficult systemic and logistical environment that hampered the British war effort. This was a really fun book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to read about the American Revolution with emphasis on the British vantage.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd

    This book examines the British Leadership during the American Revolution, hence the title. It is an interesting and eye-opening look at the American Revolution from the perspective of the British. Here in America, we are taught that the British were the overwhelming favorites to win that war. They had a well trained and experienced army; plus, their navy ruled the seas. Now, this book examines the obstacles the British were facing and what went wrong. How could they have lost that fight? Without This book examines the British Leadership during the American Revolution, hence the title. It is an interesting and eye-opening look at the American Revolution from the perspective of the British. Here in America, we are taught that the British were the overwhelming favorites to win that war. They had a well trained and experienced army; plus, their navy ruled the seas. Now, this book examines the obstacles the British were facing and what went wrong. How could they have lost that fight? Without giving too much away, it was due to over confidence which led to under-resourcing along with under estimating the resolve of the Americans. Plus, the British faced a multi-front war. While we all know about the overt help America received from the French, here you’ll learn about the covert help of neutral countries who shipped arms and munitions to the American side. While much of that assistance was driven by financial gain, the desire to gain elsewhere in the world at the Brit’s expense was also a motivating factor. In this case think about other colonies in the Caribbean and the sugar trade. This book looks at Britain’s primary political, military and naval leadership. It provides a full description of these men’s careers before, during and after their service during the war. So full accounting of their careers is important because past rivalries and bureaucratic service created situations that led to poor cooperation and leadership during the war. If you’d like to get a fuller understanding of events and results of the Revolutionary War then examine in from the perspective of the losers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    In our youth we Americans learn little about the main British figures and factors of the revolutionary era. Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy is here to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with a sturdy book comprising 10 biographical essays, leading with a superb sketch of George III. The connective tissue holding the short biographies together is the author's contextual analysis of the war's strategy and tactics, victories and defeats, missed opportunities, mistakes, contingencies, domestic politics, In our youth we Americans learn little about the main British figures and factors of the revolutionary era. Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy is here to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with a sturdy book comprising 10 biographical essays, leading with a superb sketch of George III. The connective tissue holding the short biographies together is the author's contextual analysis of the war's strategy and tactics, victories and defeats, missed opportunities, mistakes, contingencies, domestic politics, and the structural disadvantages facing the British fighting a war 3000 miles away in a vast continent populated by 2.5 million people (including 500,000 slaves). O'Shaughnessy is convincing in his arguments that the war was unwinnable and that many of the post-war arguments condemning this or that British general, admiral, or political leader missed the point. But the structure of book wears on the reader. Instead of a single start-to-finish chronology incorporating the roles of each of the main British figures from the 1760s to Yorktown (and beyond), O'Shaughnessy decided to focus on each man in separate chapters, so by the time you have reached chapter 6 or 7 you have trod the course of the war 6 or 7 times. By the time I reached the final essay about the Earl of Sandwich (in charge of the British navy) I felt like I had heard it all before. Still, this book is loaded with necessary insights about the war we Americans glorify -- largely because of the intractable problems that wrecked the plans of 'The Men Who Lost America.'

  30. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    “ Britain had an army of conquest, not an army of occupation “. Sound familiar? The author provides a view of the Revolution from a British point of view and thru many of the military and government leaders who’ve been blamed for Britain’s loss of the Colonies. Many of these men went on to achieve in other theaters against European foes. Of note: - a Navy too small to win because it was spread around the Atlantic with wars with Spain, France and the Dutch. - consistently underestimating the skills “ Britain had an army of conquest, not an army of occupation “. Sound familiar? The author provides a view of the Revolution from a British point of view and thru many of the military and government leaders who’ve been blamed for Britain’s loss of the Colonies. Many of these men went on to achieve in other theaters against European foes. Of note: - a Navy too small to win because it was spread around the Atlantic with wars with Spain, France and the Dutch. - consistently underestimating the skills and commitment of colony soldiers and partisans - at important times, overestimated support expected from Loyalists. - resentments of mercenaries (Hessians) in the occupation - taking a soft approach to war and occupation in order to keep the colonists happy. - “ Insurgents like Francis Marion & Sumter”. Yes, he actually used that word. An on.....Vietnamization, The Surge, Nation Building. Seems like mistakes are the same for centuries. And mind you, I’m basically a conservative This book is instructive as to how Britain lost a nation and from the point of view we rarely understand I wasn’t expecting to see that so many of their mistakes translated so well to our recent 70 years.

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