Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766

By Rozbicki, Michael J. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766


Rozbicki, Michael J., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. By FRED ANDERSON. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. xl, 862 pp. $40.00.

REPORTS of the demise of grand old military and political narrative have been greatly exaggerated, and Fred Anderson's expansive new book on the Seven Years' War stands as evidence. Anyone taking up this subject must face the ghosts of Francis Parkman and Lawrence Henry Gipson, and Anderson pays due tribute to both. He revives and modernizes Parkman's model of integrating an interpretive framework with dramatic literary form. The ensuing synthetic and inclusive narrative serves as a framework capable of holding together particular stories as well as analyses and generalized reflections. Echoes of Gipson ring in the international and imperial perspective built into the book's method. The result is a scholarly yet highly readable work that brings some unity to today's rich but deeply fragmented historical scholarship and offers both the student and the general public what a monograph, with its focus on argument at the expense of the story, rarely does.

For Anderson the Seven Years' War was "the most important event to occur in eighteenth-century North America" (p. xv), a strategic, transatlantic conflict that deprived France of most of her American colonies, gave Canada to Britain, and engendered a fateful debate on the limits of metropolitan power over British America. Although without this war new North American territories would not have been opened to British authority, London would not have sought new controls to ensure revenue, and the stage for American Independence would not have been set, it has routinely been treated as a mere prelude to the Revolution. Anderson, who rightly rejects such hindsight-driven teleology as an anachronism that ignores contingency, relegates the Revolution to what he calls the "post-war era" (p. 743) and narrates events in their own context. It is this focus on the "present" of the actors involved that, among other things, enables him successfully to show the colonists' deep commitment to Britain and their genuine imperial pride in victory over France.

The book is structured around ten parts and subdivided into 74 self-contained and user-friendly chapters. They cover the genesis of the war, the imperial rivalry over the Ohio valley, Braddock's defeat, the 1756-57 events- in Europe, the fall of Louisbourg and Fort Duquesne, the battle of Quebec, the conquest of Canada and the triumph of William Pitt's "blue water strategy," and the war's international consequences. True to its larger concept, the book does not end with the 1763 Treaty of Paris but continues into Pontiac's Rebellion and the Stamp Act conflict, which Anderson sees as two outgrowths of the war. Military history is the narrative's main axis, but it is closely interwoven with political, economic, and cultural themes. Together, they produce a panorama not only of the armed conflict itself but also of its myriad consequences and implications, including the involvement of people in British-American, Canadian, Native American, and European politics. Anderson incorporates much new scholarship into the story. …

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