Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution

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Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. By BENSON BOBRICK. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 553 pp. $30.00.

ALTHOUGH specialized studies of ever narrower topics seem to be the norm, occasionally there is an all-encompassing look at a subject. Benson Bobrick's Angel in the Whirlwind is just such an overview. Along with similar works, such as A. J. Langguth's Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution (New York, 1988) and Robert Leckie's George Washington's War: The Saga of the American Revolution (New York, 1992), Bobrick's does not challenge the major interpretations of the American Revolution but rather combines primary and secondary research to paint a comprehensive picture of the revolutionary era while touching on the varied and complex issues and personalities that emerged during that epoch.

Bobrick ranges across the historical disciplines as he examines military campaigns of the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, economic forces at work in the colonies, political attitudes and legal institutions, colonial social hierarchy and the cultural differences between northern and southern colonies, slavery, the arts, entertainment, and the effect of religious beliefs and the debate between views on religious and political liberty. Using these issues, Bobrick explains why the colonists no longer would accept British rule. Ultimately, the revolt was a struggle between the emerging colonial culture and the old British system over rights and the power to exert and control them. The seeds of this rebellion, according to Bobrick, were planted early, during the initial development of the colonies.

Despite the comprehensive nature of the book, the narrative remains clear. From problems stemming from the French and Indian War, to Parliament's acts and the ensuing protests, then on to the Revolutionary War itself, and finally to the aftermath into the early 1800s, the course of events stands out. The emphasis tends to be on military, diplomatic, and political issues during the war years, but there is a nice chapter on the Tories and the torn loyalties of the colonists and good discussions of the home front, the role of the Indians, and prisoners of war as well. …