Friday, July 30, 2010

Reading Journal: "The War That Made America"

Fred Anderson, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. New York: Viking, 2005.

This year is the 250th anniversary of the end of the French and Indian War, the war that left Great Britain in control of Canada and brought to a close the conflict between Britain and France over disputed territory west of the Allegheny Mountains.  1759 was the annus mirabilis for Britain, the year in which British forces defeated the French in engagement after engagement over several continents, and took control of Québec in the decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham.  In Britain and her American colonies, that battle made a national hero of General James Wolfe, who fell on the Plains of Abraham as his troops were surging to victory.  The war also gave Britain's American colonists a keener sense of their own rights as British subjects, and set the stage for American independence.  

The French and Indian War began in 1754, when a 22-year old Virginian militia officer led a small detachment from his regiment into a lopsided 15-minute engagement with French troops in southeastern Pennsylvania.  The officer was George Washington.  

Fred Anderson's book, published as a companion volume to a PBS series, is a first-rate introduction to the French and Indian War.  Anderson is excellent at revealing the motivations and understanding the actions on all three sides of the conflict: the French, the British, and the Indian.  His writing is clear and engaging, and the text is well-illustrated.  This has to be the best general introduction to the French and Indian War for the general reader.  But for readers who want a more in-depth study of the war, with footnotes, Anderson is also the author of the magisterial Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).

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