Cover Image: Our First Civil War

Our First Civil War

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Member Reviews

Renowned historian HW Brands comes with a fresh new look at the American Revolution through the lens of viewing it as a Civil War between Loyalists and Patriots. In doing so, he adds new life into the scholarship that fascinates both reader and historian alike,
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Our First Civil War by H. W. Brands is a captivating read that is full of insights that is a perfect read for history buffs.
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This was an interesting book on the American Revolution, although not as good as previous Brands books that I've read. It went on longer than I thought it needed to go, included a lot more than I thought it needed (including a lot about the French and Indian War that, while interesting, was far more than I really needed for setting the stage for a book on the American Revolution), and while I liked how lots of primary sources were used, I thought there were times, especially towards the end, where there was far too much unneeded direct quoting from diaries. A strange thing to say, but there it is. While there was a lot of interesting information here, especially regarding the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his Loyalist son, I was expecting a lot more detailed information about the daily experience of Americans who remained loyal to Britain in the lead up and throughout the war. I never really felt like I got that. There was a lot about Washington, his troubles with Congress, military maneuvers that I never quite understood how they fit into the book, but not as much of the experience of the Loyalist in America overall. I did appreciate how Brands charted Ben Franklin's changing views on American and British relationships, but overall I found myself a bit disappointed with the book overall. Perhaps more based on what I expected than the book itself.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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This is an excellent book by HW Brands,  maybe the best I have read on the American Revolution!  He looks at the American Revolution from a different perspective, one as a struggle between the American Patriots versus the American Loyalists, thus, the title “Our First Civil War” is most appropriate!  Our Colonial Patriot Americans battle with their fellow British loyal Americans because of their opposing views, beliefs regarding England, the motherland!  HW Brands cleverly tells the story, or should I say, the key players of the Revolution tell it with HW Brand’s use of their direct quotes when possible!  There are numerous quotes from Washington, Ben Franklin, William Franklin, Adams, Jeffrey Brace, Thomas Hutchison, and the list goes on, taken from letters and memoirs.  This book was so well researched, so well written, that it transports you back to that famous era in our Country’s rich history!  Definitely, a must read!  Congratulations to HW Brands! Thanks so much!
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And it was every bit as wrenching as the War Between The States. Politics is always a losing proposition for some, and this was toxic to the max. Remember, not all Loyalists trekked to Canada, and a lot of businessmen had their own agenda. Individually and in groups, the author disentangles all of the divided loyalties and grudges prevalent in that particular time, place, and war. Well done! And this from a Rev War re-enactor on Washington's side.
I requested and received a free ebook copy from Doubleday Books/Doubleday via NetGalley. Thank you!
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I’ve always been a fan of Brands, so I was excited to receive this NetGalley ARC, and this is a solid overview of the American Revolution. It does tend to stray from its stated “First Civil War”/Patriots vs. Loyalists theme fairly often, and when it hits it, it tends to involve the Franklins.
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I always appreciate H.W. Brands work of combining good historical scholarship and presenting it in a popular history vein.  If more historians were to craft well researched, narrative histories, perhaps we wouldn't have such esoteric work that is seen as inaccessible to people outside of the profession.

Brands incorporates some well known stories (Hutchinson), some not as well-known (the Franklins' relationship).  All touch on a very important part of the revolution that gets overlooked by popular America-huzzahing histories.  He does a great job of looking at a complicated story and unpacking it for a wider audience.
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John Adams once said: “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People, and in the Union of the Colonies, both of which were Substantially effected before Hostilities commenced. When, Where, by what means, and in What manner, was this great intellectual moral and political Change accomplished?  Undoubtedly it was begun in the Towns of Boston and Salem where the British Government first opened their designs and first urged their Pretentions.”  The fact is that the American Revolution likely began in the minds and hearts of the people at different times.  

For George Washington and some of the other Patriot military leaders it may have begun with their various experiences during the French and Indian War or fighting for survival on the rugged Colonial terrain.  Helping develop the Albany Plan in 1754 was probably a formative time period for kindling Benjamin Franklin’s revolutionary spirit.  H.W. Brands’ upcoming book Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution acknowledges this and takes us early in the lives of the key Founders.  The ambitious work covers multiple decades from several viewpoints including that of General Washington leading the military, Franklin’s diplomatic efforts in London and France, and Adams’ work in the Continental Congress.  As the title suggests, Brands also writes about how the war split families and communities with many losing everything and having to rebuild their lives in new cities or countries in order to survive.  

Our First Civil War is a fascinating read.  First, the scope of the book is amazing.  It is could be a textbook for a course on the American Revolution.  Like most books, Brands does not focus as much on the work of the Second Continental Congress, but other than that Our First Civil War is practically a treatise on the dispute between the British and Colonies going back to the 1750s.  This includes a fair amount of analysis of the war from the British military and government perspective.  

The breadth of Brands’ research is as impressive as the exhaustive coverage of the entire war.  He relies heavily on original sources like diary entries, letters, autobiographies, and official documents.  While many historical non-fictions paraphrase or use snippets from sources, on numerous occasions Brands includes entire paragraphs or multiple paragraphs from the original authors to make his points.  It must have taken years to pull together all of the materials used and organize them into one cohesive narrative.  Brands’ efforts paid off and the result is an excellent book that provides a well-rounded view of the American Revolution.

The title of the book is slightly misleading as the text does not place primary emphasis on the battles between Patriots and Loyalists that played out in average families and communities.  It definitely addresses these issues, but they almost seem secondary to the analysis of the military battles and political maneuvering that took place on both sides during the war.  This is more of a critique of the marketing strategy for the book rather than the actual book.
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