26 November 2008

Review: Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

It's no wonder that David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing won the Pulitzer Prize for history (2005). This is a fascinating look into the American Revolution from the summer of 1776 to the end of winter 1777. Those seven or eight months were critical to shaping the American spirit and personality as well as George Washington's self-confidence and leadership style. The book is well illustrated with paintings, drawings, and maps along with twenty-five appendices that cover everything from military statistics to weather data.

The first two thirds of the book take us from the Declaration of Independence to Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the battle of Trenton. Fischer gives us insight into the troops and commanders of the British armies, Scottish kilted troops, and the dreaded Hessians. We learn about Washington's early mistakes, Congress's struggle to find its place in the military sphere, and the state of the young country's soldiers.

The last third of the book was even more interesting. Here we see how Washington's victories in New Jersey were based on a new way of leading men and waging war. Washington held councils and listened to the opinions of others, from the lowest private to the highest general. In contrast, commanders of the enemy troops lead unilaterally. Washington treated his soldiers as gentlemen, introducing a new meaning for the term, befitting the new nation: Gentlemen were not born into their status (as in the Old World) but earned it through honor, dignity, and decency.

Washington instructed his men to treat prisoners of war under the ideals of human rights. This principle became part of the reputation of the United States for more than two hundred years. The Hessians in particular were the polar opposite. Not only did they kill their captives but they enjoyed making a game out of torturing them first.

The book includes firsthand accounts of the events and descriptions of the key people, quoting newspapers, broadsides, diaries, and military documents. Such personal viewpoints make the book very approachable. Furthermore, Fischer adds a concluding chapter that summarizes many of the significant factors of Washington's first campaigns, including the commander's growth as a leader.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the history of the United States, Washington, and the Revolutionary War. The first part of the book covers much of the same territory as does David McCullough's excellent 1776. Both books are worth your time.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books), read by Nelson Runger. Although Runger did an adequate job with the running text, his German accents and his inflections for Washington were a bit off. I recommend reading this one in print.

I read this book as part of the U.S. Presidents challenge. More information about that challenge can be found here.

Published by Oxford University Press, 2004
ISBN: 0195170342
Challenges: U.S. Presidents, 25 Books
Rating: A


Lezlie 11/26/08, 1:00 PM  

This bbok looks really good. Thanks for posting your review at the Challenge site!


Michele at Reader's Respite 11/26/08, 4:12 PM  

Oooh, I've been waiting for this review. Sounds wonderful and you've given me a good reason to dig it out and dust it off for a good read. Thanks!

J. Kaye Oldner 11/26/08, 7:10 PM  

Wanted to drop in and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Chain Reader 11/27/08, 1:32 AM  

I'm adding this to my TBR list. I loved 1776 and this one sounds good.

Just Mom 12/14/08, 10:39 PM  

You make this book sound very appealing. I just finished 1776 so was checking other folks' Washington reviews. I think I should probably check the reviews before I pick my next book instead of after so I won't feel like I've missed the mark in my choice after I've read it!

Andi 12/28/08, 9:51 PM  

Just making the rounds to check out some of the other reviews from the US Presidents Reading Project. This book sounds really good. I read a more general biography of Washington and missed out on some of the finer details that this book included. Thanks for a great review!

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