Review: Washington’s Revolution by Robert Middlekauf

ERW Book Reviews (1)

The name Robert Middlekauf is very familiar to enthusiasts of the American Revolutionary War era. Twenty-three years ago, Middlekauf, Preston Hotchkiss Professor of American History, Emertius, at California-Berkeley, published A Glorious Cause. The book was a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize and was a thorough introduction to the build-up to and through the American Revolution.

Washington's Revolution, the Making of America's First Leader by Robert Middlekauff
Washington’s Revolution, the Making of America’s First Leader by Robert Middlekauff

For fans of Middlekauf, his most recent publication, Washington’s Revolution, the Making of America’s First Leader, will not disappoint.

Washington was the American Revolution according to Middlekauf, whom in the second sentence of the prologue writes that his title “emphasizes his [Washington’s] enormous importance for its course and outcome” (xv).  Middlekauf then takes the reader on a very concise, quick-paced, blend of biography and history, journey through Washington’s early years to the culmination of the American Revolution.

“All the time that he served as commander of the Continental Army, he was in fact also the leader of the Revolution” (304). A tall order for a tall man–both literally and figuratively–but Washington was able to succeed because “he understood that the Revolution represented a rare opportunity”

To evaluate, examine, and explain Washington, one has to do a series of reading between the lines and looking at other primary sources of the compatriots. Washington was meticulous in reviewing what he left for posterity about his life achievements.

Middlekauf’s skill blends the reasons Washington embodied the American Revolution–from his daring in the winter of 1776 that culminated in the twin victories of Trenton and Princeton to literally holding the Continental Army together every winter–the Virginian insisted, cajoled, pressured, and through his own strong determination saw the war through.

That success, was due “in large part because he understood the Revolution represented a rare opportunity–something quite new, in fact–to lead a people in defense of principle long honored in conceptions of liberty” (304).

Not only was Washington a military leader, he also understood the political ramifications of his actions and the need to keep the army subjected to the rules of Congress. Even if that body was the cause of his soldiers going hungry and bereft of other necessities.

His “grand imagination, a vision of his new country….set him apart and made him a great leader” (306). Not too bad for just “a general” (306).

This book is a welcome addition to any military historian’s library. The blending of biography and historical monograph allows one to learn about the entire American Revolution and then from the Notes on the Sources have a road-map to delve into longer narratives on specific subjects.

Book Information

Publisher: Alfred Knopf, 2015.

358 pages, including maps, acknowledgments, notes, and sources