• American Revolutions

  • A Continental History, 1750-1804
  • By: Alan Taylor
  • Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
  • Length: 18 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (391 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

From the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a fresh, authoritative history that recasts our thinking about America’s founding period.

The American Revolution is often portrayed as a high-minded, orderly event whose capstone, the Constitution, provided the ideal framework for a democratic, prosperous nation. Alan Taylor, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, gives us a different creation story in this magisterial history of the nation's founding. 

Rising out of the continental rivalries of European empires and their native allies, Taylor's Revolution builds like a ground fire overspreading Britain's mainland colonies, fueled by local conditions, destructive, hard to quell. Conflict ignited on the frontier, where settlers clamored to push west into Indian lands against British restrictions, and in the seaboard cities, where commercial elites mobilized riots and boycotts to resist British tax policies. When war erupted, patriot crowds harassed loyalists and nonpartisans into compliance with their cause. Brutal guerrilla violence flared all along the frontier, from New York to the Carolinas, fed by internal divisions as well as the clash with Britain. Taylor skillfully draws France, Spain, and native powers into a comprehensive narrative of the war that delivers the major battles, generals, and common soldiers with insight and power. 

With discord smoldering in the fragile new nation through the 1780s, nationalist leaders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton sought to restrain unruly state democracies and consolidate power in a federal Constitution. Assuming the mantle of "we the people", the advocates of national power ratified the new frame of government. But their opponents prevailed in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, whose vision of a Western "empire of liberty" aligned with the long-standing, expansive ambitions of frontier settlers. White settlement and black slavery spread west, setting the stage for a civil war that nearly destroyed the union created by the founders. 

©2016 Alan Taylor (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"An epic, landmark history that places the American Revolution on a global stage while never losing sight of the struggles and sufferings of major and minor characters…. Taylor’s range is masterful. (Jill Lepore, author of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

"American Revolutions is a game changer - a sprawling, ambitious history that forever alters our understanding of the Revolutionary War era." (Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People

"As masterful as its author and as pluralist as its title, American Revolutions combines strong narrative drive with a kaleidoscopic array of settings and characters. In vivid prose animated by prodigious research, Taylor reveals the fight for the independence of the United States as a bloody civil war in which violence and division were the norms and clarity of purpose the exception. This is a sweeping synthesis for a new century." (Jane Kamensky, author of A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley

What listeners say about American Revolutions

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Best book on the American Revolution that I have read

I finally got around to reading McCullough's 1776, and I read this book next. The contrast between the two books is striking. 1776 deals almost exclusively with the two Georges – King George III and George Washington. Despite the year, there is only a short reference to the vote for independence on July 2 and the Declaration of Independence of July 4. It's all military history. By contrast, Taylor's book goes into the Revolutionary War in the context of other revolutionary movements in America. He certainly takes no sides; everyone comes out rather beaten up in the book – the Patriots, the British, and the Loyalists. I gave the narrator only four stars because all of the Southerners he quoted, be they Virginians or Georgians, had Mississippi accents.he also consistently miss pronounce Monticello.

34 people found this helpful

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Best history of American Revolution

Allen Taylor is my favorite historian of early American history. This is my field so I have read dozens of popular and scholarly works on the subject. His perspective is new and I believe correct in placing the revolution in the context of slavery and self interest and little to do with the ideals of the Enlightenment. Also you get a much better sense that this was as much a civil war as it was a war for independence recommend for anybody interested in serious
history. . .

21 people found this helpful

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Outstanding history, thick narrative

This is a very solidly written work covering the American REVOLUTIONS (Plural) in the time period covered. It covers the American Revolution from multiple angles. Not just the common "Colonial" and "British" but goes much further into how the situation in France, Spain, Mexico, British Canada, as well as the Indian Tribes of the West. Not just between the Appalachians and the Mississippi but even onto the plains with the Mandan and Arikara (which the Narrator mispronounced as ar-i-KAR-a, it is actually a-RIK-a-ra) in the Dakotas.

He was also very focused on the American Slave experience of the Revolutions. As well as the white-male attempts to deal with it. Even those who owned slaves often saw and acknowledged the contradictions, but were unable to move past them.

My only real problem with this book was that it was "thick." Not in the literal sense but the narrative never really took off. It kind of bogged down at times as the author tried to cover a lot of things and do them justice.

Given my choice I wish he could have gone deeper into things and made this a "trilogy" (1750-1774, 1775-1783, 1784-1804?). To his credit he didn't get bogged down in the details of the Revolutionary War (battles, troop movements, etc.).

16 people found this helpful

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Learned a lot

Very informative. Lots of info that I never knew. Glimpses of personal struggles and accounts that you won't find in in school textbooks.

6 people found this helpful

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Meh, at best

I found this book to be much too heavily opinionated, relying even more heavily on subjective personalized accounts from unnamed people. the author goes overboard in trying to prove how not racist he is. on the positive side, I will say there were a lot of aha moments especially around the British reasoning for entering the revolutionary war. otherwise I found the rest of the book to be rather ho-hum.

12 people found this helpful

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Good book

The author writes a very in-depth history of the Americas and the world in the 1700s. Good read but due to several cherry picked facts in some topics and what feels like a left leaning take on the period. I seemed like he was trying to give sympathy to the British in a war where both sides fought brutally he highlights the colonials brutality and skins over the British. Great book though, I have listened to it a few times and probably will again.

5 people found this helpful

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Good book, but narrators accents aren't my thing.

Good book, but narrators accents aren't my thing. Enjoyed the book's notion of national struggle.

4 people found this helpful

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If You Think America is Polarized Now…

In American Revolutions: A Continental History 1750 to 1804 (2016) Alan Taylor relates the events and situation in the colonies and the world leading up to the Revolutionary War, the progress of the eight-year conflict, and the aftermath and influence of the revolution on the continent and the world. Taylor casts a broad focus, going deepest into American topics but not ignoring global ones (the Revolutionary War was part of a world war). He reveals things like the elite founders of the USA fearing too much democracy and liberty for common people and not wanting any for blacks or Indians, and the very contingent nature of the US success in the war, depending at key points on bad decisions by British generals, vital help from Spain and especially France, stalwart leadership from George Washington, plenty of patriot propaganda and public acts of “theatrical humiliation” like tar and feathering, plenty of white unity at the expense of Native Americans and African Americans, etc. He exposes how the USA was born with greedy, hypocritical, and thuggish behavior, violence (house burning, mob mayhem, lynching, etc.), political division, conflict between states’ power and the State’s power, etc., and with consciously strengthening white supremacy to bridge class division. He demonstrates how un-unified the revolution was, with the colonies divided among loyalists, patriots, and waverers, as well as slaves and Indians. Taylor has an eye for the complexity of “our contradictory revolutionary history.”

I had been vaguely aware of such things before, but Taylor’s book makes them vividly convincing and introduces some elements that were new to me, like the importance of westward expansion into Indian lands as a key driver of the Revolution and of the post-Revolution growth of the USA, with Washington and Jefferson and other slave-owning founders being involved in land speculation, as well as the proliferation of evangelical Christianity, the relation of the continental colonies to those of the West Indies, the relatively low taxes that so outraged the leaders of the Revolution (“We won't be their negroes”), and the post-Revolution worsening of the slave system in the south and the environment for free blacks in the north.

Some of the best touches come when Taylor explains how early divisions (states vs. the State, elites vs. commoners, whites vs. blacks/natives, Federalists vs. Republicans, established churches vs. evangelical churches, etc.) are still with us today: “Like a kaleidoscope we continue in every generation to make new combinations of clashing principles derived from the enduring importance and incompleteness of our revolution. The revolution remains embedded in selective memory in every contemporary debate.” Other memorable parts occur when Taylor points out the hypocrisy of the war for liberty (“In the name of Liberty, Patriots suppressed free speech, broke into private mail, and terrorized their critics”) and the roles played and lives led by people usually given short shrift in histories of the Revolution, like women, blacks, and Indians.

Taylor writes clean and clear prose punctuated with occasional outstanding witty lines (e.g., “’He [George Washington] possessed the gift of silence,’ said John Adams, who did not”), and he incorporates plenty of quotations from (mostly) the men who lived and made and recorded the history. He brings history and its people and events to life and evokes suspense even when the reader generally knows what’s going to happen. I liked his War of 1812 book The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (2013) and this one as well.

The audiobook, of course, lacks the illustrations, maps, notes, and bibliography of the physical book. The audiobook reader mark Bramhall is fine, but presumably in an attempt to inject excitement and character into the history as well as to make it easier for the listener to know when Taylor is quoting someone, Bramhall assumes rather hokey British or Irish or German or French or Spanish accents and slightly pompous attitudes when he's reading quotations. Otherwise, he does a good job reading the book.

Taylor opens his history with a devastating summary and explication of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story “My Kinsman Major Molineux” (1832), and he closes his book with a provocative quotation from the story: “May not a man have several voices, Robin, as well as two complexions?”

3 people found this helpful

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The Revolutionary experience through a kaleidoscop

The author examines the period surrounding the American Revolution though the eyes of many actors, not just the American revolutionaries and British government, but American Loyalists, the governments and colonies of France and Spain, the enslaved, native nations, women and the working poor. An impressive work and we'll worth slogging through, although the effort is sometimes a task. The author undermines himself by a tendency to "pick sides" and snear at the oppressor or victimizer, with some actors getting a chance to be both heroes and villains depending on the side of various societal clashes Taylor supports at that point in the book. The performance is fair, but undermined by the reader's tendency to LITERALLY snear at Taylor's villains, often performing their quotes with cartoonish foppish or thuggish accents, depending on their social station or nationality. Worth a listen despite it defects.

3 people found this helpful

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Very detailed and informative

What made the experience of listening to American Revolutions the most enjoyable?

It was thought-provoking to find out that Indian tribes fought for the British as they felt it was a better choice of two bad ones and also intriguing to find out that George Washington, this "holy" person in school books, hunted down and killed Indians in a Custer way. He had probably no choice at that time but it makes one wonder. The superpower of its time, Great Britain mobilized additional groups to fight for them, like freed slaves but also locals and often often it came down to pure civil war as loyalist fought against Patriots.

This book is full of fact like these, many of which I had no clue of. I guess lots of things Europeans like me no nothing of, Americans learn in school, either way this book is full of history put forward in very nice way.

What other book might you compare American Revolutions to and why?

To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom is the first book in Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen trilogy about some of the same era, mostly around the declaration of independence. There is history brought to live by looking at the persons and giving them voice - based on facts or active history I believe the authors call it. American Revolutions by Alan Taylor takes on much longer period and it is full of detailed narrative, full of facts and interesting things, maybe a bit to much at times. Both these books are nevertheless great in my opinion whereas one is pure history lesson and the other is a history lesson wrapped in fact based drama.

3 people found this helpful