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A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republicby John Ferling
"A Leap in the Dark is popular history at its best. Ferling has drawn together the research of the leading historians and woven a masterful narrative that is written with grace and flair. This is an account loaded with facts but unburdened by them; the result is a book that never gets bogged down. A gifted biographer, the author interrupts his narrative to introduce the major figures as each comes on the stage, bringing the history of these times to life with vivid descriptions and artful analyses of the interplay of men, their interests and their ideas." Gary L. McDowell, the Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations. In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details. We see Benjamin Franklin trying to decide if his loyalty was to Great Britain or to America, and we meet George Washington when he was a shrewd planter-businessman who discovered personal economic advantages to American independence. We encounter those who supported the war against Great Britain in 1776, but opposed independence because it was a "leap in the dark."
Following the war, we hear talk in the North of secession from the United States. The author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Yet, without slowing the flow of events, he has also produced a landmark study of leadership and ideas. Here is all the erratic brilliance of Hamilton and Jefferson battling to shape the new nation, and here too is the passion and political shrewdness of revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, and their Loyalist counterparts, Joseph Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson. Here as well are activists who are not so well known today, men like Abraham Yates, who battled for democratic change, and Theodore Sedgwick, who fought to preserve the political and social system of the colonial past.
Ferling shows that throughout this period the epic political battles often resembled today's politics and the politicians — the founders — played a political hardball attendant with enmities, selfish motivations, and bitterness. The political stakes, this book demonstrates, were extraordinary: first to secure independence, then to determine the meaning of the American Revolution.
John Ferling has shown himself to be an insightful historian of our Revolution, and an unusually skillful writer. A Leap in the Dark is his masterpiece, work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.
"In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling conveys the personal and contingent character of public affairs by skillfully interweaving capsule biographies of leaders into his analysis of events. His book, which stretches from the French and Indian War through the inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson, supplies a learned and readable narrative of American politics during a crucial era in the nation's history." Richard Brown, University of Connecticut
"Solid history that will refresh anyone's memory of the essential stories and figures in America's founding. And it will enlighten anyone about the origin of some current civic problems.... His book provides not just political and intellectual history, but emotional history as well." Christian Science Monitor
"Ferling vividly evokes the political turmoil of the post-Revolutionary years. Even as he takes the Founders off their pedestals, their accomplishments only gain in stature." The New Yorker
"Those 2 million readers of David McCullough's John Adams... will especially benefit from returning to the subject under the firm direction of a historian with a command of the scholarship that is matched by his gifts as a writer." Joyce Appleby, Washington Post Book World
Book News Annotation:
In this political history of the American Revolution, Ferling (history, State U. of West Georgia) seeks the roots of the federalism that emerged from the cauldron of American politics. Paying particular attention to the role of leaders in shaping political movements, he explores the attempts to define the meaning of events and the political future of the country. His narrative covers the period 1754 to 1801, just after the adoption of the Constitution. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In A Leap in the Dark, Ferling offers a magisterial new history of the American Revolution that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details in a work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -537]) and index.
About the Author
John Ferling is a Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. A familiar face in history documentaries on television, he has written numerous books, including John Adams: A Life, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, and Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Past Really is Another Country
What Our Readers Are Saying
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