Book Review: Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America’s Independence by Jack Kelly. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Hardback. $27.00. ISBN: 978-1-137-27877-7; 368 pages, Index.
It is difficult to condense the Revolutionary War into one volume and make it readable, informative, entertaining and even fascinating. Jack Kelly has done just that by focusing on the key players and the events surrounding them. This is not an in-depth look at any individual or event but rather an overview of the war aimed at the general reader.
The enticing narrative takes the reader from man to man and scene to scene in a very pleasing style. The war-time characters are shown facing decisions which generally were new and unknown to them. Their responses to those situations make for some exciting reading. Men like Washington, John Stark or Dan Morgan become more real than is often the case in similar books. The on-the-job training these amateurs faced and the bloody cost of errors will be enlightening to many. The American leaders were rarely “military men” but rather civilians in uniforms…and, often those uniforms carried a rank far surpassing the abilities of the men wearing them. But, often these same men rose above their backgrounds and experience to excel.
To its credit the book covers the war in the South, although only briefly, as well as the George Rogers Clark expedition in the West. There are also several very useful maps.
The pace of the book is quick and pleasing. It is much like reading a good novel. There are sporadic footnotes which add very little. Either they should be omitted altogether or there should be far more of them to lead the novice Revolutionary War reader to good sources of further information. I would prefer to have seen far more footnotes. Oddly, all references are to secondary sources even when superior primary sources are readily available. The dependence upon secondary sources brings both accurate and questionable history into the book. The casual reader may not notice the problems but many could have been avoided.
There is a long bibliography, unfortunately including only secondary sources, intended to give the reader places to go for further reading. The bibliography could be greatly enhanced with a simple line or two of annotation for each source indicating the author’s opinion as to the quality of the source and noting strengths and weaknesses. The bibliography would have benefitted by the addition of published primary sources and other than general-reader secondary sources, including journal articles.
Band of Giants will make a fine first book on the American Revolution and should be well received.