The 100 Best American Revolution Books of All Time

Our readers are avid consumers of history, continually hunting for the next great book about the Revolutionary War.  And there’s no shortage of options. Amazon alone sells more than 12,000 books categorized as “Revolution and Founding.” With so many choices, where does any student of the Revolution begin? Which tomes are the most credible for their impeccable research and unbiased scrutiny of the era?

As editors of Journal of the American Revolution, we read and sample a lot of history books. We also schmooze with many early American historians and subject matter experts, who have strong book opinions and recommendations. From our years of publishing, writing, reading, researching, interviewing and gabbing, we’ve compiled a list of what we consider to be the best American Revolution books of all time. Ok, maybe not of all time, but certainly our time. And this is arguably the most exciting time in history for history.

Modern technology has made an unprecedented amount of primary source material conveniently available to researchers, thus improving the depth, breadth and accuracy of information being published. So, it’s no surprise that many books on this list were published in the last two decades.

While we originally set out to identify the top 100 American Revolution books, we will undoubtedly add more to this list over time. Groundbreaking work is being published with greater frequency than ever and there may be titles that we missed (let us know which ones you think we missed in the comments). That said, while the headline will remain the same, you will count more than 100 books and that tally will certainly grow in the years ahead.

To make the list more manageable, we split the books into five broad categories, which we’ve sorted by our recommended reading order:

  1. Start with some all-in-one books to gain a broad-brush understanding of the era, its timeline, its challenges and its characters. You’ll also pick up a strong synthesis of cultural, economic and political analysis.
  2. Learn the origins and causes of the Revolution. How did a small regional rebellion escalate into a widespread revolution? What were the key inputs and influences?
  3. Next, meet the people—individuals and groups—who made the Revolution; what were their motivations, their inspirations and so forth. It’s important to observe the Revolution from many perspectives.
  4. Fully understand the politics of the revolution, locally, nationally and globally. A lot of political ground is covered in the other four categories and volumes dedicated to this topic are not as prevalent as biographies or battle books, so naturally this section is lighter than others. If you want, save the post-war political books for later. We’ve highlighted a few of those below, but there are many other excellent Constitution and Federal period books to consider beyond this list.
  5. Finally, more than just strategy and tactics, appreciate what all participants sacrificed by understanding the conflict and war, from small skirmishes and large campaigns to bloody massacres and epic battle scenes.

Reading through our book list will inevitably invite a variety of curiosities. We encourage you to keep a tablet or computer close by with allthingsliberty.com pre-loaded on your browser so you can quickly search our archives for additional background and narratives on newly discovered people, places and events. With more than 1000 articles published since 2013, Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the era. Plus, our content is conveniently categorized in similar buckets of people, politics, culture, economics, conflict & war and critical thinking.

The best books under each sub-section below are listed alphabetically by title. And in most cases we’ve included the original publisher and publication year even though a more recent paperback or reprint edition is available. Be sure to leave a comment with your favorite American Revolution history book as well as anything you think we missed or got right. Cheers to fascinating American Revolution history and happy reading!

All-in-one

Origins

People

Politics

Conflict & War

 

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59 Comments

  • Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. The Rev War was a direct extension of the 7YW (1754-1763), which was itself a continuation of King George’s War (1740-1748). So, there is at least a twenty year period pre-1775 of scholarship ripe for further inclusion.

  • This is excellent, thanks! I’ve been jumping around in my reading and appreciate the recommendations. Just picked up Taylor’s “American Revolutions” – so excited to dig in.

  • This is a great list! For all-in-one though, I really like Robert Middlekauff’s, The Glorious Cause. It’s a well-written, readable–and exhaustive–synthesis. I’ve never found a better one. Thanks for the list!

    • We love Middlekauff’s Glorious Cause, too, and there is definitely a strong case for it to be included. Have you tried Ferling, Taylor or Bobrick?

        • I really like Ferling’s A Leap in the Dark. Good one volume overview. I looked at Whirlwind in the bookstore–it seemed to me like a Reader’s Digest abridged version of his other works.

      • I have not tried the others. After 20 years, I have finally landed in a school where I can teach a class on the Revolution. I’m really enjoying it and am using Middlekauff to refresh my memory about details I have not been able to teach in survey classes. I’m anxious to do more reading on the subject again so I’ll look forward to reading these books.

  • Great list! – thanks. I second Mr. Shattuck’s nominations of Fred Anderson’s great books, and would add his The War That Made America (which is a condensed version of Crucible of War). I also want to mention the book that got me “hooked” on American Revolution history at age ten: The American Heritage Book of the Revolution by Bruce Lancaster (used hardcover copies sell for $5.99 via amazon).

  • I’m surprised Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose didn’t make the list!

    More great Am Rev reads specifically about women:

    -Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married by Nancy Rubin Stuart

    -Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold’s Plot To Betray America by Stephen Case

    -Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin

  • You can’t do much better than to have this reference list for yourself, teachers, friends and family! It’s excellent!

  • I would add Michael Harris Brandywine and Saratoga by luzader. Also it is important to have books about what other countries did to help America win independence so I also recommend Spain and the independence of the United states by chavez.

    • You’re absolutely right, John. Coincidentally, Larrie Ferreiro’s Brothers at Arms, which looks closely at the French and Spanish impact, won our most recent book of the year award. It’s on the list under People, but could easily fit under other categories, too. Thanks for your input!

  • Surprised to see that John Shy isn’t on here. I would recommend two by him-
    Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution
    and A People Numerous and Armed.

    Also John Dann The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence

  • Greetings:
    You stipulated that in most cases you included the original publication year even though a more recent reprint was available. That was a major blunder in the case of Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution, 1961, and betrayed the compiler’s lack of familiarity with this subject.

    Professor Quarles, an African-American did not think it prudent, in 1961, to discuss the aid given to the British by escaped slaves and refused, later, to revise his book.

    But he did agree to a reprint edition in 1996 which included a new Foreword (4 pp.) byThad W. Tate, and a new Introduction (14 pp.) by Gary Nash who did discuss the significant number of slaves who did aid the British.

    This 1996 edition was issued by UNC Press, ISBN 0-8078-4603-1.

    Sincerely,
    William E. Davidson
    Potsdam, NY

    • That is a very interesting backstory, William! Thanks for sharing. I imagine most folks (like us) have the 1996 edition.

  • Nothing on the Hessians, there are several one volume studies out there. Other authors- Ira Gruber on the Howe Brothers, and his editing of the Peebles diary; Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War.

  • So, the following are very good.
    Almost a Miracle, by John Feeling, Oxford University Press 2009
    Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff, Knopf, 2011,
    The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony, by Mark R. Anderson, University Press of New England 2013,
    Tories, Thomas B. Allen, HarperCollins, 2010,
    Divided Loyalties, Richard M. Ketchem, Henry Holt 2002

  • I would humbly suggest Joseph Fischer’s A Well-Executed Failure: the Sullivan Campaign Against the Iroquois by University of South Carolina Press as a good account of what is changing in the Continental Army.

  • Excellent list. Parallel to Gary Shattuck’s comment about the pre-Revolutionary period (and I would agree with him that Anderson’s book is the best single volume out there on that period), I would add that you could also look the other way and extend the list to the immediate post-revolutionary period Maybe call it the “Constitutional Period” or something similar. I know this gets to be “scope creep”, and the focus of this site is the Revolution itself, but there are some interesting books covering that period that clarify the meaning of the revolution and illustrate the differing interpretations of what it really meant. The period running up to the 1800 election is one of the most contentious periods in our history (almost makes today look tame! Almost.)

    Off the top of my head two good ones are “The Age of Federalism” by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKittrick and “American Aurora”, an alternative history by Richard Rosenfeld. I probably have a few others I’d add once I scan my bookshelves. It’s hard to fully understand the Revolution without looking at what happened after, especially immediately after. The popular perception is that “The Founders” were of one mind, though anyone interested enough in the Revolution to be a reader of this site knows that was far from the case. I find those differing interpretations, which still echo through our politics today, to be of as much interest if not more than the Revolution itself.

    Great job again and looking forward to see what you add to the list, whether you choose to extend it or not.

    • Great points, Richard. And I thoroughly endorse your reference to Elkins and McKittrick.

      You are also on point with looking forward as well as backwards from the Rev War itself. In historical archaeology, the perspective you refer to is called “bi-directional temporization” – in other words, the rejection of “periodization,” or, the focus on the immediate. Context is everything and events taking place both before and after the war are crucial to gaining a full understanding.

      • Gary – Thanks for the kind words and for putting a name (“bi-directional temporization”) to the process I was attempting to describe. Being a retired CPA with no formal training in history, I would not have known that one! Putting things in their full context just sounded logical. My only training is from the many shelves of books I’ve read over the years about early America and the Revolution and its aftermath. Despite this, I dream of writing a history book myself about this period. Maybe one of these days! A shorter article on this site would seem like a good place to start, though the people here come up with such good and well-researched articles, it’s a little intimidating to even get started.

        • Richard,

          This is a pretty forgiving group and there is need to feel intimidated. We all started somewhere, so pitch an idea to the editors and they will provide you with helpful suggestions to guide you through the process.

          Unless you have had the experience, it is a wonderful thing to get dirty in the archives, to find something that nobody else has thought of and to then let the words flow through your pen (or computer) as you tell the story. The war itself and the years before and after offer many opportunities for study that have never been touched. In fact, just a few weeks ago the NY Supreme Court sent 1,000 boxes of archives dating back to the 1600s from its building in downtown Manhattan to Albany for processing and virtually nobody has ever seen them until now. Crazy to think of that and I cannot wait until they get inventoried and opened up to researchers.

          Looking forward to your first article!

        • Oops, I meant “there is NO need to feel intimidated”

          Just got back from the eye guy and am having trouble seeing through dilated pupils.

          • Gary – Appreciate the encouragement. I’ve got to strike on a good idea to research and then I’ll give it a shot. I’m kind of new to the site – are contributors generally active or retired academics, or is it people from all different sorts of backgrounds? With me being a CPA, maybe my topic can be something to do with Robert Morris and the financing of the Revolution. There had to be some major book juggling going on there!! And Morris ended up on the short end.

          • Richard,
            I’ve asked the editors to give you my email address and we can talk further. Tx.

  • What about Dr. David Ramsay’s history of the American Revolution? He lived through it and wrote an exhaustive history.

  • I’m interested in reading about the period right before Lexington & Concord.I specifically want to read personal accounts of the mood and prevailing “air” that undergirded this volatile time. Any recommendations, historians?

  • “The Fate of a Nation The American Revolution through contemporary eyes” by William P. Cumming and Hugh Rankin, is a combination of first person accounts and illustrations from the era. Published in 1975, hardcover copies are available from Alibris and Amazon starting at $2.96. The book is 352 pages in length.

  • Not sure how Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War didn’t make the list. It’s a superlative combination of the social and economic with military history. Readable and solid on every topic.
    I’ll second the nomination of John Shy’s A People Numerous and Armed.

  • I’m surprised you think American Sphinx is the best book on Thomas Jefferson. I wonder how many (or how few) Jefferson scholars would agree. Ellis is a fine writer, but even his title suggests he doesn’t really understand Jefferson. What about Dumas Malone and Merrill Peterson?

    • In addition to Malone or Peterson, I would suggest Jon Meacham’s more recent “Thomas Jefferson – The Art of Power”. Also a favorite for me, though it’s not a straight biography, is Jack Mclaughlin’s “Jefferson and Monticello – The Biography of a Builder”. It looks at Jefferson through the prism of Monticello and I thought offered a lot of interesting insights.

    • I really loved that one. Evidently Philbrick is writing a trilogy with Bunker Hill, Valiant Ambition and his next book about Yorktown.

    • Read that recently and would agree it was outstanding. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot new as I was familiar with the basic story, but it was really well-told. I’ve read a lot of Philbrick’s stuff and to me this was his best. I’ll be anxious to see his upcoming Yorktown book.

  • Interesting list, I think articles like these are more useful for the conversations they create than an actual status as a “definitive” list. That said, I feel there are a few books that warrant mentioning:

    Mark Lender and James Martin’s “A Respectable Army” is a great short volume that provides a clear, concise, academic overview of the war, and its extensive bibliographic essay is truly a definitive list of relevant scholarship.

    The social history of the Continental Army has been a major focus of historians in recent decades. Works such as Charles Neimeyer, “America Goes to War,” Caroline Cox, “A Proper Sense of Honor;” or Holly Mayer, “Belonging to the Army;” are all important works. Also, works on war and society, such as Judith van Buskirk, “Generous Enemies;” Sylvia R. Frey “Water From a Rock;” or Wayne Bodle “The Valley Forge Winter,” are also great works in their subfield.

    Curiously, there are very few books about women, or by women on the list.

    • We couldn’t agree more, Steve. The best part about these lists is that they bring out a larger universe of recommendations. In fact, we encourage disagreement and asked our readers to tell us what they think we got right and where they think we missed the target.

      This list is our opinion with books that our editorial staff hears mentioned the most, in conversations, in citations, in recommendations, and other contacts that we have. Bear in mind that we don’t keep a strict tabulation on such things, but in our nearly five years of operation we’ve heard a lot of buzz about a lot of books and are simply trying to help readers find new/great material. So, this list reflects those books about which we hear frequent and consistently positive commentary from a wide variety of people. Plus, we gave preference to books that support our mission of approachable, impeccable research advancing the study of the Revolution. There are many excellent books on the fringe of our scope of concentration or pertaining to the time period, but not the specific issues of the Revolution. It’s a fine line, but in order to limit the list, we needed to draw that line.

      In terms of diversity, we find it odd that any person would look at a list like this and key in on the gender of the authors. Each person or website, as Ruth shared below, has their own agenda, but we certainly did not compile this list with any gender bias. In fact, now that we look at it, we’d venture to say that our list accurately represents the proportion of books on the subject (and within our selection criteria scope) written by men and women. The pool of books by women to choose from is simply much smaller, and our goal isn’t to include or exclude authors based on gender or any other factor. The same criticism could be given that there are not enough black authors, not enough European authors, not enough Native American authors, not enough young authors, etc. If we tailored the list to represent any aspect of the authors, we’d lose the focus on the actual content of the books.

      Thanks again, Steve, for weighing in! And to all our readers, we say tell us more! Your recommendations are just as valid and insightful, and our community is always eager to learn about new books!

    • Hi Ruth! Thanks for stopping by and bringing the Historiann article to our attention. It’s strange to be in the crosshairs of such a gender diversity analysis. While we didn’t tailor the list to represent certain author criteria, our quick count shows the list presently features 19 titles that are authored, co-authored or featuring content authored by women. There are several additional books that feature stories about and perspectives of women. I don’t know how one defines “very few,” but this seems like more than a few to us. In fact, as we pointed out in the above response to Eastjersey Steve, we believe our list accurately represents the proportion of books on the subject (and certainly within our selection scope criteria) written by men and women. There are simply fewer books about the Revolution authored by women. But again, our goal was not to include or exclude authors based on gender, or age, race, religion, etc.

      Interestingly, the proportion of female authors in our book list is similar to that in our list of contributors. Of 147 JAR writers, 22 are women. Clearly the majority of people writing about this subject are men, but we could easily find other subjects where the majority of authors are women.

      Lastly, keep in mind the scope of this list is intended to mirror the scope of our journal, predominantly featuring books that deal with the political and military aspects of the American Revolution, rather than on the time period in general. We love and value the numerous cultural and social histories, but they often extend beyond our scope, such as the three books by women that Historiann suggested.

      Bottom line, we love American Revolution books and so does our audience, so we just wanted to help introduce our readers to an exciting library of options based on feedback we’ve been hearing for years. No harm intended. Thanks again for stopping by and we hope you’ll be back!

      • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I really wasn’t making a value judgement myself but rather was calling your attention to the feedback/criticism of your book list that I had just read on the other blog.

        If this list indeed does reflect a close percentage of the available books on the topic of your focus, then I would agree that calling foul by way of gender bias is not appropriate.

        I would, however, say that it’s important to think about these things and try to move outside of your comfort zone sometimes. I don’t think anyone would say that you purposefully left female authors and subjects out. You might consider, for instance, expanding your focus to include social history. I admit that when I first encountered your site, I immediately noticed that the vast majority of your contributors are male and I wondered why. Not necessarily a criticism, but an observation.

        As part of the growing movement to include women and their very real activities during Am Rev era living history events, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a lot more to be said and learned about this era than politics and military actions, both of which lean so heavily toward the male experience.

        Thanks for listening.

      • It’s important to note that the Historiann blog’s author said that she isn’t particularly engaged in the Revolution and made few suggestions of her own about how a list like this would be constructed to accommodate historiography. It’s also important to point out that she’s done this before on her blog: pushing all-female book lists and syllabi while publicly attacking other historians when they make their own judgments and choices. She has an ongoing project to solicit syllabi which she can then publicly shame.

        There are people who are constructively and generously engaged in this field, and then there are people who are building their personal brands by attacking those scholars. The distinction is worth observing here.

  • I would definitely recommend:

    Partisans and Redcoats by Walter Edgar – succinct yet relatively complete history of the war in South Carolina.

    Long, Bloody and Obstinate, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

  • Hi,,,

    One book that I found so enjoyable was this one back in 86 which I have read a couple of times and thought it would be on somebody’s list. It takes place in Boston and other towns from 1773 – 1776 .

    Red Dawn at Lexington “If They Mean to Have a War, Let It Begin Here!” by Louis Birmbaum

  • Hi To All

    Not sure if this a “classic” in a way but one book that I found very informative and enjoyable to read (Since I am a New Englander) is one by Lous Birmbaum from 1986 and its

    Red Dawn At Lexington “If They Mean to Have a War, Let It Begin Here”

    I have read this a few times because it is a great read !!!

  • Far be it for me to crowd out my own book (After Yorktown) from the list, but in addition to Tuchman’s The First Salute (as a reader mentioned), I’d nominate the only biography ever written about Caty Greene (Nathanael’s wife), “Caty: A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene” by John F. Stegeman and Janet A. Stegeman (University of Georgia Press, 1977).

    Plus, although it’s not a book, it is the best website about the Revolution, Founders Online, by the National Archives and the University of Virginia Press. Maybe websites are a topic for another article.

  • While I am impressed with the list of 100 books I was sad to see only a few books on nautical themes. I believe the importance of the Continental navy, the French navy and our 2000 privateers to win the Revolution is overlooked and underappreciated.

    Also The Sea of Glory: a Naval history of the American Revolution was placed in “conflict and war” but I believe it deserves to be in “all-in-one”.

  • What is the difference between John Ferling’s ‘Almost a Miracle’ and ‘Whirlwind’? I’m re-reading ‘Angel in the Whirlwind’ by Bobrick. Thank you.

  • “Braddock’s Defeat” by David Preston is an excellent book that a good deal about the origins of the Revolutionary War.
    Another classic that got me interested in the Revolutionary period is “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Hoskins Forbes. Must have read it ten times when I was in elementary school

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