The best books to expand and deepen your view of the American Revolution

Ray Raphael Author Of Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past
By Ray Raphael

Who am I?

When writing my first of my ten books on the Founding Era, A People’s History of the American Revolution, I came across an amazing uprising not celebrated in the traditional saga of our nation’s birth: the people of Massachusetts, everywhere outside of Boston, actually cast off British authority in 1774, the year before Lexington and Concord. How could this critical episode have been so neglected? Who’s the gatekeeper here, anyway? That’s when I began to explore how events of those times morphed into stories, and how those stories mask what actually happened—the theme of Founding Myths.  


I wrote...

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

By Ray Raphael,

Book cover of Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

What is my book about?

Stories of the American Revolution were first communicated by word of mouth, and these folkloric renditions, infinitely malleable, provided fertile ground for the invention of history: “One if by land, two if by sea.” “Do not fire till you see the whites of their eyes.” “Give me liberty or give me death!” We know the litany well, but such tales reflect the romantic individualism of the Nineteenth Century, when they were popularized in children’s books, and they sell our country short. Founding Myths reveals a deeper, richer national heritage. “Government has devolved upon the people,” wrote one disgruntled Tory in 1774, “and they seem to be for using it.” Yes, indeed. That’s a story we do not have to conjure, and what an epic it is.

The books I picked & why

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The American Revolution: A World War

By David K. Allison (editor), Larrie D. Ferreiro (editor),

Book cover of The American Revolution: A World War

Why this book?

This book is a game changer. In the traditional telling of the American Revolution, rebellious colonists were the sole agents, save for a bit of help from France. Here, scholars from Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and India, as well as the United States, broaden our perspective. The volume is lavishly produced with historical artwork by the Smithsonian, but this is no ordinary coffee table book. In vivid detail, you will learn that from its very outset, our nation was not a world unto itself. From the nearby Caribbean to Europe to far-away India, the American Revolution played out on a global stage. 

The American Revolution: A World War

By David K. Allison (editor), Larrie D. Ferreiro (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The American Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An illustrated collection of essays that explores the international dimensions of the American Revolution and its legacies in both America and around the world

The American Revolution: A World War argues that contrary to popular opinion, the American Revolution was not just a simple battle for independence in which the American colonists waged a "David versus Goliath" fight to overthrow their British rulers. Instead, the essays in the book illustrate how the American Revolution was a much more complicated and interesting conflict. It was an extension of larger skirmishes among the global superpowers in Europe, chiefly Britain, Spain, France, and…


Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

Why this book?

You might or might not have read about Alexander McGillivray, the controversial Creek diplomat, but how about Payamataha, Oliver Pollack, Petit Jean, Amand Broussard, or James Bruce? They were, respectively: Chickasaw leader who tried to keep his people out of the war; merchant and the Continental Congress’s agent in Louisiana; slave from Mobile who spied for Spain; Cajun militiaman seeking revenge against the British for deporting his people; member of His Majesty’s Council for West Florida. Weaving her narrative around this diverse cast and little-known cross-cultural encounters in the Gulf region, DuVal explores “the changing power dynamics of the entire continent, not just the thirteen British colonies that eventually rebelled.”

Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

By Kathleen DuVal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Independence Lost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rising-star historian offers a significant new global perspective on the Revolutionary War with the story of the conflict as seen through the eyes of the outsiders of colonial society

Winner of the Journal of the American Revolution Book of the Year Award • Winner of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey History Prize • Finalist for the George Washington Book Prize

Over the last decade, award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal has revitalized the study of early America’s marginalized voices. Now, in Independence Lost, she recounts an untold story as rich and significant as that of…


A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin

By Joseph Plumb Martin,

Book cover of A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin

Why this book?

If, perchance, you have yet to encounter Private Joseph Plumb Martin’s classic memoir, stop right now and get hold of a copy. With wit, charm, and telling detail, this common soldier from the Continental Army will take you on a personal journey through the Revolutionary War. Lest we forget, “history” is composed of individual experiences, and JPMs are memorable. “Great men get great praise; little men, nothing,” he wrote. “It always was so and always will be.” No, not always. This “little man” earns praise not only for himself, but for all those men and boys who put their lives on the line in the Revolutionary War.

A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin

By Joseph Plumb Martin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new afterword by William Chad Stanley

Here a private in the Continental Army of the Revolutionary War narrates his adventures in the army of a newborn country.


A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence

By John Shy,

Book cover of A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence

Why this book?

This classic collection of essays is an absolute gem. Writing in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Shy reminds us that our own struggle for independence also demonstrated a “visceral, ugly, face-to-face quality” that affected civilians as well as combatants. However harsh his subject matter, Shy is such a brilliant writer that he’s a pleasure to read. These insightful zingers speak for themselves:

“A reservoir, sand in the gears, the militia looked like a great spongy mass that could be pushed aside or maimed temporarily but that had no vital center and could not be destroyed.”

“Once common folk had seen and even taken part in hounding, humiliating, perhaps killing men known to them as social superiors, they could not easily re-acquire the unthinking respect for wealth and status that underpinned the old order.”

“Much about the event called the Revolutionary War had been very painful and was unpleasant to remember. Only the outcome was unqualifiedly pleasant, so memory, as ever, began to play tricks with the event.”

A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence

By John Shy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A People Numerous and Armed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans like to think of themselves as a peaceful and peace-loving people, and in remembering their own revolutionary past, American historians have long tended to focus on colonial origins and Constitutional aftermath, neglecting the fact that the American Revolution was a long, hard war. In this book, John Shy shifts the focus to the Revolutionary War and explores the ways in which the experience of that war was entangled with both the causes and the consequences of the Revolution itself. This is not a traditional military chronicle of battles and campaigns, but a series of essays that recapture the social,…


This Glorious Cause: The Adventures of Two Company Officers in Washington's Army

By Herbert Treadwell Wade, Robert A. Lively,

Book cover of This Glorious Cause: The Adventures of Two Company Officers in Washington's Army

Why this book?

What about wives left behind when their husbands marched off to war? This neglected gem showcases the letters between Joseph Hodgkins, a Minuteman who answered the Lexington Alarm, and his wife Sarah, at home with three small children. Joseph reenlists, not once but twice: “If we Due not Exarte our selves in this gloris. Cause our all is gon and we made slaves of for Ever.” But with each succeeding term, Sarah’s letters become more heart-wrenching: “You may think I am too free in expressing my mind. I look for you almost every day but I dont alow myself to depend on anything for I find there is nothing to be depended upon but troble and disapointments. I hope you will Let Some body else take your Place.” Can such a marriage survive? 

This Glorious Cause: The Adventures of Two Company Officers in Washington's Army

By Herbert Treadwell Wade, Robert A. Lively,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Glorious Cause as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"As I am ingaged in this glories Cause I am will to go whare I am Called"-so Joseph Hodgkins, a shoemaker of Ipswich, Massachusetts, declared to his wife the purpose that sustained him through four crucial years of the American Revolution. Hodgkins and his fellow townsman Nathaniel Wade, a carpenter, turned out for the Lexington alarm, fought at Bunker Hill, retreated from Long Island past White Plains, attacked at Trenton and Princeton, and enjoyed triumph at Saratoga. One of them wintered at Valley Forge, and the other was promoted to command at West Point on the night that Benedict Arnold…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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