A Historian's Revolting July 4 Reading List

With Independence Day just around the corner, here is a list of ten of my favorite books about the Revolutionary War era.
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Revere and his horse. Jefferson and his quill, Franklin and his kite. Washington and those false teeth. Okay. Most of us now know there was more to the American Revolution than these stock images. And the bestseller lists have been loaded over the past few years with books that plumb the "great men" of the Revolutionary Generation.

But with Independence Day just around the corner, here is a list of ten of my favorite books about the Revolutionary War era. It is by no means compete or comprehensive -- just some interesting books that deserve more attention. I've avoided the obvious, such as the huge bestsellers by David McCullough and Joseph Ellis, in favor of some more obscure but worthy reads, including a few older books that merit rereading.

Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J. Langguth

A former New York Times correspondent, Langguth combines a reporter's eye with a historian's breadth in this large overview of the people on both sides of the Revolution. Though written 20 years ago, still an excellent introduction.

Liberty!: The American Revolution and Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History by Thomas Fleming

The first of these is one of the best overviews of the Revolution, originally published as companion to a PBS series. The second title is a more recent work by one of America's master historian-storytellers whose lively writing brings the complex story of Washington's political genius to life.

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye

Surprise! A writer thinking a writer and a book deserve more attention. This is a biography of the "greatest radical of a radical age," whose 46 -page pamphlet Common Sense changed history, and whose legacy has been coopted.

Almost A Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling

A comprehensive account of the military victory that almost wasn't.

Rebels and Redcoats; The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It by George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Ranking

A volume filled with firsthand accounts of the war.

Benedict Arnold's Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution by James Nelson

With a novelist's flair, Nelson tells the story of how the man who became America's most reviled villain staved off an early defeat of the American cause.

Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A. Fenn

A wonderful exploration of the deadly disease that killed far more people than the war did and its impact on the history of the times.

A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence by Ray Raphael.

From the Howard Zinn school of history, a great distillation of the Revolution from the perspective of the working men and women who helped start the Revolution and then did most of the fighting. A good corrective to the simplistic "great man" view of history.

Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby

Not really about the Revolution, but a wonderful study of the tension between the role of religion in building the nation and the concept of separation of church and state -- always a worthy subject as we contemplate those familiar words: "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."