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Mark Noll


Cracks in the Liberty Bell

1. From the French Revolution of 1789 to Tiananmen Square in 1989, the American Revolution has inspired countless rebellions, uprisings, revolts, and demonstrations. About the ultimate meaning of the example set by the victorious colonists, Thomas Fleming is not in any doubt. Right at the beginning of his account of the American Revolution, he pauses to explain its world-historical significance:

In the Declaration of Independence, liberty became a birthright that every person could claim, no matter what any government said. In that great leap forward, the United States of America became more than a country; it became an idea, a heritage open to people of every race and creed. … The freedom to speak our minds, to worship in the churches of our faith, to vote for the political leaders of our choice, to pursue our careers, to manage our individual lives in a hundred different ways, depends on American liberty as it was enunciated and defined in the crisis years of the Revolution.

Fleming's theme, then, is the glorious progress of self-government.

Liberty! The American Revolution exhibits much of the verve, clean prose, and appealing production values that also marked the six-hour pbs special it accompanies. The stirring color prints with which the book is filled are a visual delight that contribute substantially to the narrative. The volume bears ample testimony to Fleming's wide reading in at least considerable stretches of the vast literature on the war and its effects. Several passages treating military subjects—on what exactly happened at Lexington and Concord on the eighteenth of April in 1775, the shifting goals of Britain's grand strategy, the skill of patriot generals George Washington and Nathanael Greene, and the brilliance of Gen. Benedict Arnold in the war's northern theater before he went over to the British—are as good as popular writing can get. Perhaps there could have been a few more maps, but the ones reproduced here are usually originals ...

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