The First Salute

Barbara W. Tuchman

1988


A broad and fast-moving account of the endgame in the American War of Independence.

I'm an enormous fan of Tuchman, but this is far from being her best work. She still has the same eye for detail, same same telling turn of phrase, but the narrative is a little confused and the timeline hard to follow. She deals with some of the same issues in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, a much better book. I think the weakness in this book stems from her taking an explicitly American perspective ("our country", "our leaders") which is missing from her other work: while she remains as even-handed as ever, and is far from being an American jingoist, it strikes an awkward note.

Having said that, there is huge satisfaction is hearing about the naval side of the war, the decisive influence of sea power on victory, as well as the details of 18th century naval warfare and the various characters involved. I was unaware of the degree to which France – and especially the French navy – was involved directly in the war, to the extent of dramatically affecting and constraining possible British strategic moves. Tuchman describes their motivations with exquisite care, as well as those of the newly-independent Dutch, showing how American independence was only part of the larger game of European power politics.

Finished on Sat, 31 Oct 2015 11:47:19 -0700.   Rating 4/5.