In his meticulously researched, beautifully calibrated Liberty Is Sweet, historian Woody Holton adds necessary nuance, building on...stories previously marginalized (or invisible) in our narrative of the nation's birth while illuminating a collective yearning to form a more perfect union ... Holton's painstaking yet vivid military coverage is one of the book's crowning achievements. Until now I'd not grasped the machinations of battles such as Breed's (also known as Bunker) Hill or Cowpens, or even Washington's iconic crossing of the Delaware River ... Holton also enriches Liberty Is Sweet with astute analysis of how the young states began to organize themselves in their grand experiment of self-government ... Holton, then, threads the needle, expanding the spirit of the 1619 Project while bringing a granular scholarship and immersive storytelling in the mode of Gordon Wood and Sean Wilentz. Liberty Is Sweet is a magnificent book, a vital account worthy of all the accolades that will come its way.
Holton is a proficient and tireless researcher who, using his own findings and those of others, presents fresh appraisals of important developments based on lives and events long condemned to obscurity ... He is just as perceptive, however, when he assesses the strategy, tactics, and leadership of George Washington, as well as Washington’s fellow American and allied French officers and their British adversaries. His writing sparkles in these chapters, in crisp, assured expositions. While attentive to the cold logic of command, Holton never minimizes warfare’s grotesque inhumanity. His book’s real achievement may be to redirect academic historians’ attention to the battlefields and to appreciating anew some of the least hidden aspects of the Revolution ... Other of the book’s central interpretations are less convincing ... What Liberty Is Sweet fails to offer is a single piece of evidence—a letter or diary entry or newspaper article or pamphlet—in which any patriot states that Dunmore’s proclamation converted him or anyone else to support independence. Without that evidence, Holton’s argument collapses.
By widening the scope of what he looks at, Holton delivers a much more interesting and complicated story than the traditional legend of the nation’s founding ... Holton has righted a long-imposed wrong by telling these stories, introducing tribes that most readers will not recognize, so deeply has their history been buried. He does the same thing for African Americans and women, showing them as active participants in the formation of the United States, not passive bystanders ... Holton throws down [a] challenge to his readers, providing a richly researched, carefully thought-out, and complicatedly inclusive history, an antidote to the current black-and-white thinking that’s proving so divisive today.