... was the Revolution truly a 'civil war' at heart? And what was the role of the many tens of thousands of everyday Loyalists whose presence made it potentially so? Where were they, who were they, and did they actually fight? Readers looking for answers to such questions will have to look elsewhere. What Mr. Brands provides is a brisk, engaging narrative history of the Revolution itself. He highlights the Franklin drama, alongside more glancing accounts of other Loyalist cases, to ensure that an oft-overlooked part of the American Revolution receives its due.
Brands offers a fast-paced, often riveting account of the military and political events leading up to the Declaration of Independence and those that followed during the war ... This focus on individual experiences and actions allows a reader the comfort of revisiting old friends whose life histories are twice-told tales, while also providing introductions to less well-known but equally interesting men ... The author deftly narrates the military action of the Great War for Empire and then offers a vivid account of the protests against the new, harsher British colonial policies that end in revolution. While there is little new in his account, he tells the story well ... Brands peppers his narrative with anecdotes that sharpen his portraits of the book’s leading figures and events ... But, in the end, Brands’s heavy reliance on the perceptions and actions of leading figures of the era leaves much of the story untold ... Brands’s top-down approach may explain his failure to answer the central questions he asks in his prologue ... Brands does his readers a service by reminding them that division, as much as unity, is central to the founding of our nation. One wishes he had limned that division with a sharper pen.
The author ably documents the drift from petitioning to open rebellion, and cites anecdotes on the consequences experienced by Loyalists during the war. He quotes liberally from letters between Patriot leaders ... But what Brands doesn’t do is delve deeply, or in any great detail, into the civil war that he has set up as his book’s errand. Loyalists and their contribution to the British cause appear infrequently throughout, almost on the order of a footnote to the narrative on America’s drift toward radicalization and the war ... The reader is never provided with a clear sense of how many Loyalists there were, how many of them took up arms, and how effective their intransigence was for the British cause. There are thousands, of course, the reader learns, but not how many thousands. Perhaps such numbers are hard to ascertain with precision from the historical record, but if that is the case, the author doesn’t make it.