A reappraisal of young George Washington, pictured here as an ill-equipped general whose stalwart character nonetheless helped the Continental Army prevail against the long odds of the British military.
In Revolutionary: George Washington at War, Mr. O’Connell engagingly traces the genealogy of Washington’s rare feat of executive prudence and restraint. Mr. O’Connell presents his subject as a complex figure, stressing the formative experiences before Washington took command of the Continental Army and noting the chastening failures that he endured along the way. He describes Washington as a man who not only made his own way but deliberately crafted a persona from which he eventually became inseparable—austere, reserved, commanding. Public life in the British Atlantic world involved performing a role, with polite culture providing the script ... The extraordinary self-control behind the performance concealed strong passions that occasionally broke through—Mr. O’Connell describes Washington cursing and lashing out when his troops fled the British attack on Manhattan, for instance—but it served him well.
Like chronicles of Washington’s military career, Revolutionary is a long account of things not breaking Washington’s way. For 300 pages, readers follow 'GW' from bungle to blunder, from overreach to incomprehension, with our hero either failing upward through no merit of his own or saved by his staff from charging into catastrophe. And at every turn, O’Connell is on hand to smooth things over and put their good profile toward the sunniest window ... O’Connell is so persuasive that readers will have to squint a little to remember that this is a description of a United States President leading thousands of armed and mounted soldiers in person against American citizens ... When O’Connell isn’t engaged in this kind of public relations, when he’s writing about Washington’s world instead of Washington’s military record, his book is brightly energetic, although often curiously refracted ... Ultimately Revolutionary presents an insightful overview of the birth of the United States right alongside the usual starry-eyed heroic poem about Washington himself. Readers will need to assess the balance between the two for themselves, but those readers are unlikely to get a better Washington book this year.
Neither a thorough biography nor a mere recap of the Revolutionary War, this work is a history of the events and experiences that shaped George Washington's ambitions, ideologies, and character, and fueled his revolutionary zeal ... O'Connell debunks myths and explains motives, shortcomings, and misperceptions in this historical saga that will engage both general and academic readers.