Monday, March 12, 2018

Crucible of War by Fred Anderson

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 is Fred Anderson’s comprehensive study of the French and Indian War and its aftermath. For those unfamiliar with the conflict, the French and Indian War refers to the war in North America that was part of the larger world conflict known as The Seven Years War.

The conflict pitted Great Britain and her Native American allies against France and her Native American allies. It mostly occurred in lands west of the original thirteen English Colonies as well as in Canada.

Though I found this book interesting and worthwhile for many reasons, my initial reason for reading it was that the French and Indian War had a great influence upon the American Revolution, which broke out about twenty years later. I wanted to read a book on this earlier conflict. I did a little research to decide which book to read on the subject.  There are several respected histories out there. This one had a reputation of being the most comprehensive. Some reviews described it as being too academic. I did not find that to be true. Instead, I thought that this work was very accessible and understandable. With that, this is a long book. My edition was more than 700 pages in length, not including endnotes.  

This book is mostly a political and military history. Those not looking to read a lot of military history might want to avoid this one. Personally, I found this work engrossing. The structure of the book is little unusual. The first two thirds or so is an account of the war itself, with a heavy emphasis on military history. The policies and politics of Great Britain’s government are also covered in some detail.

The final third of the book covers history after the war. It is fairly heavy on analysis and makes a strong point that the French and Indian War led to the American Revolution. I found the combination of these two parts to be a little odd. The mix of a detailed political and military chronicle, with a targeted history attempting to prove a point, seems unconventional. With that, I loved reading about both the history of the war itself and the tie-in to the American Revolution.

The nature of the major fighting that occurred during this conflict is explored in some detail. Most military activity centered around British and French forts located in wilderness areas. Each side assembled small armies that traversed the wilderness in an attempt to reach, besiege and capture the other side’s forts. Native American support was key to each side. The British better managed to cultivate Native American allies, which gave them a major advantage. In the end, however, it was control of the sea that gave Great Britain her final victory as French troops and resupply to North America were eventually cut off.

As mentioned above, Anderson explores many connections between the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Great Britain ran up an enormous national debt during the Seven Years War. She was still expending large sums on protecting Canada and the other territorial acquisitions that were taken during the war. As a result, Parliament levied taxes on the thirteen colonies to help pay these expenses. These taxes were a major cause of the revolution.

New territories were also taken from France to the west of the thirteen colonies. The colonists were eager to move out and settle those lands. Great Britain, wanting to avoid conflict between the colonists and Native American tribes, attempted to close off these western territories to the colonists. These restrictions caused enormous friction. Anderson’s analysis of this issue contains his take on the philosophy that related to British ideas of Empire and colonialism. I found this line of inquiry intriguing.

 Tensions between British troops and the colonists actually began during the French and Indian War, when British generals demanded that the colonists provide quarters to British troops. Also, British troops and Provincial forces served together. Instead of harmoniously working together, this only added to the friction.


The colonists, having fielded large military forces and expended great resources during the conflict, came out of the war feeling that they had sacrificed and done their part. They felt that they had contributed to the world victory that Great Britain achieved. The British on the other hand, generally had the impression that the colonists were unreliable and hesitant to fight.

For these reasons and others, Great Britain and the American colonists were set on a collision course. Anderson writes,

The Seven Years’ War had reshaped the world in more ways than anyone knew. But the lessons both Britons and Americans derived from the conflict would prove inadequate guides when men on opposite sides of the Atlantic tried to comprehend what those changes meant, and dangerous ones when each tried to understand the actions of the other.”

This book may not be for everyone. As mentioned above, it is heavy with military history. There is an incongruity to its two parts. With that, I loved this work. Both segments were of great interest to me. I found it to be a comprehensive chronicle of the conflict. In addition, Anderson digs deeply into the reasons for the American Revolution. This is a subject that fascinates me. The book’s length provided me with a level of detail that I often look for. Ultimately, for those interested in these subjects, this is an extremely informative and fascinating book.







30 comments:

Whispering Gums said...

A thorough review as usual Brian, but I must say that as I started it I wondered why you were reading it? It seemed so different to your usual fare. However, of course you answered it with "my initial reason for reading it was that the French and Indian War had a great influence upon the American Revolution, which broke out about twenty years later." That made me laugh because of course the American Revolution went on then to have a big influence on the French Revolution! Circles and more circles.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Great commentary on this book. You have a real expertise when it comes to early American history and you convey it so well in your reviews. I have also read that the French and Indian War had a big impact on the American Revolution. As you say, Britain ran up debts which may have led to Stamp Act and tax on tea. Also George Washington fought in French and Indian War and he learned alot about how to fight, lead men into battle etc.

Mudpuddle said...

great post! I'm not too much of a history buff, but the little i've read has been interesting... Grave's books re Sergeant Lamb come to mind. and the connections between the two wars are intriguing as well... tx...

thecuecard said...

Yes this Seven Years War seems to have had a big impact on the start of the American Revolution -- thanks for explaining the reasons behind that. I need to understand this for Canadian History: the fight between the British & France ... and their allies. The book you read sounds quite detailed but accurate.

Suko said...

Your reviews are mini history lessons for me--I learn from your commentary. Excellent post, as usual!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WP - I try to read a lot of history. My greatest area of interest is The American Revolution. The French Revolution is also a fascinating subject. I have read a fair amount about it. As you say, it is all connected. The connections are fascinating.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy- Washington Indeed cut his teeth in this war. While he was probably did not cause it, he likely covered up the massacre of French soldiers at Jumonville.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Mudpuddle. I have not read The Seagent Lamb books. They look good.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. This book also was very informative.

Sharon Wilfong said...

This sounds like a great book. I love reading about events that lead up to other events. I don't mind how long a book is either as long as it is absorbing. I am going to find this book and put it on my TBR pile.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I agree about the length of books. Especially on topics such as this, I often look for a lot of detail so longer books work better.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - This conflict had a huge effect on Canadian history. As the British took Canada from France it changed so much.

James said...

Thanks for another great commentary. This sounds like an interesting book, especially the discussion about the impact of the Seven Years' War on the Revolution. Do you think this experience may also provide some of the context for even later discussions during the Constitutional Convention and adoption of the Bill of Rights?

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James. In terms of later influences, based on this book, this conflict helped spark the colonosts distrust in standing armies and lack of representatives in government. So I would say it indirectly influencing the formation of The Consitution.

Sheree Strange said...

Fascinating! I knew absolutely nothing about the Seven Years War (before reading this review), it sounds like this book would give me a really comprehensive overview. And great job seeking out such a well-researched non-fiction book to teach you more about something you're interested in, it's a good strategy (one that would seem obvious, but that not many people undertake) ;)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sheree - It seems that the Seven Years War is mostly forgotten. However it was a world wide conflict that had a big impact on the world.

Because reading time is so limited, I tend to really research the books that I read.

Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks said...

A story of war wouldn't be quite something I would read :) but I'm glad you loved it!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Evelina - I wanted to make sure that I emphasized how much military and political history was included in this book. There is a lot of important social history and other types of history that comes out of wars. However, this book is not the best one to convey those issues.

HKatz said...

This is a great review on a topic I know little about (I know what the Seven Years' War was and some of the general details but nothing close to comprehensive knowledge). Thanks for covering some of the points here.

Recently I started some nonfiction books that I put aside, because they would've been better as feature articles; the book was mostly filler. This definitely doesn't sound like one of those books.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

I think 2 important connections must be made re: 7YW (FIW) and AR.
(1) Americans began to understand they could fight rather well, and they believed the British troops weren't all that great.
(2) The British decided to recover their war costs by taxing colonists.
In any case, both wars remain fascinating chapters in American history.
BTW, have you read the Walter Borneman book?
http://www.bookloons.com/cgi-bin/Review.asp?bookid=7314

Brian Joseph said...

Hi RT - I agree that your two points were major connections between the wars.

I had read your excellent review of Borneman’s book. I had heard that it was also excellent. However, I had heard that this book was more comprehensive.

Stefanie said...

Not sure that I will read it, but it definitely sounds fascinating. It is a part of history that I don't think gets taught much but maybe should be from the sound of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - I do remember having covered this conflict in High School. However, there is so much history to cover. It is difficult to cover everything in depth.

baili said...

i felt thrilled while reading this wonderful review Brai!!!

my father used to read magazines that were dropped to house twice week and though my mom was not learned from school yet their conversations over the structure of world's politics and few "main powers " of the world who since beginning tried to control the world and shape it according to their own benefits were very interesting .and today your post reminded me those evening gatherings with such heavy talks!

while doing my masters i particularly read about the history of america and reasons behind it's formation..
I was always curious about it and i knew little from my masters books .

if i read this one may be i will avoid the military history but final third parts might be quite interesting .
thank you so much for introducing wonderful book

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili - The Seven Years War really was the epitome of a great power clash. Several Other books on The French and Indian War are supposedly very good, they may dispense with much of the military history.

Maria Behar said...

GREAT commentary as usual, Brian!

As you have pointed out, this book might not be for everyone, and that would probably include me, lol. However, the fact that this war had some influence on the American Revolution certainly sounds intriguing. For that reason alone, I might want to read it. I would borrow it from the library, though.

I do think I might find myself feeling a LOT of impatience as I read this, if I do decide to read it. That's because I have absolutely NO sympathy for nations that build empires. The fact that Britain felt the American colonies should help pay for the expenses THEY (GB) incurred during The French and Indian War strikes me as GROSSLY unfair. Ironically, had this not happened, the American Revolution might never have taken place, and we weouldn't be here today! Lol.

Thanks for another insightful review!! Hope you're having a GREAT week!! <3 :)

Maria Behar said...

P.S. In a HUGE historical irony, the American colonists themselves displaced the Native Americans. So I think it's "fair", in a way, for the U.S. to be VERY welcoming to immigrants. And that was PRECISELY the reputation this country had, before that #@$%&*#$@ Trump came into office!!

The Bookworm said...

This sounds like a fascinating read for those into military history. It is definitely interesting to discuss how wars shaped history throughout the ages.
Fantastic commentary as usual.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida. Though it is not all military history, there is enough of it here that I think that one would need to enjoy it to enjoy this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Based upon my mini research, there are other, shorter books on this conflict that have good reputations.

I wonder if they go lighter on the military history. Not just yourself, but the Colonists were indeed enraged by the taxes. “Taxation without representation” became their cry. There were some proposals to give them representation in Parliament. That might have defused the situation. Of course, as you point out, the Revolution may not have happened, or at least not at that time. Anderson does speculate on this. He concludes that had the British taken a lighter hand, Revolution would have broke out, but at a much later time. He believes that in order to protect the Native Americans, the British would have continued to curtail the Colonists emigrating West. Andersons speculates that this would have eventually led to Revolution. Without a doubt, the Colonists and their descents pushed out the Native Americans. They did so in a brutal and barbaric way.

I think that immigration is good and beneficial for lot of reasons. Trump is bent on overturning American norms. While I believe that people can have honest differences about immigration policy, Trump has shown himself to be a racist. This seems to be driving much of his immigration policy.


Have a great week!