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A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence [Paperback]

By Ray Raphael (Author)
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Item description for A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence by Ray Raphael...

Presents a history of the American Revolution from the perspective of farmers, soldiers, laborers, and other common folk by using personal letters, diaries, and other primary source material.

Publishers Description
A sweeping narrative of the wartime experience, A People's History of the American Revolution is the first book to view the revolution through the eyes of common folk. Their stories have long been overlooked in the mythic telling of America's founding, but are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the fight for independence. Now, the experiences of farmers, laborers, rank and file soldiers, women, Native Americans, and African Americans -- found in diaries, letters, memoirs and other long-ignored primary sources -- create a gritty account of rebellion, filled with ideals and outrage, loss, sacrifice, and sometimes scurrilous acts...but always ringing with truth.

Citations And Professional Reviews
A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence by Ray Raphael has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2011 page 839
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2007 page 689
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 1218

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Harper Perennial
Pages   775
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8" Width: 5.3" Height: 1"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 18, 2002
Publisher   Harper Perennial
ISBN  0060004401  
ISBN13  9780060004408  
UPC  099455014007  

Availability  0 units.

More About Ray Raphael

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Ray Raphael has taught at a one-room public high school, Humboldt State University, and College of the Redwoods. His seventeen books include A People's History of the American Revolution, The First American Revolution, Founders, and Constitutional Myths (all available from The New Press). Currently a senior research fellow at Humboldt State University, he lives in northern California, where he hikes and kayaks.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Revolution & Founding > General
3Books > Subjects > History > Military > United States > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Military > United States

Reviews - What do customers think about A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence?

A Politically Correct History of the American Rev  May 8, 2007
This author is a deciple of Howard Zinn, which means one should be under no illusions as to what they shall find in this book. For one this is not a military history of the Rev War. This is social history, with a decided agenda to pursue. This is all well and good, but many of the author's references to military events suffer from a basic lack of knowledge on these aspects of the conflict. The problem with social/political historians is that they deliberately want to disregard any kind of military perspective in their works, to cover what they consider to be more important issues. But when you are dealing with a military subject like the Rev War, you can't help having some of your story effected by these aspects of the history. This is where the author should have versed himself better, because his narrative suffers from simplistic military observations of the conflict as a whole.

There is value in a work like this to be sure despite the selected nature of the research. The author shows very cleverly that many who proposed the Revolution in the first place were not the ones who actually fought it. Many older works have brought this issue up before, perhaps not as deliberately as the the Howard Zinn school of revisionist history would like, but many studies of Washy's army clearly shows that most were the landless, rootless sort which contained many Blacks. So no big discovery there.

The author does point out that in many ways the Rev War was the first big American con job! Liberty was in the air, but it did not include, women, blacks or Indians. There is much truth in this observation, but the danger of looking at past events with too much contemporary outlook tends to pass unfair moral judgements on those people and events. The American Revolution needs to be studied within the confines of its own time and place. Once you start accusing the past of not living up to the supposed standards of the present, you run the risk of passing unfair judegment. This seems a popular thing to do these days, and there are many revisionist historians out there willing to do just that.

The Howard Zinn school of studying events from the ground up, instead of the top down has merit, but to suggest that we should turn our history upside down in order to achieve this goal threatens to distort just as much in the opposite direction. If you are going to have any idea what was going on in the Revolution, you have to be aware of the Washingtons, Jeffersons etc. To simply look at the Revolution from the perspective of Joseph Plum Martin, or a runnaway slave gives you only a slice of the whole picture. I have always thought that the Revolution has been taught with too much holier than thou emphasis. Books like this are good to provide added detail, but they are not designed to be new standard histories.

The author attempts to be balanced, but the tone of the book steadily becomes more strident with each passing chapter. The final chapter on slavery becomes almost sanctimonious. Does the author really believe that we would learn so much more about the Revolution if we were able to read every slaves'journal about escaping from his master! Most slaves due to circumstances could not even read or write! So where would this treasure trove come from? Literacy was not even common among the soldiery of the period, much less anyone else! To study select groups of any event has merit, but to do so exclusively becomes distortion. The fact remains that the Reolvution was fought mostly by the common white soldiers of the colonies. They were the rootless, riff-raff that comprised all armies of the 18th century. To see it any other way is to bring political aggenda into the study of the period.

Teachers would be mistaken to assign this book as a main text on the American Revolution. One would learn little of the actual events of that conflict if this were the only text consulted. The true value of this book only becomes apparent when studied in comparison to other works about the Revolution. After reading some of the more standard histories this book could serve as a useful supplement. Nothing more. I have given this book three stars because it should not be considered a comprehensive new study on the American Revolution.
The "Real" American Revolution  Feb 21, 2007
Raphael has compiled a first-person account of early America and has the wisdom not to over-editorialize, making this an indisputably factual historical reference. Unlike the sometimes "fairy tale" school books, one learns and feels the anguish of the early settlers as they struggled with strong class distinction, wealth vs poverty, and desperation for the freedoms, traditions (some quite surprising) and culture of America today. One learns intimate details about the lives and values of some of our founding fathers (and mothers) who are undeserving of their elevated place in history, while discovering some whose sacrifices and courage made our independence achievable. Here's an example: The Boston Tea Party was not as much about "taxation without representation" as it was about the working class rebelling against the wealthy who were the only ones who could afford to buy tea for their snooty tea parties....and therein began the tradition in America to offer coffee to house guests rather than tea. Here's another example: "tar and feather" punishment didn't originate in the south as a racial issue. You will be surprised at some of the recognizable names who were the target of this public humiliation. It's not a book that you "just can't put down", but one that you won't want to toss out of your library.
ok but not the greatest  Nov 14, 2002
Raphael's goal is an admirable one, and his topic is of great importance to any study of the American Revolution. Indeed, the "common people" (including women, slaves, and Indians) are too often overlooked in histories of the period, and their roles were critical. For example, the HUGE influence slaves had on how the war was fought in the South is sadly ignored, despite the fact that no understanding of that aspect is complete without it. That said, the book is not the whole story and is best read in combination with a work focusing on the "great men" and events "at the top"--perhaps Gordon Wood or Bernard Bailyn. Such a combination, I think, would provide a fuller portrayal. My major complaint with the book is its inclusion of page upon page of source material. I understand that for some this is a strong point of the work and that Raphael is trying to let these common folk speak for themselves. But the extraordinarily long quotations (sometimes pages in length) prevent Raphael's own voice and analysis from coming through. And in my opinion, the lengthy quotations from secondary sources could have been eliminated and summarized. He would have been well advised to limit the direct quotations and focus on a more in-depth analysis. After all, if one wanted to read straight primary sources, there are collections of documents available. But these flaws notwithstanding, the book deserves a read, if only to fill in the gaps left by high school history courses.
not the best that it could be but still worth reading  Jan 4, 2002
This book continues in the Howard Zinn tradition of trying to focus on groups of people and causes that are not necesarily part of the mainstream. Though not as well written and researched as People's History of the United States, Raphael does do a good job of telling about how different groups saw and participated in the American Revolution. There is plenty of important information such as the large numbers of people in pacifist religious groups like the Quakers and German protestant groups like the mennanites and shakers who were against all war because all the fighting they had seen in Europe through the centuries. It also deals with groups like Native Americans, African Americans and women. These groups were not treated as whole members of society before or after the revolution (not to say that their condition would have improved under continued English rule) so it was interesting to see their involvement and opposition to their war. In addition, the book deals with fronteir groups that suppored American independence, not just northern merchants or southern plantation owners that we are more familiar with.
Filling in the history of this country's birth.  Sep 10, 2001
Most history of the American Revolution focuses on "the founding fathers" and particular events. Ray Raphael's book, the first in a Howard Zinn series, gives credit to everyday people and seldom told events. Adams, Jefferson, Washington et al would have hardly been able to found a country without the massive support of the anonymus masses.

Most impressive about Rapahel's book is that he allows the facts to do the talking. Many authors argue a case but haardly bother to back it up, not Raphael. Equally important, the book is a good read. Some history books with a series of stories become tedious, but Raphel's writing is crisp as he weaves incidents together.

The book also exposes the violent, viscious nature of people, with tarring and feathering and other public humiliations regularly doled out to citizens out of favor in their community. We are reminded that while the common folks were heroes of the Revolution, they were hardly saints in the way they carried out retribution and their perception of justice.

But the primary contribution of the book is to give a fuller more honest view of the American Revolution, how it could happen and who deserves credit, besides those familiar figures so prominent in American text books.


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