Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The Glorious Cause

By Jeff Shaara

In this, his second volume on the American Revolution, and his fifth novel to date, Jeff Shaara has once again shown his prowess at painting a large historical mural with small, delicately brush-stroked scenes. "The Glorious Cause" carries that brush like a baton, passed from its predecessor, "Rise to Rebellion." It continues the story of the Revolution forward from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the war's conclusion some seven years later.
Through his use of shifting viewpoints Shaara captures an almost three-dimensional portrait of the war. We learn first hand of the defeats of the American Forces in New York through the eyes of generals George Washington and Nathaniel Greene as well as the triumph of the British Army in those battles from the perspective of British general, Charles Cornwallis. In France, we are able to glimpse a view of Benjamin Franklin's negotiations for financing and an eventual American alliance. And yet we receive a counterpoint to France's initial lack of enthusiasm for an American alliance and a war with England through the viewpoint of the young Marquis de Lafayette.

Each chapter presents a single point of view, and many of the pivotal events in the novel are spread across a number of chapters and viewed from a number of different viewpoints. Included are chapters dedicated to Nathan Hale, Von Steuben, Benedict Arnold, and Daniel Morgan. Numerous supporting characters are spread throughout the book as well: Americans, Charles Lee and Horatio Gates and on the British side: Howe, Clinton, and Tarlton.

Though Shaara's narrative drags in places, his battle descriptions along with the numerous maps included throughout, make the battles of New York, Trenton, Brandywine, Monmouth, Cowpens, and Guilford Courthouse come vividly to life. Most notable is his treatment of the Battle of Hannah's Cowpens in which the American battle tactics are so wonderfully described one almost does not need to reference the map provided to understand the battle. Particularly moving were the descriptions of Valley Forge and the siege and surrender of the British forces at Yorktown.

The biggest disappointment is not what's in this book, but what is not. The stunning American victory at Saratoga, his biggest omission, only gets the very briefest of mention. Perhaps where Mr. Shaara has fallen a bit too short is in his focus. We learn almost nothing of the actions of the Continental Congress other than their main existence is to seemingly serve as a thorn in the side of George Washington, and many of the founding fathers who struggled so hard for independence from England are not even mentioned. I would have liked to have seen this single volume at least split into two and expanded (making the series a trilogy) the second book dealing with the war in the North and the third with the war in the South. Perhaps then he would have had room to paint a more complete picture of the American Revolution.

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