Crucible of War ~ by Fred Anderson

This book is amazing. It got me back to reading a real history book and I loved it.

Fred Anderson has written as good a history of the Seven Years’ War in North America, commonly called the French and Indian War, as one can find. At some 835 pages excluding the index, it is not, however, for the light reader.”

History Net

Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America,  1754-1766 
By Fred Anderson
2001 / 835 pages (Kindle)
Read by Paul Woodson – 29h 4m
Rating: 10/ American History
(Both read and listened)

In general, I’ve never been big on military history, but I’ve read a few which I appreciated.  My latest read,  Crucible of War by Fred Anderson, is one of the really good ones.  And it’s more than a military history even if, by the half-way point it doesn’t seem like it. The second half deals with the consequences which were way, way more than military.

I can’t even being to approach writing a review of this superb book.  If you’re interested at all in the American War of Independence it’s extraordinarily good because it details the background for the Colonies’ ultimately being able to work as a united front in their resistance to the English approach to colonialism and domination and the colonies’ own mutual pursuit of “happiness and freedom.” 

There are many facets to this and it gets complicated, but Anderson provides great detail while staying on point. One vital thing is that at the time of the French and Indian War the actual War of Independence in 1775 was not foreseen in any way so we can’t use that assumption as a foundation for our views held now in the 21st century. That’s history in the rear-view mirror and maybe a wee Providential to me. Neither the King nor the Colonists had a clue that a stage was being set for colonial independence.  

This is a military history as well as the tale of the social, economic, political and cultural consequences.  It starts with the formidable 5-nation Indian coalition of the Iroquois Confederacy and the first half of the book emphasizes the military history.

But even before much of the conflict had got underway the Colonists tended to look at the Redcoats and their leaders as if they were the enemy.  This was because the British political leaders were developing onerous rules to get promoted by the King. This was for various reasons but they boiled down to money, land and/or political power.  Everyone had their own motivations,   

So although the English won the War they very shortly afterwards lost the support of the Colonies because whose war was it anyway? Had the war been for the benefit of the Brits or the Colonies?  The Brits thought the Colonies should have to pay for their part but the Colonies ended up in an economic depression – as did England. The English wouldn’t allow the colonists to settle the interior because it was trying to keep some kind of peace. The Indians were never the direct allies of the colonists. All this led to further animosity.

The second half doesn’t skip the military tale except for when it entailed officers positioning themselves for promotion and the Indians trying to adjust themselves to the new realities. A few sad and ugly squabbles.

So in the aftermath things got worse. “Freedom and Property” was the motto of the Sons of Liberty, not the English political, economic or military leaders. 

And there were really brave, intelligent and honorable people as well as massively stupid, cowardly and corrupt people on both sides.  We don’t hear much about the French issues in all of this but they were serious about wanting profits through trade. They just weren’t as interested in settling the land with their own people.  And that was a determining factor which it doesn’t seem as though Anderson went into as much but perhaps in that follow-up book.

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (1771)

The book winds up wonderfully well, although the Epilogue is not included in the Audible version (neither are the photo captions – neither are the photos – neither are the footnotes but I got the Kindle version in addition to the Audible for a reason. – the Audible narrator is superb.)

*** An interesting to note – some of this takes place near Marietta, Ohio which was established only a few years later by Rufus Putnam who is highlighted in David McCullough’s book,  Pioneers.  Putnam has a distinct role in Crucible of War because he was a disgruntled sergeant in the war effort and later a general in the Revolutionary War – but mostly he’s known for settling in and becoming the “father of the Northwest Territory” in the late 1880s – he and other veterans. .

McCullough really went back to the traditionalist US history and Americana story-telling for his book and it’s fascinating historiographically. Anderson’s ideas however, combine Traditional, Revisionist and Post-Revisionist views.  Traditionalist in blaming England’s greed. Revisionist in spreading that blame to the Anglo settlers (poachers), the military, and the multitude of real estate grabbers. And then there’s some Post Revisionist in that he simply tries to understand the factors from all on their own terms – not by today’s values.
An excellent review if you’ve read the book
“this book is a tour de force” 

“Fred Anderson tells how we lost our American colonies and why we deserved to do so in Crucible of War.”

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4 Responses to Crucible of War ~ by Fred Anderson

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    This is great, Becky… it’s not a book I’m going to read, I’ve got so many books to catch up with about our own history to take on another, but I knew next to nothing about these wars, just the headlines really, and I like the way you’ve put them in context in review so that someone like me learns about what were in retrospect, as you say, pivotal events.
    I’m curious about that painting: why is there an Indian included? Is he a captive, or a traitor to his own side?


    • Good question, Lisa. I just picked a painting of the era but turns out it’s the same painting as the cover art and it’s also reproduced in the book where it has a good caption. This painting was very famous in it’s time (and still is). It was painted in the Neo-classical style but with the characters wearing contemporary clothing (rather than old Roman). The subject-matter of history paintings is representational in many ways.

      “It’s an allegory of empire that unites all ranks and nationalities in symbolic witness to a martyr’s death.” (from the book’s caption in Chapter 36).

      West painted it about 10 years after the event of Wolfe’s death and he was in Pittsburg at the time(1759). He moved to Europe in 1760 and stayed there (in Italy and England). He created his painting in 1770 inspired by an engraving done earlier by someone else. (The two works are very different.)

      Wolfe did die on the Plains of Abraham (named for the farmer who owned it) outside of Quebec after the British won a short but vicious battle towards the end of the 7-Years War. There are also many generally true features included in the painting.

      The men depicted are identifiable and were important in that battle, but weren’t necessarily with Wolfe when he died.

      The Indian was very important in the wars but was not at Wolfe’s deathbed because by that time the Indians had started to surrender to the British. The Indian has to think about his place in all this.

      Wolfe was probably not lying down like some Christ-figure and the presence of Destiny was probably not coming down out of the heavens. But all this is part of history painting – especially in the US where the idea of Providentialism was (and maybe is) very strong and a part of the historiography (the way Anglo-American history was written) of those times.

      So it’s a “history painting” where the artist sets up the meaningful items of an event without being literally accurate but pointing to some greater truth of the whole event – in his own eyes.

      That’s enough!!!!


  2. Pingback: Blood and Treasure ~ by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin | Becky's Books –

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