Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763

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9780802714114: Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763

On May 28, 1754, a group of militia and Indians led by twenty-two-year-old major George Washington surprised a camp of sleeping French soldiers near present-day Pittsburgh. Washington could not have known it, but the brief and deadly exchange of fire that ensued lit the match that, in Horace Walpole's memorable phrase, would "set the world on fire." The resultung French and Indian War in North America became part of the global conflict known as the Seven Years War, fought across Europe, India, and the East and West Indies. Before it ended, nearly one million men had died.

Empires at War captures the sweeping panorama of this first world war, especially in its descriptions of the strategy and intensity of the engagements in North America, many of them epic struggles between armies in the wilderness. William M. Fowler Jr. views the conflict both from British prime minister William Pitt's perspective-- as a vast chessboard, on which William Shirley's campaign in North America and the fortunes of Frederick the Great of Prussia were connected-- and from that of field commanders on the ground in America and Canada, who contended with disease, brutal weather, and scant supplies, frequently having to build the very roads they marched on. As in any conflict, individuals and events stand out: Sir William Johnson, a baronet and a major general of the British forces, who sometimes painted his face and dressed like a warrior when he fought beside his Indian allies; Edward Braddock's doomed march across Pennsylvania; the valiant French defense of Fort Ticonderoga; and the legendary battle for Quebec between armies led by the arisocratic French tactical genius, the marquis de Montcalm, and the gallant, if erratic, young Englishman James Wolfe-- both of whom died on the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759.

For many, the French and Indian War has been merely the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper's famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans. William M. Fowler Jr.'s engrossing narrative reveals it to have been a turning point of modern history, without which the American Revolution as we know it might well not have occurred.

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Review:

Most histories of the Seven Years' War focus on either the European or the North American theatre of the war. William Fowler's Empires at War is original, and praiseworthy, because he troubles to set the North American conflict in the European context. Bravo! Written in lively and engaging prose, Empires at War tells the story of what Fowler calls the "first world war." By keeping one foot in the North American wilderness and the other in the courts of Europe, Fowler makes a strong claim for the critical importance of early Canadian history to the history of the world. Fowler is also to be praised for the prominent role he assigns to the First Nations of eastern North America, who fought according to their own agendas and not merely as French or British auxiliaries. A third strength of this work is to found in Fowler's willingness to shatter myths. For example, many American historians have chosen to ignore George Washington's shameful conduct at Jumonville Glen, or they have looked for excuses for it. Fowler, to his credit, lays the blame right where it belongs: "It remains an open question why Washington felt compelled to attack a sleeping camp without warning at a time when two nations were at peace." Fowler is particularly good at fleshing out all of his characters: General Jeffrey Amherst is ruthless and brutal; James Wolfe nervous and complaining; the Marquis de Montcalm pessimistic and defeatist. The Seven Years’ War led directly to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the rise of Great Britain as a 19th-century superpower. It is vitally important that we learn more about these connections, and Fowler's Empires at War is a great place to start. --William Newbigging

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Praise for Empires at War

"William Fowler is a superb historian, and his Empires at War is absolutely first rate-- both a work of expert scholarship and a clear, insightful unfolding of one of the great dramas in history, the importance of which can hardly be overstated."-- David McCullough, author of John Adams and Truman

"A masterful account of the clash of two great empires. Ultimate victory by the British and their colonial allies ended in the expulsion of France from North America and brought the English vast new territories. It also brought them a mountain of debt, which they determined to reduce by levying taxes on the colonists-- laying the groundwork for the American Revolution. Mr. Fowler has told this immensely complex story with such clarity and knowledge that the reader is caught up in the danger and excitement of that critical time."-- Richard Ketchum, author of Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution and Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York

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