Off the Shelf: Andrew O’Shaughnessy

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, professor in the Corcoran Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences and Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello, “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire.” Yale University Press.

Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders in Britain must have been to blame for the empire’s defeat at the hands of Americans. But is that the end of the story?

Not according to historian Andrew O’Shaughnessy in his new book, “The Men Who Lost America.” Weaving together the personal stories of 10 prominent men who directed the British dimension of the war, O’Shaughnessy dispels the incompetence myth and uncovers the real reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory. 

In interlinked biographical chapters, the author follows the course of the war from the perspectives of King George III; Prime Minister Lord North; and military leaders, including General Burgoyne, the Earl of Sandwich and others who, for the most part, led ably and even brilliantly. Victories were frequent, and in fact, the British conquered every American city at some stage of the Revolutionary War.

Yet roiling political complexities at home, combined with the fervor of the fighting Americans, proved fatal to the British war effort.

“Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy has written a remarkable book about an important but curiously underappreciated subject: the British side of the American Revolution,” wrote Jon Meacham, author of “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” in his review on the back of the book. “With meticulous scholarship and an eloquent writing style, O’Shaughnessy gives us a fresh and compelling view of a critical aspect of the struggle that changed the world. This is a great book.”

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Anne E. Bromley

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