The Revolutionary War is a fascinating subject. It easily ranks as one of my favorite periods of history to read about. Of course there’s the traditional narrative we’re all familiar with of the Continental Army struggling against all odds to secure American independence. But there’s so much more to the story than that. These great Revolutionary War books do a remarkable job of telling the story of the revolution, the reasons people on both sides of the conflict fought, and the far reaching consequences of the thirteen colonies’ decision to rebel.
1776 by David McCullough is a riveting historical account that vividly captures the pivotal (and titular) year in American history when the new nation’s fate hung in the balance. McCullough’s book takes readers on a captivating journey through the events of 1776, providing a detailed narrative of the American Revolution’s early stages and the struggle for independence.
The book details the military campaigns of the Revolutionary War’s first year, offering a close-up look at the courageous and determined men who fought on both sides. McCullough skillfully weaves together the stories of key figures like George Washington, Nathanael Greene, and Charles Cornwallis, as well as the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians. He really brings these individuals to life, showcasing their resilience, sacrifices, and the challenges they faced on the battlefield and at home.
McCullough’s brought his full arsenal of storytelling abilities with this one. The book is filled with vivid descriptions of battles, political maneuverings, and the personal struggles of those involved, immersing readers in the intense emotions and uncertainty of the time. And, given we too often read history as a fait accompli, achieving this level of suspense is incredible.
2. John Adams
Another one of my David McCullough favorites, John Adams is a captivating biography that brings to life the remarkable journey of one of America’s most influential founding fathers. Spanning from Adams’ early years to his crucial role in the American Revolution, his presidency, and beyond, McCullough provides a comprehensive and intimate portrayal of a complex and often overlooked figure.
We get to know Adams’ personal and political life, exploring his relationships with his wife, the now equally famous Abigail Adams, as as well with his contemporaries (and frenemies) Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. McCullough masterfully paints a vivid picture of Adams’ struggles (like almost dying in the Netherlands) and achievements (leading the charge to separate from Britain)as he tirelessly fought for independence and helped push the fledgling nation ever forward.
Again. McCullough brought his full storytelling abilities to bear, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Game recognize game.
His ability to weave thorough research into such a compelling narrative is what makes this book so good. You’ll feel like you’re in Braintree, Boston, and the courts of western Europe, standing next to the slightly rotund and cantankerous Adams himself as loudly and stubbornly championed American independence.
3. You Never Forget Your First
This books was a true treat and is sure to make history lovers out of anyone (even if you fell asleep in history class).
With You Never Forget Your First, Alexis Coe brings humor, wit, and (for the first time) a woman’s perspective to the life of George Washington. The result is an engaging and refreshing biography that challenges the traditional portrayal of America’s first president.
Taking not only Washington himself, but his many, many male biographers, Coe strips away the myths that surround old George, giving us a new perspective on the man who led the Continental army, then the nation.
Coe presents a meticulously researched and well-documented account of Washington’s life, delving into his early years, his military career, and his presidency. She skillfully dismantles the heroic image often associated with Washington, humanizing him and providing readers with a more nuanced understanding of his personality and motivations. She also explores the complex dynamics of Washington’s relationships, both personal and political, offering insights into his marriage with Martha, his step-father-like relationship with the Marquis de Lafayette, and more.
Coe brings a fresh and contemporary voice to the world of George Washingont biographies – plus she’ll make you laugh.
4. Hero of Two Worlds
Hero of Two Worlds by Mike Duncan is a captivating book that delves into the life of the iconic figure Marquis de Lafayette. Set against the backdrop of the American and French Revolutions, the book follows Lafayette’s extraordinary journey as he navigates two tumultuous worlds, driven by his unwavering ideals of liberty, equality, and justice.
Duncan skillfully weaves together the threads of Lafayette’s life, from his privileged upbringing in France to his fateful meeting with General George Washington and his crucial role in the American Revolutionary War.
Beyond his accomplishments in America, Lafayette’s story takes an unexpected turn as he returns to a France on the brink of its own revolution. Duncan paints a vivid picture of Lafayette’s involvement in the French Revolution, exploring his complex relationships with key figures like Maximilien Robespierre and his struggle to reconcile his beliefs with the violence and chaos that engulfs his homeland.
Readers will be captivated by Duncan’s meticulous research and vivid storytelling, which bring Lafayette’s extraordinary life to vivid and compelling life. Hero of Two Worlds offers a rich tapestry of history, adventure, and personal drama, making it a must-read for anyone fascinated by the power of individuals to shape the course of history.
5. Rebels at Sea
Rebels at Sea by Eric Jay Dolin is a gripping maritime history that explores the fascinating world of American privateers during the Revolutionary War. Dolin’s book takes readers on a thrilling journey across the high seas, shedding light on the daring exploits of these audacious sailors who played a crucial role in America’s fight for independence.
Dolin delves into the lives of privateers, privately owned and armed ships commissioned by the American government to raid and disrupt British shipping. He masterfully narrates their daring voyages, capturing the risks, rewards, and the often brutal nature of naval warfare during the Revolutionary War. Through it all, he brings to life the colorful characters, audacious raids, and the economic impact of these maritime rebels.
What sets Rebels at Sea apart is Dolin’s ability to blend historical facts with thrilling narratives. He effortlessly navigates the complexities of international relations, naval tactics, and the human stories behind the privateering enterprise. I found myself enthralled by the tales of adventure, close encounters with enemy ships, and the inherent risks faced by privateers.
Rebels at Sea gives a peak into an often overlooked portion of the Revolutionary War – the naval war. Dolin’s engaging prose and ability to transport readers back in time to the tumultuous waters of the Atlantic seaboard make a truly captivating read.
6. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell is a delightful and witty exploration of the Marquis de Lafayette’s journey through America during the Revolutionary War. Vowell’s book offers a unique blend of history, humor, and personal anecdotes as she traces Lafayette’s experiences and his impact on the young nation.
She explores Lafayette’s arrival in America, his close relationship with General George Washington, and the role the played in the revolutionary effort. Vowell skillfully intertwines historical facts with her own observations and reflections, providing a fresh and entertaining perspective on Lafayette’s adventures.
Vowell’s signature humor and wit set her books apart from other histories – and Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is no different. Her sharp and quirky observations bring historical figures to life and she doesn’t shy away from the flaws and contradictions of both Lafayette and his American counterparts.
7. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is a captivating biography that unravels the extraordinary life of one of America’s most important and (until this book, forgotten) founding fathers.
Chernow offers a comprehensive and meticulously researched account of Hamilton’s rise from humble beginnings as an illegitimate orphan in the Caribbean to serving as an aide-de-camp in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War to founding the Bank of New York, authoring a majority of the Fedearblist papers, and serving as Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury (among still other accomplishments).
Chernow does a wonderful job of showing that Hamilton was a first rate intellect and driving force behind much of early American history. Indeed, he often went toe-to-toe with other men now considered geniuses for their roles in history, like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams, and came out on top. That is, until his duel with Aaron Burr, which Ron Chernow describes in wonderful detail.
Ron Chernow has made a name for himself as a master biographer and storyteller, and Alexander Hamilton lives up to that reputation.
8. Founding Mothers
Behind every great man, is a great woman. No generation personifies this old saying better than the one that fought the Revolutionary War.
Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts is a remarkable and inspiring exploration of the often overlooked contributions of the women who played integral roles in America’s early years. Roberts’s book sheds light on the influential women who, alongside their male counterparts, helped shape the founding of the new nation and guide it through its early growing pains.
Roberts delves into their personal correspondence and diaries of women like Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Mercy Otis Warren, and Dolley Madison, among others to reveal their intellect, resilience, and determination. Robert’s point is clear: these remarkable women had just as much of an impact on American history as their husbands.
The women in Founding Mothers were every bit the intellectual match for their husbands and showed just as much, if not more, determination during the Revolutionary War and the years following it, as they held down the fort at home while the men folk were off at Congress, the courts of Europe, or the battlefield.
With this wonderful addition to the cannon of Revolutionary War books, Robert’s sheds much needed light on the untold story of American’s founding women.
9. The Men Who Lost America
At the time of the American Revolution, Britain was the most powerful empire in the world. And the British army was the most feared fighting machine. So, the commanders who ended up losing to the rag-tag continentals in George Washington’s army must have really screwed up, right? The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy has a different take on it.
O’Shaughnessy’s explores the personalities of and decisions made by and key British leaders, like the Prime Minster Lord North, leading military men such General Burgoyne, and even King George III himself.
Through these men’s stories, O’Shaughnessy shows that it was not in fact their incompetence that lost Britain its American colonies. Instead, it was the ferocity of their American opponents, political turmoil at home, and the fact that, for the British, the Revolution turned into a global conflict that left their empire 13 colonies lighter.
The Men Who Lost America does a brilliant job at showing these often overlooked complexities of the Revolutionary War (at least on the American side of the pond) and adds great depth to the growing body of Revolutionary War books.
10. The Last King of America
With The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III, award-winning history Andrew Roberts has delivered something special: a biography of George III that takes him from hapless despot to a wise, but unlucky ruler of the British Empire.
To paint this sympathetic portrait of an often maligned leader, Roberts drew upon thousands of pages of George III’s previously unpublished correspondence. Using these letters, Roberts shows that that British monarch was actually a highly intelligent man who had no wish to see his subjects suffer.
Unfortunately for George III, he was beset on all sides. At home, his ministry was full of incompetent men who only rose to power due to the title offered them at birth. Across the Atlantic, the American cause was being spearheaded by the most brilliant men the new nation had to offer.
So, how did George III come to have such a bad reputation? Roberts has an answer for that, too. American revolutionaries needed to paint him as despot, rather than an enlightened monarch, to push forward their political aim of America’s independence.
If you like alternate looks at history, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.
11. Independence Lost
We don’t often hear the stories of the people out side of America’s colonial society who were involved and effected by the Revolutionary War. Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution, is Kathleen DuVal’s attempt to rectify that.
This gripping and enlightening account of the Revolution from the perspectives of people living around the Florida Gulf Coast shows the far reaching impact America’s quest for independence had. DuVal shrewdly challenges the traditional narrative by focusing on the experiences of Native Americans, African American slaves, loyalists and Cajuns, shedding light on their struggles, sacrifices, and contributions to the revolutionary era.
We meet people like the half-Scottish Creek leader Alexander McGillivray, who worked to preserve Native sovereignty in the face of European encroachment, African American slave Petit Jean who helped recruit men to fight in the Spanish navy against the British, and loyalists who toiled on the edge of empire to preserve Britain’s greatness.
DuVal skillfully weaves together their narratives, exploring their complex relationships with the British, Patriots, and their own communities. Through their eyes, she provides a deeper understanding of the war’s impact on diverse groups and puts the Revolutionary War into the context of world history.
Independence Lost will make you reexamine the diversity and scale of the American struggle for independence like no other book.
12. In the Hurricane’s Eye
During almost the entire Revolutionary War, Britain owned the seas. Though the colonists had a small navy and sent out privateers, Britain’s maritime dominance went largely untested until the penultimate battle, the Battle of the Chesapeake.
In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, Nathaniel Philbrick gives a riveting account that chronicles the events that lead up the Battle of the Chesapeake and Yorktown.
Taking readers from the Rhode Island coast to the North Carolina piedmont to the Chesapeake Bay, Philbrick shows just how much happened the final year of the American Revolution that lead up the American’s ultimate victory.
He also places a lot of importance on George Washington. In tandem with Admiral de Grasse and other French leaders, Washington helped devise the strategy that would ultimately end the war. Many historians have called the Battles of the Chesapeake and Yorktown two of the most important in military history. And Philbrick does a great job of not telling you why and how it happened, but showing you.
the final, decisive battle of the American Revolution and the crucial role played by George Washington. Philbrick’s book takes readers on a captivating journey through the events leading up to the Battle of Yorktown, offering a detailed narrative of the military strategies, personal struggles, and political complexities of the time.
Philbrick’s skillful storytelling, combined with his ability to capture the human drama behind historical events, make the book a thrilling and enlightening read for history enthusiasts and those interested in the remarkable achievements of America’s founding era.
13. From Slaves to Soldiers
Going on the second year of the war, the Continental army was running low on recruits. The war was proving to be a long one and, on top of that, George Washington had just gone through the hellish winter at Valley Forge. To help bolster recruiting, a general from Rhode Island, James Mitchell Varnum, came up with a novel idea – to enlist slaves and indentured servants in exchange for their freedom.
In From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution Robert Geake and Lorén Spears tell the remarkable story of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the unit that came out of Varnum’s initiative. Composed primarily of African American and Narragansett soldiers with a smaller number of for indentured white colonists, this unit served valiantly during several battles in the American Revolution.
The formation of “the black regiment,” as it came to be known, was controversial, but not just for the obvious reasons of racial bias. Some in Congress and the army worried that seeing their enemy having to resort to arming slaves would boost British morale. But others much preferred sending others to fight in their stead. Either way, Georoge Washington okayed the plan and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment was called up.
This ground breading book sheds light on the African American and Native American soldiers who for American independence and their own freedom.
14. The Unknown American Revolution
The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America by distinguished historian Gary Nash is a captivating exploration of the lesser-known aspects of the American Revolution and the diverse individuals who played critical roles in shaping the new nation.
Nash unearths the experiences of individuals such as Joseph Plumb Martin, a poor farmer turned soldier in the Continental Army, Mercy Otis Warren, a playwright and political commentator, and Thomas Peters, a former slave who fought for the British in exchange for his freedom. Nash presents their stories alongside well-known figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities of the revolutionary period.
The Unknown American Revolution offers a fresh and multifaceted perspective on the struggle for independence.
15. Valiant Ambition
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick is a captivating tale of the relationship between two key figures of the American Revolution: George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Philbrick offers a fresh and nuanced perspective on their intertwined destinies and the impact their choices had on the fate of the nascent United States.
Valiant Ambition explores the contrasting personalities, motivations, and military careers of Washington and Arnold. It examines their early successes, their struggles, and the circumstances that led Arnold to betray his country and join the British cause.
Philbrick masterfully captures the human complexities and the moral dilemmas faced by Washington and Arnold, making their stories relatable and compelling.
This insightful exploration of the dynamics between Washington and Arnold sheds light on the challenges and sacrifices of the revolutionary period and its most prominent men.
16. Founding Brothers
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis is a captivating and insightful exploration of the lives, relationships, and conflicts among the key figures of the American Revolution. Ellis’s book offers a unique perspective on the founding of the United States, focusing on the complex and often fragile nature of the relationships between the founding fathers.
The book delves into the dynamics between figures like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, to name a few. Ellis skillfully examines the crucial moments and decisions that shaped the nation’s early years, from the debates over the Constitution and slavery to the emergence of political parties and Washington’s famous Farewell Address.
Ellis’s ability to humanize these iconic figures, presenting them as flawed and complex individuals rather than mere historical symbols, makes this one of the best revolutionary war books out there.
17. Washington’s Crossing
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer is a gripping historical account that delves into the pivotal events surrounding the bold crossing of the Delaware River and the subsequent Battle of Trenton.
David Hackett Fischer offers a comprehensive examination of the military strategy, leadership, and determination that led to this daring and consequential campaign.
Washington’s Crossing vividly portrays the dire circumstances faced by Washington’s army in the winter of 1776, as well as the audacious decision to launch a surprise attack on Hessian forces stationed in Trenton, New Jersey. Fischer explores the logistical challenges, the resilience of the soldiers, and the strategic brilliance of Washington’s plan.
With one stroke, Washington saved the young but fledgling rebellion. After reading Washington’s Crossing, you’ll understand why.
This also made our list of best George Washington books!
Why Read Revolutionary War Books?
The Revolutionary War is a fascinating period. It gave birth to so much of America’s national identity.
They show the of genius and hypocrisy of the Congressional and military leaders; the bravery and determination people on both sides; and the often forgotten diversity and global impact of the war.
To truly understand America’s national identity, you have to understand the Revolution.