Living History

Popular methods of retelling the past include live reenactments and painted images of historical events. The purpose? To “make history come alive.� Breathing life into history is an effort I certainly appreciate. With his historical novel The Glorious Cause, Jeff Shaara successfully uses the writing medium to give new life to the familiar American Revolution. Cause is the sequel to Rise to Rebellion, and is an entertaining way to review or learn about the Revolution. Shaara continues in the tradition of his father (Michael Shaara – The Killer Angels) by depicting the events of the Revolutionary War through the eyes of the men who fought it.

Cause immediately transports you to the action by recounting the famous escape of the Continental Army across the river from Long Island to Manhattan. It follows General Howe’s hesitant pursuit of the Continentals through New York and New Jersey, the tentative support from the French, and the success of the American rebels in the southern colonies leading to the finale at Yorktown.

Shaara uses “memoirs, written accounts, diaries, and collections of letters and documents� to reveal the minds of key men and construct believable reasons for their documented actions. The reader will experience the agony Washington feels for his malnourished, undersupplied army. He will understand the frustration of Cornwallis as the capable general chafes against the indecision and incompetence of his British superiors. He will develop apprehension, and then pride, as he accompanies Generals Lafayette and Greene to rise and meet their challenges against superior British forces on the battlefield.

There are very few elements to beware of in this book. Its overall message is very pro-American although Shaara tries to be fair and accurate by giving us the British view of the war with the American view. There is a lot less mention of the God these men often acknowledged than one would expect. This loss should put the burden on the reader to remember that many of our founding fathers knew the Lord was with our fledgling nation and that He is ultimately responsible for the success of our Revolution. Additionally, it is hard to fault a secular author for explaining the Revolution in the only terms he knows – those of human reason. Besides omission of the Christian worldview, there is minimal non-obscene cursing to put up with.

Shaara takes a series of events that we all know of and shapes them into a generally cohesive story that we can identify with. He brings down the legendary busts of great men from their tall shelves, dusts them off, and lets us examine them closely as the humans they are. The Glorious Cause is in no way irreverent to or trite with these men. This book helps us to see their shortcomings and fears, and thus, we admire them even more for their triumph over their shortcomings and their nightmare we call the American Revolution.

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