Essays & Reviews

Tom Ricks on Piers Mackesy

In a recent issue of the Washington Post Book Review, Tom Ricks, the Post’s Senior Military Correspondent, calls Piers Mackesy’s book on the “strategic history” of the American Revolution, “the single best such work that I have ever encountered.” [Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775-1783; originally published in 1964; paperback, 1993, with an introduction by John Shy]

Ricks, a prominent critic of the U.S. strategic campaign in Iraq, naturally sees parallels between the two conflicts. The British were overoptimistic about the military advantages they held in America; were unable to understand the nature of the war they were fighting; and failed adequately protect and utilize their local allies. “By the final years of the Revolutionary War, the British more or less came to understand what they should have been doing,” Ricks writes. “Their generals needed to take more risks, they realized. More important, they needed to hold land that was cleared of rebel influence.” The anti-war opposition in London eventually brought down Lord North’s government after the debacle at Yorktown; but the successor Ministry in turn was toppled because of its role in negotiating a generous peace with the rebels.

Ricks recognizes the problems of facile comparisons between any two conflicts and his application of Mackesy’s conclusions is subject to debate; but he is certainly correct to identify The War for America as a standard of scholarly excellence and objectivity. Along these lines one also thinks of Reed Brownings’ The War of the Austrian Succession, which Bill Rood strongly recommends.