Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence By George Daughan (W.W. Norton & Co.)
By Noah Benjamin-Pollak
New Yorkers have a well-known tendency to hold forth on how important their hometown is, how it is the center of the universe, and how they could never live anywhere else. Well, now they have more ammunition. In addition to all of its other bragging rights, New York City can now claim a pivotal role in the war that created the United States.
Revolution on the Hudson, by the renowned naval historian George C. Daughan, takes on a key question: how could the mighty British military fail to defeat the vastly outgunned American colonists? Daughan argues that contrary to the prevailing historical narrative, Britain’s plan to take Manhattan and use it as a base to drive up the Hudson River and cut off New England from the other colonies was a preordained failure — and one that caused it to lose the Revolutionary War.
In this sharply drawn narrative, Daughan offers something truly valuable: a focus on the grand scale. Rather than a more standard muskets, boats, and battles account, he looks at the political, cultural, and military realities that led the British to pursue their doomed Hudson River campaign. He rounds out this history and theory with well-drawn portraits of the famous cast of characters on both sides of the Atlantic: George Washington, William Howe, Benedict Arnold — and, of course, King George. The story is well-written, the pace is rapid, the length is a relatively modest (for a book of this sort) 349 pages before appendixes, and best of all, it serves up a ground-breaking thesis that even non-New Yorkers can appreciate.
Noah Benjamin-Pollak is a Detroit-based writer.