Reviews of Whirlwind

CHOICE AND CONNECT (November 2015)

Do we need yet another general, one-volume history of the American Revolution?  Well, yes, especially when it comes from John Ferling (emer., history, Univ. of West Georgia).  The author has produced more than a dozen first-rate books on the Revolution and its major players, and he writes in a clear, accessible narrative style.  Ferling has a talent for drawing a complete picture of the era—food, clothing, and even the weather are included.  The introduction claims a unique approach, but graduate students and professional historians will find nothing new here, not in sources, interpretations, or conclusions.  Though Ferling emphasizes the economic underpinnings of the Revolution, he does not neglect its social, cultural, political, and philosophical aspects.  He treats participants on both sides of the Atlantic—not only the leaders but also the common soldiers, women, and slaves—candidly and impartially.  Readers are reminded that although the war itself has been sanitized and idealized by later generations, it was in fact a long, bloody, and miserable horror for all involved.  Nor was the outcome inevitable.  Most useful for undergraduate history majors and educated general readers.

--T. S. Martin, formerly, Sinclair Community College

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All public and undergraduate libraries.



Forrest W. Schultz

October 2015

   This important scholarly work a good example of John Ferling's historical writing:  by telling it like it is he produces a trustworthy account that avoids both the glamorized and cynical distortions of early America.  AND many of the sordid facts he discusses are directly relevant to current American political problems!  For instance, if you think that state indebtedness and monetary inflation and property foreclosures are bad now or if you think that the Army and the VA treat soldiers and vets badly now, you should read what Ferling has to say about what happened in the late 18th century!!  And, Ferling's account is written much better than most accounts of contemporary problems because of his excellent literary skills:  his history reads like a notwannaputdownable novel. I therefore encourage you to read this book! 

San Francisco Book Review (May 17, 2015)

Written in an engaging and narrative-driven style that made books like Independence and The Ascent of George Washington critical and commercial successes, Whirlwind is a fast-paced and scrupulously told one-volume history of this epochal time. Balancing social and political concerns of the period and perspectives of the average American revolutionary with a careful examination of the war itself, Ferling has crafted the ideal book for armchair military history buffs, a book about the causes of the American Revolution, the war that won it, and the meaning of the Revolution overall. Combining careful scholarship, arresting detail, and illustrative storytelling, Whirlwind is a unique and compelling addition to any collection of books on the American Revolution.


Kirkus (January 15, 2015)

From servants to citizens: a nuanced study of the American Revolution focused on how the war changed the way Americans saw themselves. Having written abundantly about the Revolutionary War, accomplished scholar Ferling (Emeritus, History/Univ. of West Georgia; Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation, 2013, etc.) employs his extensive knowledge to relay a tremendously complicated and multilayered story of the gradual embracing of ideas of independence by the once-loyal colonists. Economic incentives drove the colonists to question the relationship with the mother country. They were offended by having to pay for Britain's chronic warfare, furnish soldiers and then endure England's "coldhearted indifference" to matters of the colonists' "vital interests." Attempts by Britain to enforce imperial trade laws—by the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, one-third of England's trade was with the colonists—only led to more alarm that Britain was scheming to take away liberties. Little by little, the colonists began to react, and Ferling takes note of certain important early firebrands, e.g.—Virginia's Patrick Henry, Boston's Samuel Adams, John Dickinson and his "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania." Others, such as Benjamin Franklin, emissary to London, played both sides until they were sure which way the wind was blowing. Ferling effectively shows how the colonists' sense of themselves changed from the very bottom up. From deep in the provincial hamlets, they were organizing, training their militias and accepting more egalitarian proclivities and self-governing practices, such as freedom from the Anglican yoke. Hostilities against Britain provoked a "rooted hatred" for the mother country and a "growing sense of identity as Americans," although the outcome was in no way certain. In fact, for many years, it looked quite bleak. Ferling impressively demonstrates how the military reality eventually galvanized the fledgling country. A first-rate historian's masterful touch conveys the profound changes to colonists' "hearts and minds."


Library Journal (March 15, 2015)

The latest work from presidential biographer Ferling (emeritus, history, Univ. of West Georgia; Jefferson and Hamilton; John Adams) argues that the American Revolution (1765–83), or rather the specific timing of it, was caused largely by economic factors. Ferling further states that severing ties with Great Britain allowed colonists greater control over their own destinies, and freed them to create the ideal society they desired. Beginning with the later stages of the French and Indian War, the author explains the thought patterns leading up to the idea of separation from the mother country. Throughout the work, one gets a sense of growing momentum as the conflict takes shape. The author makes a distinction between the struggle’s military side and the actual revolution, meaning governmental and societal change. The result is an objective history that emphasizes the political and military events of the era. VERDICT Ferling has created another accessible yet scholarly work on the American Revolution. While its primary appeal is to history buffs, academics looking for an introductory survey history should also find this work useful.


Publisher’s Weekly (March 23, 2015)

Ferling (Jefferson and Hamilton) enhances an impressive list of publications on the American Revolution with a fast-paced survey that echoes Carl Beard and 1930s historiography in its assertion that the revolution’s roots were economic. However, Ferling is not a single-issue determinist, paying ample attention to the argument that American colonists believed revolt “could usher in a better world.” For the sake of that world, they fought an all-out war, one they almost lost and in which “about one in sixteen free American males of military age died.” Ferling handles the conflict’s ups and downs with a professorial ease, complemented by mastery of a broad spectrum of primary and secondary sources. He smoothly and clearly covers the battles from Bunker Hill to Yorktown, and presents the development of an ideology of revolution that engaged increasing numbers of the “politically impotent.” Given the improvised nature of the rebels’ war effort, Ferling suggests that rather than the Americans winning, the British lost through strategic overextension and ineffective command. He also excels at detailing the hammering out of governmental institutions from a kaleidoscope of provincial assemblies, town meetings, and church pulpits. The result was a “new-model experimental polity” that remains a work in progress.

Reviews of Jefferson and Hamilton

Washington Post, December 13, 2013

Review by carol berkin

In “Jefferson and Hamilton,” as in his previous works, John Ferling brings to bear the considerable talents that have won him acclaim: a deep knowledge of the era, a graceful writing style and a voice that captures a reader’s attention from the first page to the last. The result is a sympathetic look at two founding fathers whose visions for America are equally grand and equally compelling.

Ferling has structured his book artfully, alternating portraits of these men at various stages of their lives with narratives of the historical context in which those lives played out. From the decision to seek independence, to the war to win it, to the creation of a national government, and then to the intense battles over that nation’s economic, political and cultural trajectory, the interplay between individuals and events is beautifully choreographed. Indeed, Ferling is so adept at telling a story that the reader will learn much about the transition from British colonies to a new American nation. . . .

Ferling’s “Jefferson and Hamilton” helps us trace the origins of concepts vital to our identity, although our definitions of both democracy and national greatness were transformed by the generations that followed.

For the entire review, see


Washington Times, February 18, 2014


“John Ferling, arguably the best historian of the period, recounts with engaging, authoritative prose the decades-long struggle that traces the parallel careers of Jefferson, the scion of Virginia gentry, and Hamilton, born out-of-wedlock on Nevis in the British West Indies.” 

For the entire review, see