Though long overshadowed in the traditional historical narrative by the American Revolution, the Seven Years’ War, as Fred Anderson argues, is the most important event in the eighteenth-century North American history. Fought in the untamed wilderness which both France and Britain claimed, the struggle brought an end to the French empire in North America. Yet ironically in doing so, it sowed the seeds for the eventual collapse of Britain’s own empire in the Americas by expanding it beyond a manageable size and creating pressures that ultimately led the thirteen colonies to rebel. This war and its legacy is the subject of this superb book, one that offers a complex and inter-layered narrative of the origins, conduct, and consequences of this often-ignored conflict.
Anderson begins by examining the interaction between the British, the French, and the Iroquois in the Ohio Valley. Sandwiched between the two European empire, the Iroquois Confederacy played one off the other successfully for many years. Yet land concessions to the British in the 1740s soon paved the way for growing encroachment of the Ohio Valley by British colonists, prompting the French to assert their own claims to the region. When war erupted in 1754 (as a result of a clash between a French force and a party of Virginians and Indians, one carefully reconstructed and dramatically retold by Anderson), it expanded gradually into a general conflict between Britain and France, with fighting taking place on nearly every continent.
The war is the dominant focus of Anderson’s book, and he supplies a readable and insightful narrative of the course of the war. While his focus is predominantly on the political and military struggles in North America, he also provides an description of the relevant British politics and a summary of the war in Europe. Particularly notable is his coverage of the Native Americans, which he depicts not as opportunistic savages but as canny political operators who saw themselves as free agents involved in a web of relationships with each other as well as with the colonial powers. Though the book bogs down in his subsequent examination of the postwar adjustments to British victory, these chapters make for fascinating reading by demonstrating just how close the link was between the problems posed by Britain’s triumph and the protests that ultimately would lead to rebellion.
By the end of the book, it is hard to deny the merits of Anderson’s argument. Through his expert analysis and deft interweaving of people and events, he succeeds in restoring the Seven Years’ War to the pivotal place it deserves in American history. Clearly written and supplemented with numerous images and maps, it is a masterful study of the war, one unlikely to be surpassed in its breadth of coverage or quality of its analysis. For anyone seeking a history of the war and its legacy for American history, this is the book to read.