• Our First Civil War

  • Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution
  • By: H. W. Brands
  • Narrated by: Steve Hendrickson
  • Length: 16 hrs and 31 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (84 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“Americans tend to forget that we have always been at war with one another — even in the beginning…. Brands tells the story of the American Revolution as it really unfolded — as a civil war between colonial patriots and those loyal to the British Crown and Parliament. Division, Brands reminds us, is as American as unity.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of His Truth Is Marching On)

From best-selling historian and Pulitzer Prize finalist H. W. Brands comes a gripping narrative of the American Revolution that shows it to be more than a fight against the British: It was also a violent battle among neighbors forced to choose sides, Loyalist or Patriot.

What causes people to forsake their country and take arms against it? What prompts their neighbors, hardly distinguishable in station or success, to defend that country against the rebels?  That is the question H. W. Brands answers in his powerful new history of the American Revolution.

George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were the unlikeliest of rebels. Washington in the 1770s stood at the apex of Virginia society. Franklin was more successful still, having risen from humble origins to world fame. John Adams might have seemed a more obvious candidate for rebellion, being of cantankerous temperament. Even so, he revered the law. Yet all three men became rebels against the British Empire that fostered their success.

Others in the same circle of family and friends chose differently. William Franklin might have been expected to join his father, Benjamin, in rebellion but remained loyal to the British. So did Thomas Hutchinson, a royal governor and friend of the Franklins, and Joseph Galloway, an early challenger to the Crown. They soon heard themselves denounced as traitors - for not having betrayed the country where they grew up. Native Americans and the enslaved were also forced to choose sides as civil war broke out around them.

After the Revolution, the Patriots were cast as heroes and founding fathers while the Loyalists were relegated to bit parts best forgotten. Our First Civil War reminds us that before America could win its revolution against Britain, the Patriots had to win a bitter civil war against family, neighbors, and friends.

©2021 H. W. Brands (P)2021 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

A History Book Club Main Selection

“Americans tend to forget that we have always been at war with one another - even in the beginning. In this splendid new book, H. W. Brands tells the story of the American Revolution as it really unfolded - as a civil war between colonial patriots and those loyal to the British Crown and Parliament. Division, Brands reminds us, is as American as unity.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope) 

“H.W. Brands’ Our First Civil War is a sleek, riveting one-volume account of the American Revolution that speaks compellingly to our current age of division and discord. A bravura performance by one of our great historical storytellers.” (Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy and In the Heart of the Sea, winner of the National Book Award) 

What listeners say about Our First Civil War

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  • Overall
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Not a fresh take on the Revolution

From the title and the blurbs, I thought this would be a fresh take on the Revolution, with revealing insights into what it was for the Loyalists, the Indians and the slaves. It wasn't. It's the same old Washington-centric, Franklin-centric story we know and love from many tellings by others. Well told, but I've seen this movie before. The Revolution as a civil war is a great idea for a book. Someone should write it.

6 people found this helpful

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Disappointed not in the Contant or the style of the book but by what was not included

This is a well written book well researched and entertaining. But given the title I expected much more emphasis on certain things that were glossed over particularly fighting in the southern theater which was as close to Civil War as it came and received no more than one or two sentences in this book. I actually bought it thinking I would learn more about the southern theater and the actors on both sides. The title is totally misleading, but the Contin is solid and well written and enjoyable. This is the lowest review I’ve ever given in though I feel bad about it I feel that I wasted my money, given how poorly the total subject was treated.

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Highly Recommend

This was an aspect of the Revolutionary War I was not familiar with. Very much enjoyed listening to this book.

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Not what title suggests

This was supposed to be about the war between patriots and loyalists, but it is only about that 10% of the time. The rest is a good narrative of the overall war and diplomacy.

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Very Enjoyable

Very informative. I was particularly glad to learn of Benjamin Franklin's contributions overseas with the juxtaposed timeline of the war efforts between the patriots and the loyalists on this continent. Intriguing also we're the various loyalists stories and particularly the rift between Benjamin Franklin and his son William.