• The Cause

  • The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783
  • By: Joseph J. Ellis
  • Narrated by: Graham Winton
  • Length: 11 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (67 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

A culminating work on the American Founding by one of its leading historians, The Cause rethinks the American Revolution as we have known it.

George Washington claimed that anyone who attempted to provide an accurate account of the war for independence would be accused of writing fiction. At the time, no one called it the “American Revolution”: Former colonists still regarded themselves as Virginians or Pennsylvanians, not Americans, while John Adams insisted that the British were the real revolutionaries, for attempting to impose radical change without their colonists’ consent.

With The Cause, Ellis takes a fresh look at the events between 1773 and 1783, recovering a war more brutal than any in American history save the Civil War and discovering a strange breed of “prudent” revolutionaries, whose prudence proved wise yet tragic when it came to slavery, the original sin that still haunts our land. Written with flair and drama, The Cause brings together a cast of familiar and forgotten characters who, taken together, challenge the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people and a nation.

©2021 Joseph J. Ellis (P)2021 Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Cause

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Modest history primer, wished for more substance

I’m not sure what exactly I expected from this book, but from the title and summary I believe it was just… more substance. More contemporaneous debate and competing philosophies regarding slavery as a pragmatically necessary evil at the inception of the union. Or more depth in the specific arguments about what exactly “the Cause” meant to distinct groups or individuals. The author often falls back on the idea that it was merely a nebulous phrase with no clear definition, but surely agendas were contemplated and plans devised. Very little detail on that front, beyond the cookie-cutter labels of federalism, confederacy and such. And though it’s not the focus of the book, native voices are sorely missing (as are abolitionists, for that matter). The subjugation of other peoples is treated as an unfortunate hypocrisy of the founding of a “free” nation, but this is exactly the place where these atrocities should have been laid bare. An opportunity missed.

If there is any takeaway from the book, it’s that all the characters in this story are flawed, both amongst the British and the colonials. But we already knew that, didn’t we? It’s only in the Epilogue does the author broach the issues of the willful ignorance of the true meaning of “the Cause”, and the miscalculations and mistakes which led to a disastrous next century, deferring the abolition of slavery until brought to war, and the removal and extermination of native peoples inconveniently standing in the way of the cause.

It may be too much to expect from this modest book, but more substance, motives and ramifications, would have made it significantly better. Perhaps the author, or another, will expand into the meat of the matter in the future. As it is, I'll give 4 stars, as it is good as a basic history primer, nothing particularly new, but a good jumping off point.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The more things change…

…the more they stay the same. Great summary of, and insights in to, the events leading to the Revolutionary War and the war itself. Explodes any number of myths about how the nation was founded and the reasons for the war with Great Britain. The origins of our dysfunctional national government are on display here, as well as the regional sectarianism that plagues us to this day. Or as some would say, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

3 people found this helpful

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One favorite of mine

The author is able to treat several sides of the story/Cause and puts the reader in that place and time.
A good resource book and one that I expect to read in hard copy. 5+ stars/highly recommended..

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A Cause nearly lost -- but won

This is a riveting narrative of how America defeated or at least outlasted England to secure independence despite failing to unite as a nation to meet the true costs of war. I found the underlying premise of colonial antipathy to national rather than individual aims a telling indictment of current events and a stark contrast with our southern states's rallying cry of the list cause of the Civil War. The mustard seeds of nation ultimately were cast in the barren soul of state intransigence.
The key characters and events are portrayed in vivid and realistic terms, notably the central role King George in instigating and prolonging the conflict but whose actions and responsibility has often been unreported.