Friday, March 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: TO TRY MEN'S SOULS by New Gingrich and William R. Forstchen (2009)

In gearing up to visit George Washington's Mount Vernon® later this year, I googled around for historical fiction featuring old Georgie. And found surprisingly little. Along with a one called Citizen Washington by William Martin (which I'm now reading), only three pop to the surface. This is one of those three, first in a trilogy by Gingrich and Forstchen. If anyone can name other novels, I'd be pleased to hear about them.

To Try Men's Souls begins on Christmas Night, 1775, and ends the evening of the following day. As you've likely guessed from the cover, the action focuses on the celebrated Crossing of the Delaware, and the all-important Battle of Trenton. 

Actually, heroic as it was, the Crossing wasn't all that important, or the Battle either, except that they gave Washington and his men their first taste of victory (after several disastrous defeats), and emboldened them to carry on. The feeling conveyed here is that without this small win, they would have all given up and gone home. 

I find that pretty hard to believe. Washington was used to defeat, and could likely have absorbed another. His overall strategy was just to keep his army alive and avoid conflict unless he could be pretty damn sure of victory. The Crossing the the Battle were both very risky endeavors, and he was mighty lucky to get away with them. But I have to believe that if they had never taken place - or even resulted in defeat - he would have kept on trucking, likely with the same result. 

Still, it's a good story, and Gingrich and Forstchen tell it well. Point of view alternates between Washington himself, Tom Paine (the Common Sense guy) and a common man volunteer from New Jersey, named Jonathan. 

With George, we feel the problems and pressures heaped upon him by the Continental Congress, the British, the Hessians, the tories, his soldiers, Mother Nature, Providence, Martha and he himself. 

With Paine, we feel the pain of expectations, and the guilty fear that he may have led everyone astray. Soldiers carry copies of Common Sense in their packs, and either revere him or revile him, depending on they react to trudging around New England without clothes, or shoes, or food, or pay. 

With Jonathan, we feel every bit of that misery resulting from those deprivations, plus a family that has taken the easy way out and sided with the British. 

Gingrich and Fortschen have collaborated on a good number of other books, and this is my first. My guess is that Gringrich provides most of the historical detail, while Forstchen cranks out the prose. But that is just a guess. I've found nothing online describing their writing methods. Anyway, they do a good job of bringing history alive. 

My only complaint is that there are a lot of musings and flashbacks, particularly in Washington's POV, about earlier battles, which I don't know enough about to fully appreciate. OK, that's partly my fault, but still disturbing. I guess the authors can't be blamed for starting here, rather than with all the drubbings, which would NOT have resulted in a rousing read. 

The following books in the trilogy are Valley Forge and Victory at Yorktown. Rumor has it those books are less laden with flashbacks, and since I  toured both sites a few years ago, I expect to like them even better than this one. 


Anonymous said...

If you can find it, I recommend The Crossing by Howard Fast, on the same subject

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks Anon!

Shay said...