A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

John Ferling (Author)


It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations.

In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details. We see Benjamin Franklin trying to decide if his loyalty was to Great Britain or to America, and we meet George Washington when he was a shrewd planter-businessman who discovered personal economic advantages to American independence. We encounter those who supported the war against Great Britain in 1776, but opposed independence because it was a "leap in the dark." Following the war, we hear talk in the North of secession from the United States. The author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Yet, without slowing the flow of events, he has also produced a landmark study of leadership and ideas. Here is all the erratic brilliance of Hamilton and Jefferson battling to shape the new nation, and here too is the passion and political shrewdness of revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, and their Loyalist counterparts, Joseph Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson. Here as well are activists who are not so well known today, men like Abraham Yates, who battled for democratic change, and Theodore Sedgwick, who fought to preserve the political and social system of the colonial past. Ferling shows that throughout this period the epic political battles often resembled today's politics and the politicians--the founders--played a political hardball attendant with enmities, selfish motivations, and bitterness. The political stakes, this book demonstrates, were extraordinary: first to secure independence, then to determine the meaning of the American Revolution.

John Ferling has shown himself to be an insightful historian of our Revolution, and an unusually skillful writer. A Leap in the Dark is his masterpiece, work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
October 28, 2004
6.0 X 1.4 X 9.2 inches | 2.15 pounds

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About the Author

John Ferling is a Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. A familiar face in history documentaries on television, he has written numerous books, including John Adams: A Life, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, and Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution.


"This book moves like a bottle rocket."--Kansas City Star

"Every generation of Americans deserves a first-class history of the revolutionary era, and John Ferling has supplied it for this one. Those 2 million readers of David McCullough's John Adams, captivated by Adams's ardent patriotism and fiery opinions, will especially benefit from returning to the subject under the firm direction of a historian with a command of the scholarship that is matched by his gifts as a writer."--Joyce Appleby, Washington Post Book World

"This deft account of the American struggle for independence dispels the aura of inevitability that usually surrounds such histories by beginning its narrative not on the verge of the Revolution but twenty years earlier....Ferling vividly evokes the political turmoil of the post-Revolutionary years. Even as he takes the Founders off their pedestals, their accomplishments only gain in stature."--The New Yorker

"Solid history that will refresh anyone's memory of the essential stories and figures in America's founding. And it will enlighten anyone about the origin of some current civic problems....His book provides not just political and intellectual history, but emotional history as well."--Christian Science Monitor

"The author's prose is smooth, but spellbinding. He brings to life the flinty, cross-grained Alexander Hamilton, the acute and enduring thoughts of John Adams, and some minor characters not found in most history books....Ferling has written several books on the Revolutionary period, but A Leap in the Dark may well be his masterpiece."--Dallas Morning News

"Many Americans today see the period from 1754 to 1801 in American history as a rational progression from British colony to the independent United States. Nothing could be further from the truth, as shown by Ferling in this account of the Founding Fathers' struggles to do what had not been done before: create a nation. Throughout, he debunks popularly held notions....Ferling's intriguing narrative is filled with stories of Americans both famous and obsure."--Library Journal

"In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling conveys the personal and contingent character of public affairs by skillfully interweaving capsule biographies of leaders into his analysis of events. His book, which stretches from the French and Indian War through the inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson, supplies a learned and readable narrative of American politics during a crucial era in the nation's history."--Richard Brown, University of Connecticut

"Questions about the establishment of the American Union are the focal point of this traditionally fashioned political history of Revolutionary America that moves gracefully from the period of the Seven Years' War through the presidential election of 1800. [Ferling] capably describesthe emergence of the newfound republican political order. Present[s] the various political achievements of the American Revolution in a highly engaging fashion, making for a study that deserves a large reading audience."--James Kirby Martin, The Historian, University of Houston