The American Revolution: Why and What If?

This post and its comments on Matthew Yglesias's site has got me on a major Revolutionary War history jag.

Matt says:

I find it striking that, as presented in episode two of John Adams, the case for independence is distinctly underwhelming. In particular, the point that a rebellion which can only succeed with foreign assistance is as likely to result in domination by France as in freedom from Britain seems like an important cautionary note. What's more, favored by hindsight and the example of Canada and Australia, the imagine of a non-independent America as destined to be slowly-but-surely ground into a state of tyranny looks wrong.
Conversely, however, the British seemed to be badly missing the big picture as the crisis approached -- risking a very valuable series of possessions over some relatively trivial policy issues. Taking the long view, independence looks more like the somewhat tragic result of short-sighted thinking on both sides than like a heroic triumph for the forces of liberty.

His second thought, about the British perspective about the war reminded me of Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly, one chapter of which is about how the British foolishly let the colonies slip from their grasp. Several people recommend that book, as well as The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies.

There's also a lot of discussion about what would have happened if the British had compromised with the Americans (perhaps with representation in Parliament). Would America have developed more like Canada? What about slavery (outlawed in the Empire in the 1830s)? Would America still have become a Great Power?

I thought this was an interesting point to consider, as well:

Interestingly enough, if the Revolution hadn't occured it is entirely arguable that there would be VASTLY more monarchies and fascists states in europe and the rest of the world than today. The american revolution had a direct impact on french thinking, and in fact Thomas Paine, the greatest revolutionary philosopher of america, was a major figure in the french revolution. The french revolution led to napoleon, who spread the philosophies around europe, which lead to the nationalist revolutions across europe throughout the 1800s. His conquest of spain had a direct impact in that it led to the liberation of the spanish colonies, who were also affected by the american example. --GottSchreit

In that vein, For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne had won at Saratoga sounds like a super interesting book. An alternative histroy, it's the first I've heard of that's an actual history: the book is a history textbook from an alternative universe, with fake "sources" and everything.