This is a good look at the Revolutionary War in 1781 in a popular history style. It is marred by a click-bait title, and a blurb that really tries to oversell the subject (not in importance, but calling Yorktown ‘overlooked’ is irresponsible at best), but the content is good. It also continues a trend of an in medias res intro presenting the most ‘exciting’ bit of the climax that I’m getting very tired of.

But the overall thrust of the book is well-handled. At the beginning of 1781, the Continental Army had been promised help from France that had yet to amount to much. Washington had come to see that control of the sea was going to be essential to any successful prosecution of the war, and the French navy had yet to manage much on that either. There’s a very good section on Arnold leading a force in ravaging much of Virginia and cutting off supplies to Continental troops in Carolina. And an attempt was made to contain him and force a battle and defeat his force.

This ends with Arnold getting away to sea, but until that point, it’s basically a dry-run for the Yorktown campaign. This is hammered home a little too often in the text, but certainly an interesting point. The idea of the ‘gamble’ of the title is that Washington is gambling that the French navy could actually hold the Virginia coast long enough to trap Cornwallis. But it doesn’t come off as that much of a gamble. Is it sure? No. Is Washington really out anything by trying? Not so much. He was working on a siege/assault of New York, that was canceled in favor of moving to Virginia, but that was unlikely to have gone far.

There’s an interesting look at what everyone’s writing when, and Rochambeau’s behind-the scenes steering of focus from New York to Virginia. There’s also a look at the breakdown of British communications, and Cornwalis’ decision to abandon the Carolinas in favor of Virginia.

In all, it’s an engaging look at the 1781 campaigns, and does a good job with sorting out all the various activities separated by long distances. It does not lose focus, and juggles multiple theaters very well.