This was a difficult book for me. In general, an examination of food sources and consumption in the Revolutionary War era is a good topic. Personally, I found the treatment here not so good.

One problem, of course, is I want far more solid facts to go off of that could ever be available in that era. Another is consistent use of the word “hunger” (n. an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food), used in ways which make me uneasy. Apparently the term has been redefined for the social sciences (“a condition in which a person cannot eat sufficient food to meet basic nutritional needs for a sustained period”), so I’m being something of a fuddy-duddy but that definition is never given in the book, either.

Herrman does define three other useful terms in her introduction however. Food diplomacy is the sharing of food, or lack thereof, in order cement alliances (or at least peace). Victual warfare is the usual scorched earth tactics (by either side), as well as hording or stealing food. And victual imperialism is using laws and institutions (price fixing, land use, food aid…) to transform power relationships (…she doesn’t put it that way, but the book would be better if she did).

I also sometimes wonder about Herrman’s knowledge of some of the era she’s writing about. The biggest trouble was where she points up changing attitudes towards Indian Affairs by the British by comparing two letters, one from Howe, and the other from Germain. From my knowledge of them, I’d say the letters are quite emblematic of the differences in how those two approached everything, not just Indian Affairs, and therefore is more administration change than policy change.

The better part of the book is where she tackles the idea of a ‘long American Revolution’, that is to say, a period centered on it, but in no way confined to it. She starts with the years leading up to the war (common enough in any subject in history), but as Herrman’s looking at how all this affected Native American and Black peoples, not only looks at what happened in the direct aftermath of the Revolution, but also at the Loyalist colony founded in Nova Scotia, and then in Sierra Leone, where a lot of the Black ex-slaves ended up after their power-base collapsed in Nova Scotia.

There’s some important things to look at there, but I think she misses the implications again. There is a nice discussion about whether the violence in 1800 Sierra Leone is better termed a “rebellion” or a “riot” (with some on-the-point mention of riot having more negative connotations today than then). Herrman also mention’s King Tom’s (Pa Kokelly) apparent overtures to both sides, and never seems to realize he was quite likely just waiting to see who came out on top before committing himself to anything.

I just can’t recommend this, despite some good pieces, as there’s just too many missed opportunities here.