John Ferling is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of West Georgia. This interview is based on his new book, Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It (Bloomsbury Press, May 2015).
JFea: What led you to write Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It?
JFerling: I taught the American Revolution course about thirty times during my career. I always had my students read a history of the Revolution, but was never entirely satisfied with any general history that was available (mostly because all shortchanged the Revolutionary War), so for years I longed to write my own version, and with Whirlwind I have finally done just that.
JFea: In two sentences, what is the argument of Whirlwind?
JFerling: It is difficult to sum up a thesis for a general history of the American Revolution, though I argue that the primary reason the colonists eventually sought independence was due to economic motivation. Unlike many historians (and John Adams), I argue that the War of Independence was part of the American Revolution, as it radicalized people, laying the groundwork for fundamental postwar changes that otherwise might not have occurred.
JFea: Why do we need to read Whirlwind?
JFerling: Whirlwind examines the reasons for the colonial insurgency, the reasons for the eventual break with Great Britain, the reasons for the American victory in the War of Independence, the changes unleashed by the American Revolution, and it asks whether the American Revolution and the American victory were inevitable.
JFea: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JFerling: While in high school, I saw a documentary on the rise and fall of Hitler that turned me on to history, but the first several courses in history that I took in college were so boring that I was ready to jettison history as a major. As a sophomore, however, I took a course from a professor who emphasized reading books and discussing them in class, rather than using a lecture format; I found the experience so exhilarating that for the first time I wanted to teach in college and write the kind of books I was reading in that class.
JFea: What is your next project?
JFerling: I am already deep into a book on Jefferson and Thomas Paine as world revolutionaries.