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tv   John Ferling Winning Independence  CSPAN  July 3, 2021 3:02am-4:03am EDT

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the thomas jefferson foundation and the
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good evening, everyone. welcome to the book talk with author of winning independence. i'm from the avon library joined with terry wilson from the historical society cosponsoring the program tonight. we are in webinar mode so if you have any questions pop them into the box and we will read them at the end. i will turn it over to my colleague to introduce john. >> the historical society in connecticut is pleased to cosponsor this conversation with the dedicated historian who dives deep to enlighten us with information especially that of the southern strategy. we love that because as local
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historians especially here in connecticut where many important figures of the revolution came from as well as a few battles fought and many farmers who fled the continental army, we always want to learn more. john furling is professor emeritus at the university of west georgia where he joined a career teaching courses on the revolution, america's founders and u.s. military history. he's written 13 books and articles on the politics of tactics of the american revolution in the early republic. he's a biographer of george washington and john adams. i can't read the names of the books and awards but i prefer to tell you about john the man. though his parents were from west virginia he grew up in galveston texas according to his biography his mother was college educated in the 1920s, taught school for 11 years until she was banned by west virginia law for marrying. his father attended college on a baseball scholarship in the 1920s but the depression ended his academics.
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he took a job in texas and they had one son in 1940. john is a bachelor's in houston university and masters in history from baylor university. although he is retired and hasn't stopped him from attending and speaking at seminars and these kind of events lecturing on podcasts and spending time. he and his wife and therefore cats live near atlanta but there's one more thing he likes to share, his love of baseball. the first game he's always 1947 between pittsburgh when jackie robinson scored the winning run. especially to boston to see the red sox. for those of us in new england, we like to hear that. we know the audience is looking forward to hearing more about the book winning independence, so let's begin again.
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the focus has been on the era of the revolution. what do you love most about this chapter in our history? >> thank you for having me in the library and historical society for inviting me tonight. i've been looking forward to doing this. i was drawn to the revolution because that is where everything starts for the united states. the social ideas were formed during the course of the revolution. if you think about it, lincoln when he talked about it seven years ago was referring to 1776 and the ideas of equality and god-given rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all people. and when martin luther king
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talked about having a dream, his dream was that african-americans would be cut in on the ideas that really begin with the american revolution so i was drawn to that and i think in addition because the revolution consisted of two things. on the one hand, there's the revolution itself which i think came as a surprise to most of the participants a dozen years before 1776 no one foresaw the revolution coming but there are walls and so the question comes above why did it occur and what was the revolution about and was it a case of trying to gain independence or was it as said
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in 1776 was it a struggle that would bring about the birthday of a new world so there's plenty to study on with regards to the american revolution, but in addition, kind of a double dip because you've got a war most of the congressmen knew certainly when they declared independence in july of 1776 that they really were not independent it had a dark and uncertain times in 1776 and then like a roller coaster when france allied with the united states 1778 and many people felt including george washington for that matter felt
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that this then things went south after that. until the very last moment unknown it could have gone in different directions. no one knew until yorktown whether or not america would gain independence or if it did. it is a long dramatic struggle i never get tired of looking at both the revolution and the war itself and fascinating cast of
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characters that were part of the political revolution so that's why i stayed with the revolution throughout my career. >> for your new book which is the one we feature tonight, and this is what got me as i read, it challenges the assumption that america won the war. instead, great britain lost a war and could have one that i think could you elaborate on the nuance of this and how you selected it as a different way to look at the independence. >> sure. i think that the british had several opportunities at the outside of the war to have won the war. general gage who was the
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commander of the british army at the time the run down to the war was coming on told london that winning the first engagement is crucial. if we could have enough troops over here to score a dramatic victory over the colonists, then probably the fervor for the war would disappear and particularly the disaster that faced the british when they marched back from concord to boston. then they had the chance to score a victory two months leader at bunker hill in boston and they could have scored above those victories. sir henry clinton who was the third in command at the time advised general gage to send forces to the backside and would
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pin the american rebels up on top and we could score a bottle but they didn't do that and they marched up the hill and down into a disaster. there were two instances where i think if the british had acted resolutely when they had about half of washington's army trapped and again in the september of 76 when washington really foolishly kept his army on manhattan and didn't at all they still had a chance the plan that london devised was for an
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army to come down from canada led by john while general howell moved north to rendezvous and catch washington's army how the devices went after philadelphia and missed the last major chance that the british had to win the war. but that's not to say that the defeat after that was guaranteed because as i said earlier, it is a long desperate war and a lot of things go wrong after 1778 as the war stalemated the american economy, collapsed the american
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morale and george washington wrote a letter to the chief executive of pennsylvania which he said i have almost ceased hope and at the same home washington was writing that letter, arthur lee who had been an american diplomat since the beginning of the war overseas in europe returned to america for the first time since the war began and he landed in boston of all places and he's there for a few days and talks with a number of officials and he wrote to tht most of those had concluded the
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war would end in a negotiated settlement short of independence so things are really up in the air. america did come out of the war victorious as they would celebrate in about five more years for the 250th anniversary of 1776. but i also argued that america could not have won the war without french assistance. they were providing clandestine assistance starting in 1775 that provided emissions and weaponry and whatever for the americans and then they allied.
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then they loaned a great deal of money which wound up costing the french king his head in the 1790s because the economic woes and fallout contributed to the problems and brought along the french revolution after 1789 so the americans knew that it would help which i think was important to remember. >> could we step back to somebody that you mentioned earlier that is general sir henry clinton.
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what aspects have historians misunderstood and why doesn't he receive credit for strategizing the capture of the move that would have changed the outcome and redrawn the map of america. >> let me go to my powerpoint. that's how they know the painting and there's another one of washington. but here is sir henry clinton. he became the commander of the british army and learned of his appointment in may of 1778. he was the third british commander during the war. gage had been there for many years before the revolution and was recalled after the disasters along concord road and bunker
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hill and general william howe succeeded and when he was commander in 76 and 77 and resigned after saratoga so then he was named the commander he was from an aristocratic family. his father was a career naval officer who became the royal governor of new york and spent some of his formative years and new york city. he fought in two wars before the
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revolutionary war and earned a reputation as a brave, courageous, risk-taking soldier who was seriously wounded in an engagement in germany in the seven year war in the early 1760s. he was an intellectually curious individual. he read especially deeply on military history and strategy and in the year before the war broke out out of his own pocket he paid to make the trip deep into eastern europe between the russians and the turks hoping to learn more about the military strategy and tactics and then he came over as the third in
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command of the british army landing just three or four weeks after lexington and concord and just in time to see some action at bunker hill. he served with some distinction in the couple of years before the name won the reputation in some circles as the best strategist during that time. he was 48-years-old, two years older than washington they had
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to withdraw some of the troops when clinton read the orders he discovered that he had to immediately relinquish 8,000 of the troops and he had already lost the troops that had surrendered at saratoga so he did have an army that was considerably smaller than the british had had on america the year before but despite that they were to bring washington to
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battle. my fate is hard as he put it in a letter that he wrote almost immediately after being named commander he said he thought it was inevitable britain would lose the war and he feared he would be scapegoated for the law and it turned out that he was pressing and because. he wasn't dynamic enough and he
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hadn't done enough they argued to have won the war that britain could have one and i think most of those arguments were picked up by historians down the road so that clinton's reputation and the literature and i try to argue in the book that many of those allegations are not true. they are far more active than his foes suggested. he did take risk and was more active than washington was during the four years between saratoga and yorktown for instance. thomas paine after the war in the 1790s wrote a pamphlet attacking washington but argued
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that washington slept in the field as he put it and the real winners of the war were generals horatio gates and nathaniel green. washington was generally enacted during much of that time in the clinton was far more active and i think that the most devastating thing, the most devastating attack or appraisal came about almost 75 years ago but was still read by scholars today and many still accepted that it was a study made by clinton's biographer in conjunction with a clinical
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psychologist. but that they had a deep subliminal psychological problems that prevented him from acting on the power that he had and frankly i think the argument is malarkey not that i am a particular photo of the history but they were obviously unable to put clinton on the couch it would have opened up a window to so i think clinton's reputation suffered from that. [inaudible] i closed the door so mine can to
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get in the room but anyway, i think that study should be filed away. he certainly made mistakes. i recognized that in the book when i think that he was a good general and exceedingly good strategist that didn't have often much to work with and faced enormous challenges. >> i didn't know anything about him before this. we are going to stay with him for a little bit and i realized on the chronology the questions are out of order. so, after the catastrophe at
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saratoga in 1777 it adopted thestrategies of the so-called southern strategy. what were they attempting from 1777 and onward? >> the british in fact many people in england after saratoga wanted to drop out of the war. it was going on for three years. they had achieved virtually nothing and now had lost and the entire army at saratoga so when the news came in, there was a lengthy debate in the lower north ministry. it went on to the end of 1778 and it was a debate over for one thing whether to remain in the war and if the decision was to remain in the war what kind of
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strategy would they pursue. again at this point it had been to try to destroy washington's continental army and also when control of the northern provinces and they hadn't succeeded on either score so at the end of the debate. let me go back to my powerpoint here. the person who led the fight to remain in the war was the american secretary for the colonies and jermaine was in
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essence the minister of war and he also had responsibilities for britain's army in america and jermaine understood that a new strategy had been developed and came up with what became known as a southern strategy and that was in essence to virtually write off the northern colonies and attempt to regain control of two or possibly three colonies down south. georgia, south carolina and possibly north carolina as well and jermaine thought that was a plausible strategy. he was correct in this score
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that a greater percentage of colonists in the southern colonies had remained loyal to england than was the case. many of these would bear arms for their king and since 8,000 had to be relinquished, they could be replaced hopefully by loyalists some of whom come to the regular british army and provincial regimens and militia
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units if jermaine's plan if they were retaken the british already had east or west florida and in the war that ended in 1763 they
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still were both of the trans- appalachian west it's a very uncertain future and there were many in england that thought if this played out in this fashion and not a very long in the united states they would seek to return to the british empire because they would have the expanding and whatever so that was the southern strategy cobbled together in the winter of 1778 and london and as i mentioned a little bit earlier, when clinton receives his
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orders, it includes implementing the southern strategy which he gets around to pretty fast. the expedition then that takes charleston in the siege operation in april and may. let me show you a slide here quickly after charleston falls,
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clinton appoints appoints a general cornwallis to be in charge of south carolina and georgia with the rebel rebellion in south carolina and georgia so cornwallis is going to be the major player in the war in the south from the time he takes command in june of 1780 down into the late spring of 1781 until he arrives at yorktown
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clinton comes back to new york and never saw cornwallis again so that is the strategy and what the british were trying to accomplish. they came reasonably close. some things went wrong but at the beginning of 1781, clinton was far more confident than washington was of what was going to happen that year. they began 1781 more confident of the british success than any of the other four years that he
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was commander and i think what clinton ultimately thought was if the french and americans could score a decisive victory in 1781, that the war would end in a negotiated settlement and clinton wasn't alone in that, i think washington felt that, lafayette says that, john adams and europe is telling congress pretty much the same thing, adams is telling congress they've been in this for three years and haven't gained anything out of it so you've got to gain something or they will accept an invitation from neutral nations in europe to
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come to a peace conference and what would have happened is anybody's guess. maybe it would have recognized an independent united states that was smaller or maybe it would not agree to the independence of the united states. this would have been a conference primarily of european monarchs and friendly to republican government. >> i think you answered the next three questions. it emerges in parallel
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leadership what is it that big aisles independent of size which would you prefer to serve under and why? >> let me say a couple things about that even in a section with a dozen pages where i tried to look at the two to see what i can find about both of them. it may have been that washington had insecurities and he didn't want people to get too close to him to discover what he feared for his weak points or it may
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have been simply that washington as a leader felt he couldn't let anybody get very close to him. he had to make personnel decisions and he didn't say this but it kind of reminds me of what john f. kennedy said that they have to be feared and he acknowledged he was very shy and made one of the strangest comments ever made by a historical figure. i am a shy he said. neither of them were really outgoing, but clinton i think made friends more easily than washington who in a sense may never have had a close friend in the sense of the world
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throughout his life but both clinton and washington were brave, courageous man under fire and i'm always amazed at the battle of princeton and washington was riding on horseback riding to the british soldiers firing at him and they were no further away from him within a picture is from a batter on the baseball diamond and that is pretty close. as i said clinton earned a reputation of the war before this and during the revolution as somebody that was courageous under fire but both of them i think they stay somewhat similar problem during the war in that both had problems with supply
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and lack of money and troops. both clinton and washington endured considerable criticism during the war. i'm not sure how many people remember today but there was a great deal of criticism on washington after he made several mistakes in the campaign and 76 and then after the campaign even more and open criticism congress cut off or could have ditched washington but fortunately didn't take that step and new
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that it would bring on political chaos and would probably ruin the war effort and after that, congress cuts off the open criticism of washington and launches the campaign to make washington and an iconic figure from valley forge on towards the end of the war to elevate him so that he would be above the criticisms that began celebrating washington's birthday annually and that is when clinton ran into a lot of criticism. i think in the case of both of these guys it's sort of like all the students complained about their professors and all of the professors complained about the
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administrators there were issues over promotion and people were unhappy about that so both of them ran into a great deal of criticism but there were plenty of differences between them and you mentioned when you talked about one of the differences that i think was a better leader this was a time period when they demonstrated that the average full grown american male was 5 feet 7 inches tall. it hadn't changed much about
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washington was almost 64 inches tall he is about the same size as the cornerback of ohio state or university of alabama or something today and he did have a reputation of athleticism he seemed to walk gracefully and clinton on the other hand was about 5 feet seven, pretty average in many ways so there were differences in that
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respect. clinton was from an aristocratic family and one other difference was people today often forget that washington had been about politics clinton acknowledged openly although he held a seat in the house of commons, he acknowledged that he was not a very good politician. there were some similarities and differences. >> the question who would you serve under.
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>> that is a tough question. it would depend on your rank but i think i would have served under either. he was a good general and neither were bloodthirsty or sent their men into battle and hopeless situations and squandered troops both of them were trying to preserve life because both i think had humanitarian qualities about them but also both had faced so many shortages that they couldn't afford to lose troops,
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so they both were good commanders and i probably would have been willing to serve under either one. although i have to say i don't know that i would have wanted to be a soldier in the revolutionary war on either side. it was a really tough go. these guys, the higher ranking officers were on the move a lot and the higher ranking officers could travel on horseback. many of them marched thousands of miles and many of them even in the british army, we know all about the suffering at valley forge and norristown but even
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the british army in many cases the men were ill provisioned and ill equipped. it was a tough go. we are coming through a pandemic now and these guys faced disease and at least in the american army most of the soldiers who died wound up dying of disease, not from combat. so it was a risky, difficult, harsh environment that they faced. while i might have been willing to serve under both the generals, i'm glad i didn't have to serve the war on either side. >> i know that she is dying to ask this question because it has to do with one of the other
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characters. >> and it has to do with being on both sides. benedict arnold, is he a truth reader or just someone that wanted a steady paycheck? >> that is kind of the million-dollar question and a lot of biographers looked at that to learn what is going on, he had some legitimate grievances he had been passed over for promotion unfairly, unjustly and when he became the military commander in philadelphia he was prosecuted
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for it commits treason which thomas paine wrote about they
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owned a considerable amount of property in new england and if america wound up winning the war, he was going to lose all that property so it was a kind of trade-off. he would lose valuable property but gain the money that the british were going to pay and he could have done probably just as well financially and he remained on the american side. one of the things that's alwayss intrigued me about arnold is that he negotiates with the british through the intermediaries that were important to sir henry clinton and for a long time, clinton didn't know who it was that the
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intermediaries were talking to. he just knew that it was an important american who might be willing to commit treason. it's not until august of 1780 that arnold makes the decision to turn and what happens in august of 1780 and is august of 1780, cornwallis scored a huge victory over and the american army it was the fourth american army in 20 months that had been destroyed in the southern theater and more than 8,000 american troops had been killed, wounded or captured. that's the same month washington
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writes that letter and at the same moment that arthur lee in boston is saying many of the leaders in massachusetts now believe the war is going to end in a negotiated settlement so i think you can argue that when arnold finally makes his final decision to turn in august of 1780, he may very well have believed that the americans goose was cooked and that the british were going to win the war and he was going to get on the winning side nobody knew what was going on in arnold's mind.
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>> it really could have been anyone in a similar position in terms of rank and opportunity. and i did appreciate that put them in a new context or just after any paycheck this has been a terrific overview how it just kind of flows from here so thank you very much. are we ready for that? >> i do want to get to the last one because i think it brings the story to the modern era what
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do you want them to understand about the consequences of the war and that visceral experience of it? >> one of the things i already mentioned is that i wanted people to understand just how long the struggle to win independence was. it's because saratoga is in 1777 and a huge british army surrenders and textbooks always depicted saratoga as the turning point of the revolutionary war. that there's been a tendency on the part of many people who think everything that followed a saratoga was anti, and so i
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wanted the readers to come away from my book understanding that a long war had to be fought after saratoga and that the victory wasn't guaranteed. clinton thought that britain could still win the war in 1781. and i also wanted people to be aware of how grim this war was that about 15% that fought on the british side died in this war and as best as i've been able to determine roughly the same percentage of people who
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fought on the american side died and to try to put it in some meaningful terms, they lost about 350,000 men in world war ii but if the united states had lost 15% of its soldiery, sailors in world war ii, more than 2 million americans would have died in that war so it's a much bloodier war than many people are aware and also as i mentioned, i wanted people to understand that the outcome of the war is determined after saratoga during that four year struggle and during the four years after saratoga, more
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americans died than during the three months of war before saratoga, roughly 65% who fought on america's side died in fact during 1780 there were more americans fighting for great britain than in washington and the continental army, so those were the things that i wanted readers to come away with. what i am trying to do in the book is look at the crisis that washington-based and that clinton based and the decisions that they made during those crises and what they knew and what they didn't know when they
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made those decisions. often times people read history backwards but they obviously didn't know that when they made their decision. they didn't know whether it would be a good decision or a bad decision and i had to just make the decision based on what they knew at that time and so i tried throughout the book when i looked at the decisions that clinton and washington and nathaniel green and others made what they made when they made those decisions what would be the reason for the british to allow for a negotiated peace, what would have been in it for them? >> there were many people who just wanted to get out early. it had been going on for a long time and they were not winning
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the war. there was a fear that they were going to lose all of the trade with america that france would gobble up postwar commerce and that it might be ruined the longer the war continued, so there were some in england who were pushing for a negotiated settlement. in fact immediately after saratoga, when the head of the war ministry, the prime minister, learns of saratoga, he proposes a negotiated settlement referred to as the north peace plan of 78 and he sends the commission of diplomats known as the carlisle commission that came over to 1778, and they were
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authorized to negotiate a settlement and what clinton or lord north was willing to accept was essentially everything that the first continental congress had asked for on the eve of the war with one exception, and that was independence. north would not recognize that he was willing to let a continental congress remain. he was going to give the americans greater autonomy and on and on that the first continental congress had asked for, so certainly even right up to the pinnacle of power in england, there were people who were willing to accept and negotiate the settlement. >> thank you. your answers have been thoughtful. the book is extensively
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researched. it's absolutely enlightening. and i do encourage the audience to pick it up and read it because it has a different perspective and a look at the booktv.org. ..

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