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Friday, September 4, 2015

TO TRY MEN'S SOULS: A NOVEL of GEORGE WASHINGTON and the FIGHT for AMERICAN FREEDOM (audiobook) by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen

Published in in 2009 by MacMillan Audio
Read by William Dufris, Callista Gingrich and Eric Conger
Duration: 12 hours, 23 minutes

To Try Men's Souls is a powerful piece of historical fiction that focuses on three men in the American army at its lowest point in the Revolutionary War - right before the famed surprise attack on the Hessians at Trenton. The story follows three men - one is a New Jersey private with family on both sides of the war, the other two are George Washington and Thomas Paine.

The book is fairly complicated in its structure with lots of flashbacks and intertwining story lines. Through George Washington the reader learns the long sad story of the shrinking American Army's numerous retreats throughout the summer and fall of 1776 and how Washington gambled it all on a surprise raid to raise American morale.

Thomas Paine's character was a bit more complicated. These are the months just after the success of his tract Common Sense that argued for independence. Now, in the light of all of these defeats, men keep asking him to write another Common Sense - another tract that will galvanize American sentiment. Eventually, he does come up with The Crisis, another tract that perfectly catches the feeling of the remnants of the American army. It inspires and cajoles. It is published just two days before Washington's army begins to move on Trenton. It's famous opening lines are: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

The third character, the New Jersey private, stands in as a kind of every man. His family is split, but he is sure that he is right. But, despite his being sure, he is comforted by the powerful words of Thomas Paine, delivered at just the right moment.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868).
Yes, the painting is full of inaccuracies, but it is iconic.
This book could have easily slipped into being hokey but it does not. Instead, I found myself with a renewed respect for the soldiers of the Revolutionary War and for Washington's ability to just not lose. He did not win a lot, but he also managed not to entirely lose either. He somehow managed to elude defeat or capture and keep on fighting.

The reading by William Dufris was quite good. He was joined by Callista Gingrich who read the few parts spoken by a woman. She was fairly weak as a narrator - she did not sound like she was trying to interact with the other characters as she read her isolated parts. They probably just put her in the sound booth and had her read her parts with little regard to what was said before and after her reading in the story - and it showed. Conger read the text of The Crisis found at the end of the book. There is also an interview with Gingrich and Forstchen at the end of the book.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: 
To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom

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