Author Archives: Stan Deaton

The Indefatigable Dr. Ferling

John Ferling, Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 (Bloomsbury, 2021, 701 pp., $40)

John Ferling, professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia, is one of the most prolific historians writing today—and one of the best. This is John’s 15th book on the colonial and Revolutionary period, and his 10th in the last 21 years. This volume, covering the last three years of the American Revolutionary War, weighs in at 561 pages of text and nearly 150 pages of notes and bibliography.

Long-suffering readers and listeners of Off the Deaton Path know that John and his work have been featured no less three times before, including a two-part interview.

By my count, this is John’s third book that focuses on the military phase of the Revolution, following Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (Oxford, 2007), and Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It (Bloomsbury, 2015). Of course his biographies of George Washington and John Adams cover the war years as well, as does his political history of the war, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (Oxford, 2003), and his prosopography, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (Oxford, 2000). Yet he never repeats himself, always offering fresh insights and interpretations.

How does he manage to do this? Here’s what I wrote in a review of his dual biography, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (Bloomsbury, 2013): “How, one might ask, does Ferling keep plowing the same ground and still have something new to say? Part of it is simply attributable to his maturity as a scholar. Unlike others who leap from one time period to another with each book, Ferling has spent his entire professional life laboring in the vineyard of the Founding era. Ferling isn’t just dabbling in this period; he knows it as well as anyone can who is now two centuries removed from the time about which he’s writing. He is well versed in what the Founders wrote, what they read, what they believed, and what they hoped to achieve. But he’s not awe-struck by them. Simultaneously, his reflections on people and events have deepened with the years, as he himself has aged. As should happen as we grow older, his own insights about human nature reflect his growth as a human being; he’s more empathetic, more forgiving of human foibles and less harsh on their failures, though he isn’t afraid to point them out and to hold men and women accountable for not only what they achieve, but what they fail to achieve.  He knows what it’s like to live life, make mistakes, and have regrets. It’s the primary reason why people in their 20s shouldn’t write biographies.”

Rick Atkinson, the author of The British Are Coming: The War for America, 1775-1777 (Henry Holt, 2019), the first volume of his Revolutionary Trilogy, recently told me that he believes some subjects are bottomless. No matter how much is written about some historical periods and people, historians hundreds of years from now will still be producing books on Abraham Lincoln, the Second World War, and the American Revolution.

John Ferling’s masterful prose, in this and all his books, bears this out. As prolific as John is, I have no doubt that other volumes will follow, all exquisitely written, exhaustively researched, and deeply analytical.

Americans are endlessly fascinated by those who fought and won the Revolution, and that first greatest generation has no finer historian than the indefatigable Dr. John Ferling.

Ice-Trae in June

It’s the second week of June, and let’s pause our perusal of history for a moment to praise Atlanta’s National Basketball Association team. Wait, we’re paying attention to the Hawks in June? In the immortal words of Bud Robertson, Oh my yes.

Long-suffering readers of this blog recall that a little over 6 years ago I wrote about the historic season the Atlanta Hawks were having in the 2014-15 season. Those Hawks had a remarkable 19-game mid-season winning streak and finished with a mark of 60-22, a franchise record for wins. As the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hawks made it to the conference finals before being swept by the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the NBA Finals in 6 games to the Golden State Warriors.

As good as that team was, Hawks brass broke it up completely within a couple of years. Coach Mike Budenholzer is now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks (who are getting destroyed in this year’s playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets), and not one player remains from that amazing team.

To repeat, I’m telling you all this because it’s now the season in which Atlanta sports fans are traditionally focused squarely on the Braves and anticipating the start of college football in a mere 3 months. But this year the faithful are again watching the Hawks do something special.

Last year’s squad lost 47 games and didn’t make the playoff bubble. This year’s team improved by 21 games over last year and finished as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs—much higher than anyone expected during what was supposed to be another rebuilding year.

Far from rebuilding, these Hawks are actually just built. They have literally grown up before our eyes. Led by rising superstar “Ice” Trae Young (just 22 years old) and a great supporting cast, the underdog Hawks knocked off the hated New York Knicks in the first round, driving Spike Lee and Knicks fans crazy in the process. They’re currently in the conference semi-finals, one of 8 teams total still standing, having beaten top-seeded Philadelphia in the first game of the series. How bad was it for Philly? 76’ers fans were reduced to chanting, “Trae is bald-ing” during the Game 1 beatdown. This series is far from over, but already the Hawks have vastly over-achieved.

What next? Even if the Hawks should knock off the Sixers to make it to the conference finals, they would in all likelihood face the stacked-from-top-to-bottom Brooklyn Nets, whom they’re not likely to beat four times—are they?

NBA basketball in Atlanta in July? 

To quote Goethe: Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Podcast S4E7: Item! Stan Lee and the Golden Age of Comics

Stan talks about This Week in History (including King George III, AIDS, RFK, Mount Everest, & Charles Dickens), remembers a record-breaking baseball player, highlights new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf, and spotlights an incredible and historic collection of golden-age comic books about to hit the auction block–and the influence of comics in his own life.

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day, Dr. Deaton visits Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina to pay homage to all members of the armed forces of the United States buried there–and in graves known and unknown around the world.

Washington Slept Here

Can you imagine the President of the United States sleeping in a boarding house? In this Dispatch, Dr. Deaton goes on-site to follow President George Washington’s 1791 southern tour and visit to Savannah. Learn more about visiting one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations 230 years ago.