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Born Fighting


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About the Author

James Webb is the author of six bestselling novels, including Fields of Fire and The Emperor's General. He is also a filmaker (Rules of Engagement), an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has taught literature at university level. A descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants from Ulster who emigrated to the British North American colonies in the eighteenth century, he lives in Virginia.


A soldier, highly placed defense official (secretary of the navy, assistant secretary of defense), novelist (Fields of Fire), filmmaker (Rules of Engagement), and journalist, Webb here tries for historian. In this examination of his roots, he traces America's fighting spirit to the Scots-Irish. Distinguishing the working-class Scots-Irish from WASPs, he follows their emigration to America since Colonial times and draws dramatic conclusions, e.g., the "warrior ethic" of his Confederate kin compelled them to "fight too hard" and lose the Civil War. Webb has done his reading (his varied sources include both classical works and one of his novels), but a trained historian would be more guarded in his conclusions. The book's biggest strength, Webb's narrative skill, is also its weakness; he can border on the bombastic. He is at his best when he writes biographically but suffers when he issues blanket statements, not quite making the leap from novelist to historian. In addition, in promoting one ethnic group he appears to slight others. The audience for this book is likely to be his Scots-Irish fans. Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, North Billerica, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Former navy secretary Webb (Fields of Fire; etc.) wants not only to offer a history of the Scots-Irish but to redeem them from their redneck, hillbilly stereotype and place them at the center of American history and culture. As Webb relates, the Scots-Irish first emigrated to the U.S., 200,000 to 400,000 strong, in four waves during the 18th century, settling primarily in Appalachia before spreading west and south. Webb's thesis is that the Scots-Irish, with their rugged individualism, warrior culture built on extended familial groups (the "kind of people who would die in place rather than retreat") and an instinctive mistrust of authority, created an American culture that mirrors these traits. Webb has a genuine flair for describing the battles the Scots-Irish fought during their history, but his analysis of their role in America's social and political history is, ironically for someone trying to crush stereotypes, fixated on what he sees, in almost Manichaean terms, as a class conflict between the Scots-Irish and America's "paternalistic Ivy League-centered, media-connected, politically correct power centers." He even excuses resistance to the "Northern-dominated" Civil Rights movement. Another glaring weakness is the virtual absence of women from the sociological narrative. Webb interweaves his own Scots-Irish family history throughout the book with some success, but by and large his writing and analysis are overwhelmed by romanticism. (Oct. 5) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

An extraordinary and ambitious book, written with power and perfect clarity * Scotland Magazine *
Powerful stuff . . . an absorbing book * BBC Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine *
An entertaining and thought-provoking read * Scottish Field *
A comprehensive account of the effect the Scots-Irish had on the American people of today . . . a scholarly work * Scottish Home and Country *
Certainly provides some illuminating historical perspectives . . . definitely worth a read * Morning Star *

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