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Response to Review no. 136

The right to reply is an integral feature of Reviews in History, and I can imagine many authors would welcome the opportunity to defend themselves against a hostile reviewer. I am delighted not to be in that unfortunate and uncomfortable position; indeed, Susan-Mary Grant’s piece on my book, The British Isles and the War of American Independence, is so fair-minded and thorough that I was tempted not to reply at all. I decided, however, that this would be disrespectful to Dr Grant, who did me the courtesy to read my book with great care and attention. The least I can do is acknowledge and express my thanks for her painstaking labours.

It would be difficult for me to dissent substantially from anything in her very full review. She identifies the themes of the book with admirable clarity, and helpfully summarises its structure and contents. She also engages with the arguments, and makes illuminating comparisons with the American Civil War (about which she knows far more than I do). My only quibble – and a very minor one – is that Dr Grant perhaps overstates my endorsement of the arguments in Linda Colley’s influential book Britons. My findings, it is true, broadly support the Colley thesis in so far as it relates to the role of eighteenth-century wars in the creation of an overarching sense of Britishness. But when I claimed that the experience of the American war suggests that her thesis could be extended, I had in mind particularly Professor Colley’s reluctance to consider the Irish. The evidence for my period tends to support the arguments of Sean Connolly, who suggests that in the eighteenth century both Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics were more willing to adopt a British identity than most historians have recognised.

But it would be inappropriate to end on even a slightly discordant note. To be reviewed favourably is, of course, highly gratifying; but it is still more pleasing to know that your reviewer has both understood and appreciated what you have tried to achieve.