Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017). 340 pages. $30.00
While historians might abruptly dismiss the historical volumes produced by the partnership of former Fox television commentator Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard as “History-lite,” the books do serve to fill a certain void in historical scholarship. Intensely popular, and always commanding a place on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list, the books are written in a comfortable, story-telling style that brings history alive for the general reader.
Killing England is the latest in the so-called “Killing” series that features such previous titles as Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing the Rising Sun. This is the seventh volume in the series.
The familiar but tense story of American independence has been told many times. However repetitive the tale, Killing England does add some additional understanding in a way that embeds the account in the lives of those who lived it. In these pages, the reader meets such diverse characters as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the traitor, Benedict Arnold. As their individual stories unfold, so too does the story of America. This blending of biography into the American chronicle is one of the things that the O’Reilly/Dugard team does well. While there is certainly a formula to these books, it seems a winning one given the commercial success of the series. It is easy to criticize the so-called “popular history” movement, but getting the public to read and consider its past in any form, seems an accomplishment given the distractions of modern day life.
If there is one convention that doesn’t work in the O’Reilly/Dugard books, it is the propensity of the authors to inject asterisk asides at the bottom of virtually every page. Since these books are not footnoted, it would seem that these informative captions are included to lend a certain scholarly authority to the work. The use is both unfortunate and distracting. The otherwise clean prose is muddied by the constant asides that interrupt the flow of the books, including Killing England. In many cases, the details provided in these little captions would have better been included in the main text. For the most part they add detail that is appropriately associated with main references in the text, but the page positioning is annoying and complicates the reader’s smooth journey through the book turning it into a bumpy ride.
Still, there is much to like in this book. While I’m no fan of O’Reilly’s over-hyped political bombast in his former life as a controversial commentator, I admire the ability of the authors to tap into any level of public interest that encourages reading about the past. This book is one of the better volumes in the series. It is well researched and written in a style that will appeal to many.