Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War is a history of the Seven Years’ War, which you probably learned about in high school US history as “The French and Indian War.” So the book argues that this conflict was actually hugely important in shaping the course of American history, that the (spoilers) British victory over the French and subsequent domination of North America was at least as big a turning point as the American Revolution. And it makes a pretty good case for its view; it’s definitely hard not to think that this was severely under-covered in my high school US history courses.
But so also of course, this isn’t just American history. Fundamentally, this is a conflict between the French and British empires, encompassing complex European “balance of powers” bullshit (modern European history is an exhausting chronicle of soi-disant diplomatic geniuses blundering into stupid, bloody wars, apparently), Caribbean island invasions, attempts to control the India trade, in addition to the North American stuff. And the book does a good job giving an overview of those different theaters to provide the full context, though it stays at arm’s length from all of them; it’s definitely focused on North America.
What it also does a good job of doing is focusing on the politics that drove military decisions. Which means in a British context, Parliamentary factions and court politics; in an American context, relationships between colonial governors and the elected assemblies; and in an Indian context, the relationships between nations (particularly around the Iroquois League) and factions within them. One of the devilish things about history is the way that a particular policy might be terrible for a nation, but good for a particular faction whose leaders happen to be ascendant, and Anderson captures well the internal political logic of bad decisions.
Overall, this is a thorough and well-contextualized book that puts a lot of meat onto the bare bones of high-school history classes. Recommended for anyone interested in British colonial America.