1776 by David McCullough

David McCullough’s 1776 is a masterpiece of writing and historical study. 1776 continues McCullough’s string of excellent books.

The book generally covers the time period from when King George III addressed Parliament on the rebellion (October 1775) to the Continental Army’s victories at Princeton, New Jersey (January 1777). McCullough does not provide a blow-by-blow account of each battle, but he gives enough of a description of each battle in this time period to allow the reader to understand the reasons for why the battles ended as they did. He captures the desperation and courage that the Americans had in some of the darkest times of the war. For instance, McCullough describes George Washington’s daring raid to defeat the Hessians at Trenton as a gamble to provide the Americans with some type of victory.

In addition to the Americans’ will to never give up, McCullough explains that the Americans were often just plain lucky. A well-timed storm twice allowed Washington to lead the Continental Army out of the grips of the Recoats’ grasp, thus preventing the ending of the “Glorious Cause.”

McCullough’s strongest writing is in his excellent descriptions of the individuals who played pivotal roles during this time period. These individuals include King George III, General William Howe, General Nathaniel Greene, and General George Washington. His portrayals of these individuals are balanced and fair. For instance, many historians have portrayed King George as a bumbling idiot, but McCullough describes him in a softer light – as an intelligent ruler who believes that his American subjects have no cause for rebelling.

McCullough thoroughly captures the feelings and beliefs of both sides. He interweaves his narrative with excerpts from letters and diaries of the participants. He frequently quotes Washington in his letters to various individuals. In addition to providing quotes from the major historical figures, he often cites common soldiers from both sides. He frequently quotes Lieutenant Jabez Fitch, an officer from Connecticut, who spoke plainly of the experiences of the Continental Army in the early stages of the war.

In short, 1776 is an instant classic.

1 Comment

  1. What’s interesting, Kevin, is the Dr. McC is allowed some type of authority by the media. Revisionist history rules in Academia. If you don’t de construct/you aren’t published: is my amateur understanding of the current climate. Stephen Ambrose in a late (CSPAN) interview revealed that many historians today write for other historians. It is good to have these two historians–McCullough and Ambrose– who will write/have written for the people.

    Older Americans blessedly had the Childhood of Famous Americans series and Landmark Books as two of the sources of their American youthful education. How well and easily American history was taught. Our parents and teachers knew that a common understanding of our national past was essential to making us Americans.

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