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Review: 1776 by David McCullough

by David McCullough

In 1776, America went to war with the British to gain its independence. Led by General George Washington, who had never actually led an army in battle, the ragtag colonial troops were composed of men from all walks of life. Throughout the year, as one battle followed another, the Americans enjoyed incredible luck and suffered terrible blows in their efforts against the British army. In painstaking detail, historian David McCullough chronicles the first year of the American Revolution from the perspective of both the American and the British perspectives, and how close the revolution came to failing during that critical period.

This is an intensely focused book. I thought it would talk rather generally about life in America in 1776, but the narrative is strictly interested in the war effort. Individual stories are told, with fragments of letters written by George Washington, at the top of the command chain, to humble soldiers who were farmers and schoolteachers – but everything ultimately relates back to the war in some way. Events from earlier years, like the Stamp Act, are not mentioned because they fall outside the realm of 1776. Likewise, to learn about the war in later years the reader must look to other sources. (Spoiler: America officially gained its independence in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.) But if the reader wants to know about pivotal confrontations like the Battle of Dorchester Heights, the Battle of Long Island and the Battle of Trenton – well, it's all here.

Military detail abounds; political events are somewhat glossed over. Considering 1776 was written as a companion to McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning John Adams, I guess that isn't a surprise. But with so much of the war's context removed from the narrative, the book assumes a fair amount of prior knowledge about the American Revolution. I think that for most Americans, who (theoretically) have been drilled in the war both in 8th and 11th grade, there is enough background to support this assumption, but I would imagine the book could be quite confusing for a reader new to the subject, especially if he or she didn't grow up in the United States.

I listened to this as an audio book, and in retrospect I don't think this was the best way to approach McCullough's work. I would have benefited immensely from a few maps, especially when he was describing the battles themselves. As it was, the reading was a bit dry and I listened to a couple of passages multiple times because I noticed I was starting to tune the narrator (the author himself) out, though I really tried to pay attention.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about 1776, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Sailor Moon Vol. 6 by Naoko Takeuchi
2011: The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson #5) by Rick Riordan
2010: Photos: 20 Brilliant Bookshelves
2009: Contest #10 Winner!
2008: BBAW: Kiva.org Giveaway


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