David McCullough is an acclaimed American historian who has been awarded the Pulitzer Prise for his biography of John Adams. I decided to read 1776 because I wanted to learn more about the American Revolution. I know absolutely nothing about it – except of course that it happened but the exact history behind it, I am clueless.
1776 puts you in middle of the battle. It does not provide a grounding for the context – why the war came to pass or the leading men who played important parts leading up to the war and independence. Now I want to read more about John Adams, about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine, even George III. I want to read more about American presidents, more than I have ever done before.
In 1776 the war between the American Rebels and the British set it’s path. I never knew how long the war went on – until 1783. This book only covers the end of 1775 and the whole of 1776, a defining year in America’s stride towards independence and becoming the USA we now know.
For much of the year, Washington and his messy bunch faffed around and got chased left right and centre by the British, who were greater in number and more experienced in the arts of war. Whereas the patriot Americans were to begin with an untidy rabble with very little order to them whatsoever.
The lack of order was very much to Washington’s dislike – he wanted everything to be just so. Yet he had to fight a lot more then just the British – dispirited troops, lack of gun power, inexperienced officers and lack of spirit. After so many defeats morale seemed continually low.
Yet Washington believed in independence and wished to fight for it. He persevered and although he made a few mistakes along the way he came up trumps at the end in the most amazing turn that altered the course of history.
I would like to know more what happened before and what happened next. 1776 is a very comprehensive of the year in question, but lacks a greater sense of foundation.
The way McCullough writes he puts you the reader there, riding next to George Washington, peeping over his shoulder as he writes home to his wife, brother or friends. He alternates between worry, hope and instructions about renovating his house back at home.
He puts you beside Knox, Greene and Reed – Washington’s loyal friends, and amongst others like John Greenwood, a young fifer from Boston who walks amongst the ranks of men. You also travel beside Howe, Grant and Cornwallis from the English side, peering over their shoulders and seeing the battles from their point of view.
McCullough uses letters and accounts written during the time to bring the year to life – describing everything from the weather to the colour of the sky on a fresh winter morning. It gives life to history, although perhaps the more serious and more well-read history reader would find such details trivial.
The only thing that did annoy me and only to begin with, is McCullough’s rather excessive use of parenthesis. I imagine it is how he talks – slow and precise as if he is telling you an important story which you must must to. I soon forgot about this slight complaint and became captivated by McCullough’s accessible style of writing. He is not one of these non-fiction authors who mumbles into their beards and he makes this history seem real and interesting. I’m definitely wanting to read more books he has written, no matter what they are about.
Now I am a little less ignorant of American history than I was before starting this book. I also have an interest growing within me that wants to know more.