1776

1776 - David McCullough This is my second book by David McCullough (the first was The Path Between the Seas, about the building of the Panama Canal). He is fast becoming a favorite. I love his way with history. I don't detect any ideological hobbyhorse with him; he could be a Democrat or a Republican as far as I could tell. He built my trust in several ways. There are extensive notes and listing of sources in the back, and from both that--and the content of the book itself, I can't help but be impressed with the breadth of his research. This account of the first year of the American Revolutionary War is studded with quotations from letters, diaries and reports from all sides and all ranks of the war: the British and the Hessians as well the Americans, and not just Generals but privates. And McCullough isn't afraid to evaluate the reliability of his sources, letting us know if this is likely legend or propaganda or fits with the known character of the man involved. Moreover he's a great storyteller, and the book fascinated me from beginning to end--and he had a great story to tell. In his conclusion he observed that: The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget. In the past year I've read biographies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Certainly aspects of this story were familiar to me, but the focus on one man in the course of a lifetime doesn't allow for a lot of the details of events and different personalities to come through as they did here. George Washington, as in the biography by Flexner, impressed, but this book also allowed such figures as his officers Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox to be given their due. And as a native New Yorker and life-long resident, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the picture of New York City during the revolutionary period and how so many familiar landmarks figured in the story. Anyone who finds American history interesting should find this greatly enjoyable.