Thursday, August 20, 2009


Title: 1776
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Nonfiction/History
Price: $11.47 (paperback on Amazon)
ISBN: 9780743226174

I should say, before I dig into the book itself, that it took me about a month and a half to finish this bugger (hence the two month gap between this entry and the last). Now, you don't necessarily have to use this piece of information as a guide for whether the book is good or not. I have a toddler at home, so finding time to sit and read (and really digest what I've read) is pretty difficult. That said, let's get on with it.
David McCullough's novel-like depiction of one of the most tumultuous years in America's Revolution, 1776, propels readers back in time to witness the actions and emotions of the Revolutions most dynamic and interesting characters. Most of us have had the basic run-down of the American Revolution went (we won, right?) and can even name a few key battles, but McCullough offers so much more. Through the use of letters and diary entries along with fairly interesting narration, the reader follows the plot of the war along with Washington, Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Cornwallis, General Howe and his brother, Admiral Howe, and many other soldiers, civillians, congress and parliament members coming from both sides of the conflict. It is the smooth use of letter and diary snippets that truly brings the book to life.

McCullough is also able to offer pieces of personal information that one may not have had through a basic knowledge of the Revolution and it's figures. When he offers small bits of information about King George's marriage and his love for farming, you are more ready to see that while the Americans had every right to feel as though they had been wronged, King George may just be more than a crazed tyrant, and that there were more politics involved than cruelty.

McCullough also writes a great deal about Washington and his love for his burgeoning new home, Mount Vernon, providing bits of letter from the General to his friend back in Virginia, over seeing the remodeling of the home. Washington would often go from discussing how the campaign was going to what kind of paint he wanted used in a particular room. Besides the glimpses into extraordinary men's ordinary goings-on, McCullough draws from the diaries and letters of unknown men, young men often farmers turned soldiers. These accounts of the war and what it was "really" like provide a human side that often isn't felt in a U.S. History class.
The other winning quality of the novel is the general easiness of the "plot". You don't have to be a huge history buff to get what's going on and to be interested. McCullough finds a way to make a story everyone knows the ending to intense.

My one complaint with the book were the occasional bouts of awkwardness in the writing. There would be times when I had to stop and reread a sentence or passage several times. The wording would not connect as clearly as it could. This made getting through the book as quickly as I'd like very difficult.

All in all, the book provided a unique look at a year in our country's history. By providing a personal side to the Revolutionary War and allowing a glimpse into the lives of our country's heroes, McCullough creates a vivid account of our country's birth and reminding us all of how truly lucky we are.

Comparable Reads: Not being one to read a lot of non-fiction, I can't think of anything that is comparable off the top of my head. McCullough has written several other historical books, including a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams (HBO made a mini-series based off the book).

Who this book is for: I think this book is for the average Joe who's taken some interest in his country's history. McCullough's style caters to a more broad audience, not just the history buffs who enjoy miring through complex and antiquated texts. Because McCullough breaks down what's happening instead of assuming we all paid attention in U.S. History, the book is more enjoyable and reads like a novel. It think it would also make an especially great read (at least parts of it) for a high school history class, or would even make a good example for a high school English class in how even non-fiction texts can have a voice and plot and don't have to be dry and boring.

Happy reading!