Sunday, March 28, 2010

O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

Book23: "1776" by David McCullough

Disclaimer: This review was written in a USO in Kuwait during my redeployment back to the US from Afghanistan. It may not be a good one.

"1776" by David McCullough is a historical book written about the year 1776 during the American Revolution. The book focuses on the military aspects of the revolution during that year, the battles at Dorchester Heights, Long Island, and Trenton, as well as the military chain of command for both the Continental and British Army. McCullough does delve a little bit into politics of the American Revolution, but those areas are mostly left in the background (i.e. Continental Congress, Declaration of Independence).

The best thing about the book is that McCullough delivers the history as a story. Most Americans know about the history and the situations of the American Revolution (hopefully), and therefore, it could have been very easy to bore someone who doesn't have a vast interest in history with the material, but McCullough doesn't fall into that trap. I didn't find the "story telling" dry at all as I have experienced with other historical books; he was able to keep the book moving through each event and battle without dragging it down with uninteresting facts. Another reason I thought the book moved well was because of the inclusion of the personal histories of the men in charge of each military. People familiar with the American Revolution (or just America in general) know about George Washington, and some may even be familiar with General Cornwallis of the British. McCullough does place emphasis on Washington, but the entire book does not revolve around Washington. The reader is given a significant dose of the other commanders who were heavily involved including General Howe, Nathanael Green, Henry Knox, and others. McCullough provides the reader with a history for each man, allowing the reader to see where each came from and how he arrived at his station, so that we may better understand their motivations and rationale as they moved through the war.

Another positive aspect of the book is that I didn't think it was biased towards either side. I always think of the quote, "History is written by the winners," but I think McCullough fairly portrayed both sides of the war. He didn't cast Washington as a better and more competent field general than Howe; in fact, he recalled a number of times when Washington's indecisiveness cost the Continental Army. McCullough showed where the American forces were brilliant, where they were lucky, and where they were terrible examples of human beings, and he did the same for the British/Hessian army (i.e. both sides ransacked towns that they inhabited). The only time I felt biased while reading the book was when McCullough painted the American army as the rough, ragged, grass roots under dog army in comparison to the more refined and well-trained British army. It's not a fault of McCullough; the American army really was the heavy under dog when compared to the British army, who was the greatest military force (Army and Navy) during that time. I just think that (maybe because OF the American Revolution) Americans are biased towards liking the under dogs. We always seem to cheer for the guy who wasn't given everything, but perseveres against the odds because of his craftiness, his will power, and/or his luck. Maybe it's inherent in our patriotism because our nation was founded under that pretense.

While I do enjoy history, particularly military history, I do not read a lot of history books because I find most of the writing bland and dull. In "1776" (and possibly his other books?), David McCullough is able to break that mold and take the history and the facts and present it so that the book reads less like history and more like a good story, making the book a great read.

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