Monday, August 21, 2006
I found this history a lot less gripping than McCullough's previous book, John Adams. Still, it had interesting details that helped me picture the beginning of the War of Independence much more vividly. For example, the ragtag nature of the "continental army," described through first-hand accounts, was revealing. Also, the importance of disease as a condition of war but also a potential weapon -- refugees sent across the American lines by the British were isolated because of the fear of smallpox -- was surprising. The history centers on George Washington, and McCullough does not question first-hand accounts that are particularly glowing toward the general. He credits him with the ability to "see things as they are, not as how we wish them to be," which helped him make critical decisions that allowed the American army to survive a brutal first year of combat. Other than a clear contrast between the status of King George III and the head of the continental army, the book does not address the political nature of the revolution. Both Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence are mentioned, but the declaration is given little weight in the history, while the impact of Common Sense is more acknowledged than delved into. 1776 is primarily a military history, and it adds very important detail to the account of the revolutionary war, while also balancing the scales a little bit to the side of the British, who are definitely not painted as incompetent blunderers in this account. It is a worthwhile book, but not quite as well-told as McCullough's account of John Adams' life, which is interesting and fresh at every turn.