Some of the strongest passages in 1776 are the revealing and well-rounded portraits of the Georges on both sides of the Atlantic. King George III, so often portrayed as a bumbling, arrogant fool, is given a more thoughtful treatment by McCullough, who shows that the king considered the colonists to be petulant subjects without legitimate grievances--an attitude that led him to underestimate the will and capabilities of the Americans. At times he seems shocked that war was even necessary. The great Washington lives up to his considerable reputation in these pages, and McCullough relies on private correspondence to balance the man and the myth, revealing how deeply concerned Washington was about the Americans' chances for victory, despite his public optimism. Perhaps more than any other man, he realized how fortunate they were to merely survive the year, and he willingly lays the responsibility for their good fortune in the hands of God rather than his own. Enthralling and superbly written, 1776 is the work of a master historian. --Shawn Carkonen
The Other 1776
Mornings on Horseback
The Path Between the Seas
The Great Bridge
The Johnstown Flood
More Reading on the Revolution
The Great Improvisation by Stacy Schiff
Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Washington's General by Terry Golway
Iron Tears by Stanley Weintraub
Victory at Yorktown by Richard M. Ketchum
From Publishers Weekly
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I think that those Americans who read this book will, like me, feel more strongly patriotic and value more greatly the selflessness of those who fought for our country in its infancy. And I think that non-Americans who read it will better understand what it means to be an American, and hopefully see our country in a more favorable light. Yes, I realize that America has its problems, both currently and historically, and that we're certainly not beloved by everyone throughout the world, but it's nonetheless moving to at least try and perceive what we mean when we talk about the "American spirit": that feeling of unbounded liberty that allows us to truly pursue happiness. "1776" offers a path.
"The war was a longer, far more arduous, and more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate. By the time it ended, it had taken the lives of an estimated 25,000 Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population. In percentage of lives lost, it was the most costly war in American history, except for the Civil War"(Loc 4798)
The year 1775 closed with the British barricaded in Boston with the Colonists bottling them up. But King George had promised a new influx of troops and got help from Prussia. The invaders packed up from Boston and headed first north, then south to New York. The Colonists got there first but found it was indefensible given the enormous strength of the British fleet that dominated the waterways. The Americans lost battle throughout the year and eventually fled Long Island, then Manhattan and retreat through New Jersey to Delaware. It was on Christmas night 1776 that Washington took his army back across the Delaware River to win two battles and give the new country hope. But it would take another 7 or 8 years for war to end through a treaty in Paris after the victory in Yorktown.
Having read a few war histories now, I'm struck by how important it is for the leading generals to be so calm and resolute in the face of enormous pressures. The revolutionary army had to put up with low enlistments, poorly trained soldiers, lack of ammunition and other supplies; in short it was "a year of all-too-few victoreis, of sustained suffering, disease, huner, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear,... but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country" (Location 4800). I can barely imagine how George Washington handled all this.
War in the age of sails was a world apart from that of steam and engines. The British needed wind and tides in order to bring their ships up the waterways of New York. Certainly, there were weather conditions for D-Day in WWII; but machinery and other advances in technology changed the face of war. Also, the establishment of West Point, Annapolis, and the other military universities have been essential to America's abilities to fight and win wars.
A terrific read of this pivotal year in our country's history. I'm going to read the Oxford history of this period in the not too distant future. It is essential, I think, for us to know "what a close call it was at the beginning-how often circumstance, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made the difference - the outcome seemed little short of a miracle." (Loc 4808)
The book has a generous 32 pages of black-and-white as well as color illustrations. Mr. McCullough demonstrates how weather, lack of intelligence, chance, communication, supplies, recruitment efforts, and luck played important roles in the outcomes. I found it interesting and laughable how both sides kept declaring their victories or lucky breaks were God's will. George Washington is front and center in the book but the author also focuses on others who have been lost to history except to the most avid history buffs. On the American side, such important figures as Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and Joseph Reed are given credit for their efforts. On the British side, the central figure is General William Howe. '1776' avoids myth building by explaining in detail the condition of the troops, Loyalist who hoped Washington and his small ragtag army would be defeated, military successes and blunders, the states' reluctance to risk their troops on what many viewed as a lost cause, acts of courage as well as cowardice, and horrible acts done by both sides.
Great history makes an effort of giving an accurate representation of what was and not what people wish it to be. The United States is no different than any other country in trying to whitewash uncomfortable aspects of our past. Politicians and demagogues are especially zealous at spreading the patriotic manure of our country’s complete moral purity. Mr. McCullough is a necessary corrective to their jingoistic bilge. He is one of those historians who not only tells a compelling story but shows our past's successes, failures, and mixed results. '1776' only covers one year but what a year it was. The reader will conclude the book truly understanding how close we were to remaining under British rule.