Gary Hoggatt's Reviews > 1776

1776 by David McCullough
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's review
Apr 17, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, all-non-fiction, audiobooks, american-revolution-era, history-bio-18th-century
Read in January, 2012

The American Revolution is one of the most written about periods for popular history, and with good cause. It's a tale of a scrappy underdog defying the mighty empire, with lots of ups and down, and the good guys win in the end (at least, if you're on this side of the Atlantic). No single year of the war embodies that more than 1776, which is why David McCullough's well-told 2005 history 1776 is such an enjoyable volume.

1776 follows the trials of the Continental Army in that crucial year as they face the British and Hessian forces arrayed against them. There are occasional missives between General George Washington and leaders of the Continental Congress, and the army takes a brief pause to celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but otherwise, politics is in the background, and the military action is center stage.

Washington, of course, is a major focus of this book. His command of the army, especially when things went poorly, is pivotal to the narrative. However, McCullough does a great job of incorporating other perspectives. Major American commanders such as Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and Charles Lee receive plenty of attention, as do British commanders such as William Howe, Henry Clinton, and Charles Cornwallis.

Refreshingly, McCullough also includes quite a bit from the regular soldiers, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. Foremost among these is Joseph Plumb Martin, who published his memoirs in 1830. I've had Martin's narrative in my reading stack for a while, but I believe I'll be bumping it towards the top after the preview I had in 1776.

As for the action of the war, 1776 covers three major battles. Early in the year, we start with the American victory in the siege at Boston. In late summer, the Continental Army is humbled as they make several retreats from the British and are forced to abandon New York after poor moves on Washington's part. The year ends on a high note for the Continental Army, though, as Washington leads the daring crossing of the Delaware River to defeat the Hessians at Trenton and restore American momentum and morale.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook, read by McCullough himself. I was a bit surprised to find the author reading his own eleven and a half hour unabridged work, as it's not the norm. But McCullough, with his grandfatherly voice, does a good job of describing the action and bringing the history to life. His reading definitely brought a personal touch to the book.

I was very impressed with 1776, and enjoyed McCullough's writing. I definitely plan to read more from him, particularly his Pulitzer Prize winning biographies, John Adams and Truman. I recommend 1776 to anyone interested in the American Revolution.

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