Book Review: 1776

Everyone who’s paid even half-hearted attention to my book reviews knows that I tend to study The Age of Jackson with something of a vengeance. As I was reading Remini’s John Quincy Adams, I realized something else: the folks of the 1820’s talking about the Revolution is like us talking about Vietnam. It was recent enough to be relevant to them. It was about some of their parents or – in the case of Jackson – about them, as well.

To understand The Age of Jackson, I’m taking a short trip back further in time and looking at the American Revolution.

The Book

Author: David McCullough
4th July, 2006 (had to put the full date because lol)
Amazon Link

Ok, spoiler alert: I bought this book for myself as a high school graduation present. I’d already read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex because a teacher at school had loaned them to me, but I hadn’t read Meacham’s American Lion because it hadn’t come out yet (and, by the time it had, I was knee-deep in the Remini trilogy that I love). So I bought this instead.

So I know I enjoy it, but I also remember it not being terribly exciting. Let’s see if my opinions have changed!

A Spoiler-ific Review Because You Know We Won The War

This book was about as “Ok” as I remember it being just before college. It’s detailed and contains a lot of information about the first year of the Revolution and the battles carried out therein. It is not politically focused and only goes into political detail inasmuch as it affects the war efforts. For instance, it talks about politics when Congress whimps out and there’s a troop shortage, or the Declarations stiffens resolve.

Even so, there was so little tension in the book. When I’m reading a book about a war, I want to feel like there’s something to be won or lost. By ignoring a significant amount of the political element of the Revolution, the war feels somewhat empty. I am a pretty big fan of America and American history, but somehow this book didn’t give me enough reason to root for the underdog colonials as I read. Washington and his underlings would sometimes call their losses (a.k.a. DEAD SOLDIERS) “inconsiderable” and would lead their men, repeatedly, into stupid, stupid conditions. I didn’t like the presentation of Washington well enough to feel into rooting for him.

Part of what was very good about other battle-focused history books I’ve read are the introductions to the main players. Remini’s Battle of New Orleans (for a review, check my Goodreads!), for example, does a great job explaining who Packenham (the British leader) was, and Foote does an INCREDIBLE job explaining the myriad faces in his Civil War series. These introductions do a great job drawing you into the narrative and making the tension greater. McCullough doesn’t do that well and, instead, seems to depend on the reader already knowing a certain amount of information. While he explains some about Knox and Greene, the majority of the book doesn’t really involve them and Greene is often just sick.

Another problem I had with this was the focus on American viewpoints. There were moments wherein he looked at the British side, but there wasn’t enough attention paid to personal accounts of the British for emotional connection to occur. The commanders of the British forces were portrayed (perhaps accurately) as pompous assholes, and the lack of balance to that made the British army seem like an unreal, almost monstrous force. I wasn’t a fan of that, and I am not familiar with another war book that gave me the same feeling.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I read Union 1812, a book about the War of 1812!

6 thoughts on “Book Review: 1776

  1. Berthold Gambrel says:

    I think I have this book somewhere, but I’ve never read it. I’m fascinated by the Revolutionary period, but somehow this one has never grabbed me. I loved Jeff Shaara’s historical novels about the Revolution; I think those were where I got my “big picture” understanding of the war. That and watching “Liberty’s Kids” haha 🙂

  2. Peter Martuneac says:

    Too bad this one was a bit of a let-down. It can definitely be difficult to draw in readers on a topic so distant, especially when the main players are such colossal historical figures that they’ve become more granite statues than flesh and blood humans.

    It’s also difficult to understand just how badly the American forces were underdogs in that war, looking at it 250 years later. Even in the moments of their greatest triumphs, hope almost immediately evaporated due to either politics or the English seizing a victory soon afterwards. It was like the Americans would expend insane amounts of energy, manpower, and material to eke out a victory that felt to them like it should be a decisive blow, but to the English it was only a minor setback. How do you keep going on in the face of that? When your mightiest efforts avail you so little?

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I know just enough about the Revolutionary period to be able to identify the REALLY big names, but I just thought 1776 relied on you already having something of a better knowledge of the prerequisites than I had.

      And you’re right about Americans being the underdogs. I remember reading somewhere (so it must be true, eh?) that the Revolution was second only to the Civil War in terms of % of the population killed during the war, and it seems like it was probably much more harrowing than most people today realize. At the same time, McCullough’s focus didn’t really show me anything that made me connect with any of the people or personalities. However, now that I’ve read Chernow’s “Washington: A Life”, I think I may be able to read 1776 and get more out of it. That being said, *I have to want to re-read it* and that’s not usually something I’m about.

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