1776

by David G. McCullough

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Simon & Schuster, c2005.

Description

Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known. But it is the American commander-in-chief who stands foremost -- Washington, who had never before led an army in battle.

Media reviews

In his exhaustively researched and highly accessible new book, "1776," best-selling historian David McCullough (two-time Pulitzer winner for "John Adams" and "Truman") follows the Continental Army through a single, fateful year, one filled with surprise victories, stunning reversals, perilous midnight retreats and pure, grind-it-out perseverance. It's a story filled with drama, and McCullough shows himself once again to be among our nation's great storytellers.
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In his new book, ''1776,'' David McCullough brings to bear on this momentous year the narrative gifts he's demonstrated in such absorbing histories as ''The Great Bridge'' and ''The Path Between the Seas.'' As a history of the American Revolution, it is an oddly truncated volume: pivotal developments leading to the revolution like the Stamp Act, which happen to fall outside the perimeters of Mr. McCullough's rigid time frame, are not examined, and subsequent installments of the war (which would continue on after the Trenton-Princeton campaign for another half-dozen harrowing years) are ignored as well.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tcarterva
What a wonderful book. It’s with some reluctance, however, that I give it only three stars.
McCullough’s narrative is second to none, and his research is typically on top of his game. I’ve been a fan of his since the first book of his that I read, “The Path Between the Seas.”

The problem with “1776,” though, is not its narrative or facts. Its problem is that much of the book deals with General Washington’s military campaigns in 1776, yet lacks any maps other than some color photographs of British maps. These maps were useful to the British, but useless to readers in modern times.

McCullough obviously wrote his book with the aid of maps, as he goes to great pains at times to describe movements, maneuvers, topography, geography and terrain: rivers, creeks, plains, heights, gullies, neighborhoods and even streets. Yet, for some odd reason he and his publisher denied his readers of the same aids, rendering his descriptions as essentially useless—worse actually: frustrating and distracting.

If you can get that behind you, you will enjoy the book immensely but be deprived of depth and understanding of the brilliant maneuvers and disastrous blunders committed in every the military campaigns. You will not grasp the complexity and daunting challenges each side of these conflicts faced, or context and scale.

What is so baffling to me about this is that six to eight simple maps could have overcome this. Instead, we are given illustrations and photographs of things or people, some of which are marginally or completely useless.

You can do better in reading about the military campaigns of 1776 with books that contain appropriate maps, including the Pulitzer-prize winning, "Washington's Crossing." But, McCullough still wonderfully captured something special in his book: Washington’s humanity, failings, indomitable character, perseverance, belief and ultimate triumph on behalf of his country. You learn of those who faithfully served him through victory, defeat and setbacks; of those who betrayed him; of shifting loyalties based on news from the battlefields; and of a base of believers who depended on Washington to deliver what the Declaration of Independence promised, namely, freedom.

Let me conclude by saying that I just finished this book today and cannot move on to my next one. McCullough’s “1776” has given me pause, moved and forced me to stop and ponder the wonderful character and leadership of George Washington, and to stand in awe of the several thousand beleaguered troops who stuck with him under imaginably harsh conditions. They, together, delivered on the promise in the closing line of the Declaration of Independence: “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
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LibraryThing member wildbill
This is primarily a military history of what was an up and down year for the Continental Army. David McCullough has done a very good job of portraying the events of the year in a concise fashion. While the events are discussed thoroughly the book is more about the people than the action. I got lucky and got the revised illustrated edition. The illustrations are very good and add to the book particularly all of the portraits.
McCullough brings George Washington front and center as the dominating personage of the story. That position is not the result of any conscious attempt by McCullough to amplify the importance of Washington. When you look at the facts we know about that era Washington simply stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Even when his skill as a general was found wanting his character and drive more than made up for it.
McCullough gave ample space to everyone involved. I felt he did a better job than most American writers in the way he treated with the British in this book. I learned at least as much or more about them because they often get short shrift in histories of this eventful year.
McCullough shows excellent command of the source material and makes very good use of primary sources. From short quotations sprinkled through the text to one-half page inset quotes he brings the story of that era in the words of the men who lived through it. The text itself is excellent literature that helps to make the book a quick read.
The combination of staying close to the facts as they occurred minute to minute and excellent writing is for me the hallmark of good history writing. The author has refined his craft and reading this book was an enjoyable experience.
At the time he wrote this book McCullough had won two Pulitzers and two National Book Awards. There is a hint in the style of his writing that the author expects his work to be cited as an authoritative text. At this stage in his career he should be allowed a bit of dusting off his legend and McCullough at times takes advantage of his prestige. It does not detract from his writing if anything he makes sure that the whole book is worthy of his reputation.
This book had a somewhat slower pace than Washington's Crossing where the emphasis tilted toward the action of the events. I thought that both books worth equally worthwhile. I can only go to a four and one-half stars but five is reserved for the great and this book while not great was excellent. The concise treatment of the topic, the emphasis on the stories of the people involved and the literary style of writing make it easy for me to recommend this book to those who do not ordinarily read history.
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LibraryThing member read.to.live
I thought this book would be about everything that happened in 1776; instead it focuses on the activities of the Continental Army in 1776. 1776 is still a fine title, when you consider that everything Americans hold dear about that year would never have come to fruition without the efforts of George Washington, his generals, and his soldiers. I would have appreciated either a subtitle or preface, however, to set my expectations.

I found this book to be impossible to follow, on first reading, because I did not have a deep enough understanding of the Revolutionary War to understand the context. Then, when I came back to it after reading Chernow's Washington biography, I was able to follow it, but found it didn't add much information to what was in Chernow. However, Chernow's book came out five years after McCullough's, and when I went back to the relevant chapter in Chernow I found that 1776 was heavily cited in the footnotes. So a lot of 1776 might have been original when it first came out.

Overall, I would say the Chernow biography is a must-read, and that 1776 adds some color. McCullough does have more of a flair for the dramatic. I would have given 1776 5 stars except I found that the lack of maps was a huge drawback to following the battles.
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LibraryThing member cmc
McCullough covers the battles of 1776 in detail, showing the strengths and weaknesses of both the American and British sides. But 1776 is very much about the war and not the politics—if you’re hoping for insights into the Continental Congress and the ideas and debate that went into the creation of the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, 1776 is not the book for you.

It is, however, yet another book that fills in the background of the simple stories taught in American grade schools. We all know that America “won the war” and became an independent country, but most people probably imagine that the war was, by and large, a success, and that it was a success because of Washington’s brilliant leadership and the dedication of his loyal troops. McCullough shows us that the reality of the situation could hardly have been more different.

Washington was inexperienced and made numerous blunders, many of which could have led directly to defeat of not only his army, but of the whole cause. Without the input and guidance provided by his more experienced or educated generals, the war could have ended differently.

The majority of American troops were a ragtag band of uneducated, poorly drilled, ill-disciplined, and badly armed men who were reluctant to join the army in the first place, often deserted or crossed the lines to surrender or change sides when times were tough, and often fought poorly. Some of the blame can be laid on their officers, often more concerned about being reelected than imposing military discipline, and usually lacking in any military training or experience themselves.

Through luck, hard work, and bravery on the part of some of the troops, military strategies informed by some of the high-ranking American officers, and Washington’s ability to create an image of himself as a superb leader, the American army was able to hold its own against the British, at least enough to make the British decide that the costs required to defeat them were not, in the end, worth paying.
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LibraryThing member elbakerone
A true master of dramatic nonfiction, David McCullough recounts climactic events of the Revolutionary War through varying perspectives. Relying heavily on primary sources such as letters and council notes, history unfolds humanistically under McCullough's artful pen. American heroes such as Washington, Knox and Greene - as well their British rivals - come alive as never before. 1776 is the first David McCullough book I have read but it will not be the last.… (more)
LibraryThing member grannynani
An engaging history that reads almost like a novel. Mr. McCullough uses the words of the people who took part in the events of the day to add richness and texture to the many events that unfolded during the first year of the American Revolution. We watch George Washington learn and develop the judgement and confidence that gave him the strength to stay throughout the war.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
This history of a pivotal year in American history actually covers a time span from mid-1775 through the first week of January, 1777. The writing style and layout of the book make it accessible to a general audience, yet there is plenty of meat for subject specialists. McCullough makes extensive use of primary sources such as letters and diaries of participants on both sides of the war. The note on sources will provide interested readers with plenty of material for further study. My only quibble is that I would have liked the end note reference numbers included in the text.

In the course of reading the book, I developed an affection for Henry Knox, the Boston bookseller whose extensive study of military books, with a particular focus on artillery, led to his appointment to command of the artillery. In his military service, Knox embodied traits that many regard as part of the American national character: ingenuity, industry, optimism, and loyalty. I had never thought too much about where my city (Knoxville) got its name, and I'm glad to have discovered that it is named after someone who played such a vital role in the establishment of the nation.

Highly recommended for all readers of U.S. history.
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LibraryThing member Zommbie1
The American Revolution is not a time period with which I am familiar. I grew up in Sweden and we just did not study it. I have studied American history after the Civil War when I was in the states but the period before...nothing. All the names and places are familiar but to me the American Revolution was summarised like this in my brain: "Washington was the general. The other dudes sat in Philadelphia. The Americans won. Bye bye British! Yeah Declaration of Independence. The End". Yeah, I needed more. Someone suggested that David McCulloughs books were perfect and I have to say they were right.

He finds a good balance between the military history (NOT my thing) and a narrative around the important characters in the war. They are all presented in a sympathetic manner, even King George III. I found the geography easy to follow along in. He to time to explain the distances and the difficulties involved in getting to the different battlefields. I liked how he vowe in personal recollections of those that where there, down to the lowliest soldier. It made it feel like a history of people not just jerking from battlefield to battlefield.

The book was read by the author and for me this added a more personal touch to the readings. You could tell that he knew the material well and was invested in telling it well. I felt like he was reading it to me. Not some far off mass of people who knew about the material already.

I will want to listen to it again because there are bits that I have missed because something happened and I didn't hear it properly or it just didn't make sense. But that is no hardship at all.
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LibraryThing member cfink
This is a history book that truly reads like a novel. Since you know who actually wins the Revolutionary war, I can't spoil the ending. But I will say that for the majority of the book, you thinking your history is wrong!

Starting with the successful siege of Boston, the book follows the war from Washington's arrival in New York, along his long retreat through New Jersey, and culminating in his triumphant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night. By the time the Continental army triumphs at Trenton, you feel as if you have suffered the battle failures and hardships of the year. You'll be cheering them on, Washington and his troops, routing for a big win.

A great book and a great reminder of how much was sacrificed for our freedom and the Great American Cause.
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LibraryThing member tiff18
A fascinating look at the single year in American history. While not quite as in-depth as McCullough's fascinating biography of John Adams, this is both extremely informative and fun to read. For those of us who tend to like fiction better than non-, this reads very much like a fictional story. I was left wanting 1777, 1778, and so on. And there are plenty of footnotes and other supporting information, which adds credibility. Read it, and you'll get a good story, and get better informed, all the while looking very cultured and sophisticated. :)… (more)
LibraryThing member SharonGoforth
1776 is a non-fiction, historical narrative of the military events of the year 1776 in America, whose colonies were struggling to gain independence from England.

A page-turner from beginning to end, 1776 is a highly readable account of the seemingly insurmountable difficulties George Washington faced while in charge of conducting a war with insufficient numbers of troops, lack of supplies, and without the full support of the people he was trying to liberate. McCullough reveals a very human George Washington, not the idolic god he is often made out to be. He also introduces other key figures of Washington's staff that were crucial to Washington's success as a commander. We meet Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, two young, literary men (Knox was a book seller) who had no military experience at all but proved to be intelligent strategists and, ultimately, a godsend. We also meet the eccentric and egotistical Charles Lee, the only officer with any prior battle experience (including Washington). By no means is 1776 one-sided. McCullough gives equal time to key players in the British military, the Hessians (mercenaries), and the loyalists(or Tories).

In McCullough's recounting of these events, we witness the miraculous, horrific, and very human sides of this conflict. What comes through is Washington's brilliance as a leader not because of military genius (he was at times but as often was not) but because of his perserverance, tenacity and belief in what he was doing.
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LibraryThing member Stormrose
12/20.

Oh, McCullough, how I do love thee. Another great book by you, who illuminates the characters and the plot of the American revolution (one of my favorite periods of history). What is most striking about this book is how much Americans sucked at the beginning of the war - how many disasters they faced, how terrible the army was, and above all, how George Washington somehow managed to pull the whole thing together. The fact that he didn't commit suicide halfway through the year is amazing. The Continental Congress was ready to replace him: thank god they didn't.
This reads like a thriller: thanks to judicious use of first person accounts, we really feel like we're in mosquito-filled New York, waiting for the armada to arrive, and it keeps the pages turning. I was extremely angry when it ended - I wanted to read more! Always a good sign.
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LibraryThing member mrminjares
Like all of McCollough's books, this one is a great story. It focuses on the start of the revolutionary war and covers the great battles of 1776. We learn that Washington was an inspiring but an aloof general at first, watching battles from a distance and living in posh mansions. He was incredibly lucky to have Henry Knox come up with and follow through on an idea to re-capture Boston from the British. The luck of the army ended in New York when several awful defeats by the British brought the Americans to their knees. They fled south through New Jersey and nearly were defeated that first year until Washington, perhaps seeing the end near, takes incredible risks to lead the Army himself in battle and surprise the British during the dead of winter when they least expected it. The war continued for several more years, but 1776 was the decisive year that taught Washington how to lead and convinced then nation it could wage war against the greatest power on Earth.… (more)
LibraryThing member whigparty
The reseach that is done for this book can only be described as amazing. Primary resources seem to be the only things to ever be quoted in this book. A must read for anyone fascinated by George Washington or even American history in general.
LibraryThing member verhulst
Esteemed historian David McCullough covers the military side of the momentous year of 1776 with characteristic insight and a gripping narrative, adding new scholarship and a fresh perspective to the beginning of the American Revolution. It was a turbulent and confusing time. As British and American politicians struggled to reach a compromise, events on the ground escalated until war was inevitable. McCullough writes vividly about the dismal conditions that troops on both sides had to endure, including an unusually harsh winter, and the role that luck and the whims of the weather played in helping the colonial forces hold off the world's greatest army. He also effectively explores the importance of motivation and troop morale--a tie was as good as a win to the Americans, while anything short of overwhelming victory was disheartening to the British, who expected a swift end to the war. The redcoat retreat from Boston, for example, was particularly humiliating for the British, while the minor American victory at Trenton was magnified despite its limited strategic importance.

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
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
I can't wait for 1777.
LibraryThing member clif_hiker
accessible, readable, inspirational are all good words to describe this book. I enjoyed learning the details of the early years of the war, and was amazed at how thin the thread was between victory and defeat early on. True heroes include Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene, along with George Washington of course. Highly recommended to anyone at all interested the history of the United States...… (more)
LibraryThing member VickyKaseorg
Every thing by David McCullough is well researched, and beautifully written. I love how he makes history come alive by delving so deeply into the characters, and everything that leads up to the decisions they make. The courage and moral strength of our founding fathers is beautifully captured as in all his books.
LibraryThing member pescatello
Really enjoyed this book. Had no idea about the details surrounding The Revolutionary War. It's also interesting to hear about George Washington. Even though everyone pretty much considers him to be the bomb now, i had no idea that he had no idea what he was doing and almost f'd it all up.

A great read though.
LibraryThing member dichosa
A wonderful read that was hard to put down. It is the telling of a part of U.S. history that usually is relegated to just a series of dates. Who says history is dry, boring, and hard to relate to! McCullough shows the struggles that Washington had to deal with and the miracles that continued to 'save' beleaguered troops from complete defeat.… (more)
LibraryThing member dichosa
A wonderful read that was hard to put down. It is the telling of a part of U.S. history that usually is relegated to just a series of dates. Who says history is dry, boring, and hard to relate to! McCullough shows the struggles that Washington had to deal with and the miracles that continued to 'save' beleaguered troops from complete defeat.… (more)
LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a great book by an amazing author. The military is focused on more than the political so if you were hoping to read about the political side of things in 1776, then this is not for you. I am not much of a military person but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McCullough is a fantastic historian and writer.
LibraryThing member cmbohn
I heard so many things about this book, and I was really looking forward to reading it. So here's my take.

Pros:

The opening. Every other Revolutionary War book starts with the Americans. This one started with the British. There was some great stuff in there I'd never read before, and I really enjoyed the reminder that this was a war with TWO sides.

The information. Lots of good stuff in there, thoroughly researched.

Cons:

A little too much information. Get to the action already!

The layout. There were 2 or 3 sections of pictures and maps and that was it.

No maps. Maybe it's just me, but I have trouble following the action of a battle. A map right where the battle is being described is much more helpful than if I have to turn back to look at it. There actually were 2 maps, both drawn at the time and almost impossible to read. Not helpful.

In summary, I compared this with Washington's Crossing which I read this year and I found 1776 lacking. I wasn't as motivated to pick it up and keep reading. Still, I'm glad I read it. But if you wanted to read a book on the subject, I would recommend Washington's Crossing and not this one.
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LibraryThing member dichosa
A wonderful read that was hard to put down. It is the telling of a part of U.S. history that usually is relegated to just a series of dates. Who says history is dry, boring, and hard to relate to! McCullough shows the struggles that Washington had to deal with and the miracles that continued to 'save' beleaguered troops from complete defeat.… (more)
LibraryThing member runaway84
McCullough does a great job in 1776 in dispelling the myths of both the Continental and British army during the starting months and year of The American Revolution.

A great thing about a book like this, is the names of the brave men who have essentially been lost over time. Sure we know all about General Washington, but what about Joseph Reed, General Nathanael Green (Washington's favorite general), General Henry Knox, John Sullivan, Lord Stirling and others? In 1776 we learn how these inexperienced men kept the army together while in dire straights, while morale was down. The fact that there was even an army left at the end of 1776 when Washington, along with Greene, Sullivan and Stirling, led them to an unexpected attack and victory at Trenton and onto another victory at Princeton before the year was over, was remarkable.

Some amazing things happened after these victories:

Morale was up. Soldiers who were about to leave at the start of the year, instead stayed, realizing they were fighting for their futures. And the British had a grudgingly new respect for the Americans. One cavalry officer wrote: ...the fashion in this army to treat them in the most contemptible light, they are now become a formidable enemy.

McCullough perfectly captures the ups and downs of the Continental/American army: Sickness, devastating blunders, desertion, loyalty and victory.

This is the perfect account of the men who fought on both sides for the battle for America in the beginning months. Thoroughly researched and exquisitely told, this is the starting point for knowledge of The American Revolution.
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