Monday, November 08, 2010

David McCullough Takes Readers on a Stirring Adventure in 1776

The most important year in American history is 1776. Few can credibly dispute that statement, since 1776 is the year that the United States of America was officially created and the year its budding independence hung precariously in the balance. It was the year that the Second Continental Congress, driven by the able leadership of statesmen such as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, formally severed ties with the British Empire and, thanks to the eloquent pen of Thomas Jefferson, articulated the principles upon which the United States would be established. Yet this assertion of independence, with all its grandiloquent references to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" could easily have been snuffed out, were it not for the courage and perseverance of George Washington and the sacrifice and dedication of the Continental Army.

McCullough's book opens by showing King George III's stubborn refusal to heed colonial grievances. McCullough doesn't portray King George III as a buffoon, for he was not that. But McCullough does show how the British leadership, embodied by George III and Lord North, had become inexcusably and tragically disconnected from their subjects across the Atlantic. McCullough's narrative encompasses the politics of the war, but he brings a special focus on the military situation, which looked quite dismal for the American side through most of 1776.

When we look back on 1776 from the twenty-first century, it is difficult for us to appreciate how close the nascent United States came to losing its War for Independence. David McCullough's 1776 helps readers overcome that difficulty. He grippingly transports the reader back to those tumultuous weeks and months of 1776. Thanks to McCullough's consummate research and gift with language, our minds can relate with at least some of the anxiety that confronted George Washington when he wrote that "few people understand the predicament we are in."

Though he is sometimes (and sadly) dismissed by some of the more snobby (often left-wing) "elites" of academia, David McCullough is one of the finest writers of our time. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize (once for Truman and another for John Adams) and the National Book Award, David McCullough is simply amazing with his Royal Standard typewriter, which he purchased secondhand in 1965 - and still uses today!

The main complaint against McCullough is that he emphasizes the "story" part of the word "history," and he's unapologetic in his patriotism and respect for heroes -- something that resonates throughout his work. Left-wing historians, who resent what they disparagingly call the "Great Man" approach to history, simply can't abide this, even if the patriotism and respect for heroes is justified, as is certainly the case, when dealing with people like George Washington.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in American history should pick up a copy of this book. Books like 1776 are what cause people to deepen their appreciation for history. I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

martin said...

Wow! Great minds and all that. We recently realized that despite all of the authors having read 1776, we'd not reviewed it. I happened by here to so your review too!

Nice blog, I am looking forward to reading more.