Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough

One thing I am is tired of reading about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, so I asked my parents to bring their copy of “1776” for me to peruse. I’ve enjoyed McCollough’s other works, including his biography of John Adams, but I was a little disappointed with “1776.”

Although McCullough draws on a strength of his previous books in using documentary sources such as letters to dramatize historical events, “1776” is not as robust a narrative as “John Adams,” for example, because the focus of “1776” is on battles, not people, and for an event-based book, it neglects to provide the bigger picture of what was going on. In my view, the book would have benefited from more character development, especially of the generals from both sides, so that readers would have more insight into why they made the decisions they did, how the outcomes affected them, and so forth. Alternatively, McCullough might have kept his event-based approach by either narrowing the scope to allow for more detail and particulars in his narrative, or by widening the scope to describe more of the forces at play in the battles of 1776. As it stands, the book feels a little thin, and doesn’t have much information to offer that could not be better learned from other books.

One example of how detail might have added more interest comes near the end of the book when McCullough discussed the Battle of Princeton. In a few paragraphs, McCullough sketches out how the American forces took Princeton with a few cannon rounds shortly after the Battle of Trenton, and that those two battles turned the tide of the war more in the Americans’ favor. I think the description would have benefited by the addition of interesting details, such as the story of how one cannonball the Americans fired came through the wall of Nassau Hall (then the main building on Princeton’s campus) directly through a large portrait of King George, effectively decapitating the painted monarch while the British officers took their breakfast in that very room. The painting’s frame, by the way, did survive, and now holds a portrait of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton painted by Charles Willson Peale.

Admittedly, I have some bias about Princeton trivia, but I would have liked to see more detail in other battle descriptions just to keep the book more interesting.

All that to say, I don’t mean to pan the book completely. It was a good read, and I did learn some interesting facts. I would give it a medium recommendation, and would suggest borrowing it from the library rather than buying it. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket and desperately desire to purchase a book about the Revolutionary War, others would be more worthy of acquisition.

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