Review of ‘1776’ by David McCullough

1776 David McCullough book cover

Recently I watched the HBO miniseries John Adams.  I loved it.  That renewed an interest in America history during the Revolutionary War periodI started to google and look up little tidbits of information that were mentioned in the show.  I was disappointed to realize that the show took a lot of liberties with the facts, but of course I shouldn’t have been surprised about that.  This made me want to learn more, so I started to look for an author of history books that had high reviews.  This search led me to David McCullough.

David McCullough has been awarded the National Humanities Medal and the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Awards.  The Pulitzer Prize winner has quickly become one of my favorite authors with his account of the year 1776 during the Revolutionary War.  1776 is an extensively researched account of the Revolutionary War by David McCullough.

The book is a gripping weave of stories collected from both American and British archives.  McCullough uses letters and historical records to tell the stories of both Rebels and Loyalists, with General George Washington being the focus.  The battles of Boston, New York, and New Jersey are chronologically  accounted in a in such a clear manner, that I could easily picture the people and the landscapes.

I was naively surprised to read that a good portion of the population were Loyalists.  I always pictured the whole population of the colonies being angry at Britain, and therefore rebelling against it.  It was made clear that this was completely untrue, and in a sense this war was almost like a civil war.

I was also surprised to learn that General George Washington was an extremely indecisive and inexperienced leader and this would, to the determent of the Continental Army, lead to many defeats and retreats.  This personally did not make him less in my eyes but more, because it made him more human than legend.  In fact he tried to warn Congress when he said “But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal  to the command I [am] honored with.” (49)  I was saddened to read about his being betrayed by Reed and Lee, but I think this might have been a pivotal point in his life.  In the battle accounts after this point General Washington began riding on horse with his army; encouraging them on.  And this seems to be a turning point in the outcomes of battles.

Growing up I always looked at the year 1776 as being the triumphant declaration of United States of America’s freedom from Britain, but in fact it was a miserable and depressing fight for those who chose to separate from the mother country.  The trials that the soldiers and leaders went through helped to show me how important independence was to them.  In many instances the militia fought in brutal environments with only pants to cover them.  For example a General Heath would write of General Lee’s troops being “so destitute of shoes that the blood left on the frozen ground, in many places, marked the route they had taken.” (269)  To bear such brutal conditions impressed upon me the goal of the soldiers.  The perseverance of the Continental Army and Washington were the reason the war was won.

This book was eye-opening to me in more ways than I could list here, and because of that I highly recommend others to read it.  I would even suggest that this book should be part of American History classes.  I look forward to reading John Adams, which McCullough received a National Book Award for writing.

I found 1776 at my local library but it also can be found on

Rating:  5 Stars


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