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Book Review of 1776 by David McCullough

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A book review of the historical novel 1776, written by David McCullough. This book describes the difficult year for the United States in their fight for freedom.

In the historical novel 1776, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, the American colonists of the Thirteen Colonies experienced the troubles of trying to gain independence from the greatest country in the world; Great Britain. McCullough writes this book based on the year of 1776 in the colonies. General George Washington of the Continental Army was in charge of trying to get the British out of Boston and out of the colonies. Washington develops his army slowly by accounting for officers, lieutenants, and soldiers to fight. Only half of his army is well-equipped for war and they are well underfed. Thanks to Henry Knox, one of Washington’s brightest officers, the Continental Army was able to recapture Boston from the British in early 1776. Knox took the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, an old French fort captured by the British during the French and Indian War but now abandoned. Under General William Howe, the British evacuated Boston but still lingered in the Atlantic Ocean. Washington, knowing the amount of British support on New York’s Long Island, sent his entire army south to New York planning that the British will make their next move towards the island. The defense systems of Brooklyn are some of the best by American troops thanks to Colonel Nathaniel Greene. “In addition to Fort Sterling, three more forts were under construction…in the middle was star-shaped, Fort Greene…each of these bastions was to be surrounded with a broad ditch and all were to be connected by a line of entrenchments reaching a mile or more.” But when Greene had to leave New York because of an illness, the Continental Army fell apart. Replaced by hard-nosed John Sullivan, the construction of the army’s defenses had slowed down. Greene had great knowledge of the land and the new Sullivan had hardly any clue. When the British landed on Long Island with more than 30,000 troops, the Continental Army was outnumbered. Despite almost 20,000 prepared troops, the army had little experience and was mostly militia. When the British snuck threw a mistake in the defenses and flanked the main Continental Army, almost all of the army retreated or was captured. When Washington’s best troops by a regiment from Maryland were surrounded but fought till they died, he knew the battle was over. “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.” Washington and 9,000 troops retreated. Eventually, they won at Trenton towards the end of the year, but the losses were great and the defeats caused many to not believe. What Washington learned from this year helped him to lead the Thirteen Colonies to their Independence. 

David McCullough does an amazing job by writing this book. Broken into three parts describing each of the battles, he sets the book in chronological order. I thought that how McCullough described these battles panned out was the key for this book being terrific. The researched needed for McCullough to capture the reader’s attention about how the defenses were set up at Brooklyn made me want to read how they used those defenses in battle. He writes of the Jamaica Pass where Howe and his army snuck around the Continental Army’s main lines to flank them. “The British officers came up on five dark figures on horseback; the five Americans on patrol….the prisoners were taken to General Clinton, who succeeded in learning that they were alone controlling the pass, and that indeed the pass was entirely unguarded.” This made me want to tell Sullivan myself he was a big idiot for leaving an entire side of New York barely guarded by five men on horseback. The research he has is of secondary sources but all put together. With almost 50 pages of source notes used in the book, he is sure to make all the details correct. There are no footnotes when he sets up the book; they are located at the end of the book. When writing this book, McCullough is not biased in anyway. He just simply describes what happened during the year. His opinion is never, if rarely used throughout the book. The book includes picture of historical figures during that time period. These pictures include King George, George Washington, Henry Knox, and more. The book includes three maps; there is a map of Boston, Long Island, and Trenton. These maps helped me to understand how the lines of the enemy were set up and at what directions the other army was or was coming from. These definitely enhance the value of the book because they help the reader understand.

David McCullough is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for two others book, Truman and John Adams. He has received the National Book Award twice. 1776 was the nation’s bestseller and is noted as the best American history book in the world (the best history book was John Adams, written by McCullough). McCullough is an expert on the subject. Having written many historical books already, he knew the perfect way to set up the novel. The authors intended audience could be anyone who likes to read or someone who studies history for their work. The writing style is appropriate for the audience. The toughest words are the passages that are from written documents of the people who fought in the war. They use old English words and writing. The book makes a significant contribution to the field of history. This book gives a very detailed description of what went on in General Washington’s headquarters and how he devised his plans to fight off the British. 

I would highly suggest this book to someone who truly loves the 1700s and 1800s style of fighting. I would also recommend this book to someone who is into strategy or action because McCullough uses both to capture the reader’s attention. David McCullough’s style of writing is easy to understand. If you are unaware of the types of defenses and weapons that the armies used in the 1700s, this book may not be for you. McCullough is a prized author who wrote one of the best detailed and historical novels in the world in the book 1776.

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Jacob Carvalho

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