Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A 73.5 cm x 61.1 cm painting (oil on canvas) o...Image via Wikipedia


By David McCullough, 2005, hardback

You should know

I don't have cable television. Shocking, I know, but the reason I mention it is because I have not seen John Adams, the critically praised miniseries; I also haven't read the Pulitzer-winning book on which the miniseries is based. I do want to see the miniseries, though, and now that I've read 1776 I want to read John Adams as well.


1776 tells the story of that particular year in the Revolutionary War. It begins with King George and the British Parliament declaring that the American rebellion was, in fact, insurrection and resolving to put a stop to it; it ends shortly after Washington's troops crossed the Delaware River.

The book moves easily between character studies (George Washington dealt with the stress of war by micromanaging the work being done on Mount Vernon) and war stories (Philadelphia did not need to evacuate as it did, since the British never intended to fight during winter). I'm not usually a huge fan of battle and strategy, but McCullough is a skilled storyteller.

The focus is definitely on the war. The Declaration of Independence is mentioned almost incidentally, and the members of the Continental Congress were referenced mostly in terms of what they would or would not let General Washington do. This was a very minor downside, and one that would not stop me from recommending the book. A slightly larger concern was the cast of characters. Thousands of people were involved in the war, and even the few mentioned in the book tend to blend together. There were moments when I had to stop and think about whether the action was focusing on the British or the Americans ("General Howe was knighted? But... Oh. Right. British.").

It's a long book, but don't let that intimidate you. After all, the only military training Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene had was from books.


Read it if...
...you like histories, biographies, war stories, the really interesting bits of US history that textbooks tend to leave out, or just solid non-fiction. But avoid it if all you want is a light, cheerful read.

The rest of the Internet

Tony Horwitz at the New York Times reviewed the book.
An NPR interview in which McCullough describes the lessons Washington had to learn.
This one actually has nothing to do with the book, but Robot Chicken on what would happen if the Revolutionary War was dramatized a la 300.
Tori at A Blog of One's Own enjoyed the book and, like me, looks forward to reading more McCullough.
Stephanie at Steph in the Suburbs enjoyed the book, but would have preferred something that covered the war as a whole instead.

Awesome link of the week

Count Your SheepImage via Wikipedia
Count Your Sheep is a pleasant webcomic about a single mother and her young daughter... and their imaginary sheep. Adrian Ramos (aka Adis) started the strip in 2003 as a series of one-shot comics about a little girl, Katie, counting a sheep, Ship, to fall asleep. Over the past five years, the charm and the tendency toward one-shots have remained, but the reader has gotten glimpses of mother Laurie's past, and her tragic courtship with Katie's never-seen father, Marty, who died shortly before Katie was born. I recommend starting from the beginning, but most of the time you can just pick up from the current day's strip (fair warning, though: next week is a guest artist week).

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