It is no secret but it bears repeating. I, Betty, am a history nerd. If the degree in history wasn’t enough to prove this, then my continued insistence on reading non-fiction on historical topics and my love of the podcast Stuff You Missed In History Class should properly tip the scales.
(Betty note: the Three impossible Pins was inspired by Stuff You Missed in History Class and their podcasts are overall inspirational and thought provoking)
The reason I felt the need to lay that blanket statement out there, is the subject of this post is not only nerdy but historical in inspiration and in content. As a history nerd I am aware of certain gaps in my formal and personal education. Some of the gaps are intentional because it is impossible to learn everything at once. Some are just topics that were glossed over, either because of a lack of time or interest. One of those gaps for me is early American history. I do not mean history of the peoples that existed in America prior to the arrival of Europeans but rather the founding of the country of the United States of American.
I choose to read 1776 by David McCullogh for a few reasons. First, it came highly recommended to me by multiple people. Second, it is a topic I wanted to learn more on. Third, it is an election year and the musical Hamilton is popular as all get out. That third one is related I swear, I like to know the background and, dare I say, history of a topic.
Now enough about me, what about the book? The title is rather literal. The book covers only the year 1776. McCullough does explain motivations and events that led up to this year by reference and assumes a certain level of knowledge by the reader. With my basic education on the topic, I was able to understand and place these references without issue. The book is closed out with a brief (I do mean brief at about two pages) overview of what happened to the main people in the book.
The main part of the book is excellently detailed full of quotes of primary source documents such as letters that had been written by the people, especially by George Washington. I found these use of these quotes to be unique and insightful. The quotes provided a wonderful personal insight in to the events as well as making the people involved more relatable and real. Too often in history books we lose the depth of what makes these people, people. Personality and quirks gets lost in the facts and figures and we forget that history is made by people just like you and me. The quotes bring them to life, showing their fears and hopes in a way that cannot be seen in a straight recitation of the facts.
What I found most intriguing in the book is the information McCullough included. In addition to the quotes, there are some seemingly mundane pieces of information that help provide a very real picture of the time. Details like how many soldiers were without shoes, the number of people who could fit on each transport boat, and the road conditions do not seem like major important pieces of information. But when combined together, they paint a very real picture of what life was like for these men and exactly how much effort went into something as simple as a river crossing.
The book flows in a linear fashion from day to day. Some days are specifically detailed out one by one, some are grouped together in summary, and some are skipped entirely when nothing happened in the narrative. After all, history can be boring with whole days, or weeks even, when nothing of significance happens.
The writing style is something I see too rarely in historical or non-fiction books. It is very easy to read, almost novel like in its flow. The shifts between people and places is done as chapter breaks, again much like a fictional piece. Before I get too redundant, the book is written in a fiction like style but with intensely researched non-fiction information.
In summary, I highly recommend this book to anyone with the slightest interest in the topic. You will not find yourself bored to tears, like with a more traditional history book. If McCullough wrote a book called 1777, I would definitely read it.
Love and liberty,