A truly wonderful book by a master historian and storyteller. McCullough takes us through one of the defining years in American history. But he does it not from Philadelphia, but from Boston, New York City and ultimately Trenton, NJ. We do not sit in the rooms while the men compose the Declaration of Independence, but we sit with soldiers while they try and fail to defend cities against the superior British Army. McCullough does a wonderful job of building tension throughout the book. Like any good historian he tells you just enough to know that there is lot more to tell. He is balanced, praising and condemning British and Americans alike. He puts some myths to rest, such as the Hessians being drunk on the night Washington crossed the Delaware. But with other legends he notes there is probably a kernel of truth in them. It is my first McCullough book, but will not be my last.
The book is mainly about George Washington. I found it very encouraging. Washington endured defeat after defeat in 1776. He made mistake after mistake, mistakes which led to the death and imprisonment of thousands of soldiers. In August of 1776 he had around 20,000 men. By November he had around 7,000 and had lost three major battles. His army was a motley crew of misfits. Most had no military training. The prospects for the Americans and for Washington were as grim as possible in the middle of December 1776. Yet Washington learned from his mistakes and persevered. With the crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 the course of the war was changed.
I often feel like Washington in 1776. Mistake after mistake and defeat after defeat can cause discouragement. But if his cause was great, mine is greater. How can I lose heart? The book was a great spur to persevere and learn from my mistakes.