You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


1776 is an historical look at the year that was the turning point in the birth of our country. Written by David G. McCullough, it details the military maneuvers of George Washington and the British commander General William Howe. He details the struggles of the troops, as well as Washington's struggle to keep his army together.

The year starts with Washington and the Continental Army outside Boston, trying to figure out how to get the British out of the city. King George III had just urged Parliament to vote for war against the rebels instead of reconciliation, and the war vote was strongly approved. General Howe underestimates the rebels, but Washington proves to be indecisive. When he does suggest invading the city, his generals fortunately vote against the idea. Finally he latches onto the idea of taking the high ground of Dorchester Heights with artillery that one officer brings from the north. When the British see the Americans' advantage, they quickly evacuate the city.

This triumph in the winter is followed by the abysmal failure in New York in the summer. After Washington decides to take the army to New York, the British bring in a vast armada of ships with reinforcements. The British quickly land on Long Island, and in one of Washington's blunders, they march through a pass guarded with only a few men and continue to drive the Americans across the East River. With their domination of the waters and their overwhelming forces, the British quickly drive the Americans from New York. McCullough goes into detail about each military engagement, also describing the discussions among generals on each side. He also discusses the poor shape of the American army, many of whom lack decent weapons or clothes. One particular detail was the trail of blood one group of soldiers left on the ground after a forced march with no shoes.

The war was one of the darkest times of our country, and we only won because of the determination of men like Washington and a lot of luck. Washington was always trying to figure out how to keep his army together, with re-enlistment coming up and his men wanting to return to their farms and families. Morale was low all around as the army retreated through New Jersey and across the Delaware to Pennsylvania. With much of his army set to leave on January 1, he was desperate to make an inspirational move to keep the revolution from falling apart. On December 25 he took his army across the Delaware to attack the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey, taking them by surprise and achieving a stunning victory. With this and the victory at Princeton, the Americans increased the morale and struck a blow against British confidence.

While I was expecting more about the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the political environment of the colonies, the story of Washington and his generals and their ragtag army is very engaging. Washington comes across as very human, concerned about renovations to his home even while he considers how to outmaneuver Howe. Washington was in a poor situation in New York, with the sea superiority of the British, but he kept trying his best, even when his mistake led to hundreds of his troops captured at Fort Washington. I found the perseverance of Washington and his men most inspiring. Though never sure of his abilities, he was dedicated and loyal to the cause. Much of the story is about the relationship between Washington and his generals, including some negative remarks about Washington's poor decision making. There is a lot of drama there, as well between the people of Boston and New York and the armies. The book is history come to life, like it should be. A-

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