Times that try men’s souls: David McCullough’s 1776

Washington Crossing the Delaware by  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

This is an exceptionally gripping work of narrative history. Written as a companion to McCullough’s John Adams this book focuses on Washington from his appointment as commander of the Continental Army to his crossing of the Delaware at Christmas 1776 to mount a surprise attack on the British forces that had routed him from New York. What makes that story so remarkable is its consideration of the leadership of Washington, most particularly how he turned around his fortunes, and those of the American Revolution, from their nadir following his poor generalship in New York which led many of his closest lieutenants to lose confidence in him.

McCullough conveys in his narrative the extraordinary steeliness of Washington when faced with this crisis and which was core to his historical greatness. President Obama in his inaugural address cited Washington’s crossing of the Delaware in mid-winter as an example of the sort of courage in the face of adversity that was necessary to deal with America’s current travails, and this story can be inspirational to non-Americans (such as myself) or anyone faced with personal or professional reversals.

This is a compelling work, beautifully written, deeply exciting and a great introduction to this period of American history.

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