Among the things that stay the same are the qualities that make two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David McCullough a popular author. For one thing, McCullough is a good writer—a model of clarity and organization, and especially skilled (I noticed) with commas. The only sentences in 1776 that might require re-reading contain quotes from the 18th century.

McCullough also keeps things simple. Few of his paragraphs are longer than three sentences, and readers will search this book's pages in vain for interpretive or historiographical complexity. Meanwhile, nuances of psychology and character are disposed of with pithy summaries: "John Wilkes … homeliest man in Parliament"; "George Johnstone, a dashing figure"; "Lord North … moderate, urbane, and intelligent." On the battlefield, vim and vigor are strictly an American affair. The story pretty much comes down to American pluck and derring-do in the face of the rather mechanical British and Hessians, whose personalities were squelched in the course of over-training.

The book begins with an American victory (taking Boston), leads us through a decisive defeat (losing New York) and ends, of course, with another American victory (Trenton). The rousing sound of timpani always fills the background, accompanied occasionally by French horn, pretty much in the fashion of a PBS narrative. At random I plopped the book open to page 291 and lighted upon this wonderfully representative passage: "From the last week of August to the last week of December," McCullough writes,

the year 1776 had been as dark a time as those devoted to the American cause had ever known—indeed, as dark a time as any in the history of the country. And suddenly, miraculously, it seemed, that had changed ...
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