Monday, July 04, 2005

George Will on McCullough's '1776'

A Timely Reminder in '1776': "When George Washington, in a spiffy uniform of buff and blue, sitting his horse with a grace uncommon even among Virginians vain about their horsemanship, arrived outside Boston in July 1775 to assume command of the American rebellion, he was aghast. When he got a gander at his troops, mostly New Englanders, his reaction was akin to the Duke of Wellington's assessment of his troops, many of them the sweepings of Britain's slums, during the Peninsular War: 'I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me.'

You think today's red state/blue state antagonism is unprecedented? Washington thought New Englanders "exceeding dirty and nasty." He would not have disputed the British Gen. John Burgoyne's description of the Americans besieging Boston as "a rabble in arms." A rabble that consumed, by one sober estimate, a bottle of rum per man each day.

Using narrative history to refute historicism, McCullough's two themes in "1776" are that things could have turned out very differently and that individuals of character can change the destinies of nations. There is a thirst for both themes in this country, which is in a less-than-festive frame of mind on this birthday. It is, therefore, serendipitous that "1776," with 1.35 million copies already in print, sits atop the New York Times best-seller list on Independence Day.

But, then, serendipity has often attended the Fourth of July. That day is the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804), arguably the father of American literature. And of Stephen Foster (1826), arguably the father of American music. And -- saving the most luminous for last -- of the sainted Calvin Coolidge (1872), who oversaw a 45 percent increase in America's production of ice cream.

So, this Fourth read McCullough. Perhaps by the light of a sparkler."
In addition, I highly recommend McCullough's 'John Adams'. I plan on reading '1776' around Christmas this year when I will have the time to selfishly enjoy one of America's great writers.

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