Book Club

David McCullough

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
7 – 8:30 p.m.


America’s beloved and distinguished historian presents, in a book of breathtaking excitement, drama, and narrative force, the stirring story of the year of our nation’s birth, 1776, interweaving, on both sides of the Atlantic, the actions and decisions that led Great Britain to undertake a war against her rebellious colonial subjects and that placed America’s survival in the hands of George Washington.

In this masterful book, David McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence—when the whole American cause was riding on their success, without which all hope for independence would have been dashed and the noble ideals of the Declaration would have amounted to little more than words on paper.

Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is a powerful drama written with extraordinary narrative vitality. It is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the King’s men, the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known.

Written as a companion work to his celebrated biography of John Adams, David McCullough’s 1776 is another landmark in the literature of American history.

(From the publisher)

Reading Group Discussion Questions

1. What did you learn about George Washington from this book that surprised you? How much of what we know about Washington is a myth?

2. How important was Washington’s role in American independence?

3. How did Washington try to overcome his failings? Was he successful?

4. Why did—and perhaps still do—people respond so positively to him?

5. Was Congress right in not having Washington attack Boston? Why do you think Washington wanted to attack, especially when nobody else thought it was a good idea?

6. Washington was very concerned about his appearance. McCullough writes: “And as with everything connected to that role—his uniform, the house, his horses and equipage, the military dress and the bearing of his staff—appearances were of great importance: a leader must look and act the part” (p. 42). How much of Washington’s ideas about appearance and presentation do you suppose was influenced by his living under a monarchy?

7. What do you think about Washington later deciding to wear civilian (rather than military) clothes when acting as president? Does this reveal anything about his character, his beliefs, etc.? And how much do you think that decision influenced the American people’s view of the Office of the President?

8. What about the American army surprised you? Were there any ways in which the inexperience of the American troops and their leaders were helpful to the cause?

9. In what ways did the technology of the time cause problems for the patriots that could have been avoided with today’s technology?

10. What formalities of war existed during Revolutionary times, and how does this differ from how wars are waged today? Are there any parallels to be drawn between the American Revolution and our current military conflicts?

11. How do you think modern English citizens would feel about this book and its portrayal of their history?

12. McCullough wrote this history as narrative nonfiction. Was he successful? Were you more interested or engaged reading this than you would have been with a more academic take on the subject?

13. The author chose to focus on a single year: 1776. Was this adequate to tell a compelling and clear story? Do you feel like there are things you still want to know, background information you wish you’d had?

14. After reading this book, how have your views changed about the way in which America gained its independence?

(Questions issued by staff of Mount Prospect Public Library.)

Additional Book Club Resources

Other Works by David McCullough

• The Johnstown Flood (1968)
The Great Bridge (1972)
The Path Between the Seas (1977)
Mornings on Horseback (1981)
Brave Companions (1991)
Truman (1992)
• John Adams (2001)
1776 (2005)
In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story (2010)
The Greater Journey (2011)
The Wright Brothers (2015)
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For (2017)
The Pioneers (2019)

List of films presented or narrated
Brooklyn Bridge (1981)
Smithsonian World (5 episodes, 1984–1988)
The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984)
The Statue of Liberty (1985)
Huey Long (1985)
A Man, A Plan, A Canal : Panama (NOVA) (1987)
The Congress (1988)
The Civil War (9 episodes, 1990)
American Experience (23 episodes, 1991–2006)
Coney Island (1991)
The Donner Party (1992)
Degenerate Art (1993)
D-Day Remembered (1994)
Napoleon-PBS Empires Special (2000)
George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire (2000)
Seabiscuit (2003)
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2010)

If You Liked The Underground Railroad, may we recommend…

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
Augustown, by Kei Miller
Underground Airlines, by Ben H.Winters
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould
Drinking Gourd, by Barbara Hambly
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, by Eric Foner