-->
Books

1776 by David McCullough

Michael Patrick Brady

It’s one thing to simply read Washington’s words as they are related through the eyes and pen of an intermediary like McCullough, but to hold in your hands a faithful recreation of his original letter, to follow the loops and valleys of his script handwriting -- this experience significantly personalizes the history.


1776

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Subtitle: The Illustrated Edition
Author: David McCullough
Price: $65.00
Length: 256
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 1416542108
US publication date: 2007-10
Amazon

With the gargantuan monuments, idolatrous regard, and stately yet one-dimensional portraits which gaze at Americans from their currency, it’s quite easy to forget that the founding fathers were actual human beings. They were people, with families and friends, whose actions and undertakings are immeasurably more complex than the bare facts of an American History syllabus. The way most people learn about the American Revolution is as a map, covered in arrows which are punctuated by cartoon cannon blasts representing battles. Boldface names float among these simplified campaigns, imparting crucial tactical information yet leaving the deeper stories unexplored.

David McCullough’s 1776: The Illustrated Edition bucked such textbook compression upon its release in 2005, amplifying the legacy of these towering figures not by reinforcing what everyone already knew about their great deeds and successes, but by focusing on their uncertainties and doubts in a time when it seemed like the fledgling independence movement would be snuffed out in its cradle. Its blockbuster success showed that a thirst for greater clarity with regards to the circumstances of the country’s birth existed and has now provided an opportunity for McCullough to expand his deeply personal narrative with some fascinating augmentations in 1776: The Illustrated Edition.

A gorgeous, coffee-table friendly book, 1776: The Illustrated Edition is in fact abridged. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that McCullough has shirked his duty to the past by simplifying or compressing the truth, however. The historian has tightened the original text to provide room for an impressive array of images and illustrations that make the book a fascinatingly immersive trip back to the 18th century.

McCullough does not just serve readers an omniscient birds-eye view of the time as in the original edition of the book; here he invites the reader into the private conversations of the subjects, along the roughly-drawn streets of colonial America, and in a way, through the careful process of chronicling and presenting history. Such multi-layered, three-dimensional perspective is achieved through a bit of theater, a dash of interactivity that draws the reader into the events in a particularly innovative and pleasing manner.

Throughout the book, McCullough has placed several translucent brown envelopes, fastened shut with a sticker bearing the seal of the “Board of War and Ordinance”, a committee organized by the Continental Congress to oversee the proper supplying of soldiers. It’s like an important communiqué tucked within the book, and its contents are certainly vital to the reader’s understanding of the events which are unfolding around them in the body of the text. It’s intelligence, reconnaissance, and exceptional insights that pierce the visible layers of history to the core.

Each of these envelopes contains realistic reproductions of primary source documents: correspondence between George Washington to his wife Martha, or John and Abigail Adams; detailed maps created by spies and engineers during the maneuvers around Boston; and even a newspaper front page which first conveyed the text of the Declaration of Independence to the public (along side a request for subscribers to settle their bills and advertisements for cattle). There are 37 of these pull out reproductions in 1776: The Illustrated Edition, amplifying McCullough’s narrative by allowing reader to actually see the original texts upon which it is based.

The effect these supplements have on the cumulative experience is profound. It’s one thing to simply read Washington’s words as they are related through the eyes and pen of an intermediary like McCullough, but to hold in your hands a faithful recreation of his original letter, to follow the loops and valleys of his script handwriting -- this experience significantly personalizes the history. A letter dated June 18th 1775, which General Washington sent to his wife, is particularly humanizing. In it, Washington reports to Martha that the Continental Congress has appointed him Commander-in-Chief, and thus tasked him with defending the American cause.

“I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it,” he writes forlornly of his new station, “not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my Capacity…” The doubt, the uncertainty is not something we see in that steely silhouette that adorns the quarter. It’s a reassuring revelation, however. Holding the document, following along with the strong and certain handwriting of the General, it’s like being part of the tale, and provides a window into the manifold concerns and musings of figures we’ve yet to fully comprehend in spite of their familiarity.

The provided documents aren’t limited to the upper echelons, or even merely the American side. There’s Henry Knox’s letter describing the mad dash from the captured Fort Ticonderoga, hauling heavy cannon through the wilds of Western Massachusetts to support Washington’s assault on the British encamped in Boston. “I have made forty two exceeding strong sleds,” he reports, “& have provided eighty yoke of Oxen to drag them as far as Springfield, where I shall get fresh Cattle.”

Knox also corresponds with his wife, Lucy, exchanging tender words meant to assuage the fears on the homefront and comfort the fears on the front lines. The British evacuation of Boston is chronicled in the official documents of British General William Howe, whose notice to the Earl of Dartmouth deftly trends the line between accepting responsibility and preserving his skin, while regular redcoat Loftus Cliffe informs his brother after the battle of Trenton of his irritation that the rebels have not honored “winters Quiet in Quarters”, forcing them to fight in the cold.

Each of these items is a treasure, and their inclusion in 1776: The Illustrated Edition allows those with a particular interest in old documents and American history to have their own piece of the past. Of all the included replicated relics, perhaps the most stunning is the “Ambrotype” of Ralph Farnham. Farnham was a continental soldier who enlisted to fight the British in May of 1775, at the age of 18. Eighty-four years later, at the age of 102, he sat for his “ambrotype”, an early form of photograph.

To see an actual representation, a photograph of a revolutionary war veteran, is quite astounding. Looking upon him truly brings the reality of the past to the fore. Though he is quite elderly, he is smartly dressed and sits with a ramrod posture. He seems familiar, almost contemporary. One wouldn’t think twice if he were spotted sitting in a present-day park. He’s an original American, and he looks much like us.

For readers who loved the original edition of 1776, or who missed the opportunity the first time around, 1776: The Illustrated Edition is a must read tribute to the heroes of the American Revolution, and the tremendous effort in designing and creating such a volume has set a high bar for historians and publishers who’ll need to keep its example in mind for the future.

9
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image