Sunday, December 14, 2008

George Washington, 1776 by David McCullough

I read other people's book reviews and I am so impressed with their insightful comments. We'll have none of that here... my brain is tired out from this book so I am just going to spill out my thoughts and hope they make sense. The book was tough reading for me. My sense of history and geography are not strong. (That's one of the reasons I chose to do this reading challenge - to shore up one of my weak spots.) As I read it, I kept thinking, "This book was on the bestseller list for so long. Are there that many people in America who are smarter than me?" It was a very humbling realization!

The book was not easy to read not only because of my deficits but also because so much of it was focused on the military aspects where I was more interested in the human aspects. I enjoyed reading about some of the minor characters - Molly Corbin who took over the cannon after her husband was wounded, Nate Greene, the young inexperienced soldier that Washington trusted so readily. I do think McCullough did a great job including excerpts from actual letters whenever possible so that you could hear the story from the mouths of those living it. And, he was careful to weave the excerpts smoothly into his narrative so it wasn't a series of rough transitions.

The title, 1776 is a pretty big clue that the story centers on that particular year of the war. But nonetheless it came as a bit of a jolt to me that after the incredible detail recounting the movements of that particular year, McCullough just skimmed over the next six and a half years in a single paragraph to get to the treaty that ended the war. Believe me, I was ready for the book to end, it would not be possible to continue past that year with the same throoughness and have it be a single title - it would be a series. But it still tickled 's the way I wrap up some posts rather abruptly...drone on and on and on and on about nothing and then STOP! Makes me smile just thinking about it - certainly not his intention!

I enjoyed learning about Washington. There were two aspects of his leadership that I want to take away as a lesson. The first was his composure at all times. When I am leading, I sometimes feel like my desire to put the best possible face on things is "Pollyanna-ish" and so I second guess my presentations. But what Washington did was to always conduct himself as a successful leader in public and only divulge his worries and fears to confidants. Now it is a far stretch to compare leading an army into battle to fundraising for the PTO but that's where my brain went. Even when the money isn't coming, it's important to appeal to the people from a position of strength. Your cause is good, sell it. Don't beg for pity and expect folks to follow you out of mercy.

The second item is a quote from Washington, "we must...make the best of mankind as they are, since we cannot have them as we wish." It's like Saint Francis meets a twelve step program - you can't change other people, you just have to accept them as they are and do your best with what you've got. I'm going to try to apply that to my relationships and see how much of my dissatisfaction stems from my wanting others to behave as I think they should rather than accepting them as they are and enjoying them for who they are.

I'm delighted that I have finished my first book for the U.S. President's Reading Project. I'm feeling smarter already.


Lezlie said...

Great review! Thanks for posting the link on the Project blog!


Andi said...

I'm pretty sure this book would trip me up just because it seems like it MUST go into such minute detail. Because I am ridiculously underread in this area, I think it would make my head swim. I read a more general bio of Washington but a book like 1776 is one I think I'd like to work up to. Gotta put a toe in first before I jump in. lol Thanks for a great review!