On Saturday morning I had no schedule. The family was away and I was alone. I sat on the couch intending to drink a cup of coffee and read for a bit. I drank a whole pot and read a lot. I read to the end, in fact, of David McCullough’s 1776. If I may indulge a sports analogy, I read like I was experiencing an 80 yard touchdown drive during the final 38 seconds of a football game. Though I knew how the game, I mean book, would end, I read away with tension thick.
This is the fourth of McCullough’s books I’ve read. That it is not his best is irrelevant, and only speaks to the quality of his other work.
McCullough’s intention is to take the reader through the first full year of the American Revolution from the military point of view. Congress in this book plays a minimal role as the focus falls upon George Washington’s desperate attempt to hold together an army of untrained and undisciplined men come together with disparate motivates and conflicting regional loyalties. That the army survived to see 1777 is nothing short of miraculous.
Washington’s failures and blind spots and weaknesses are on display. But also one sees his patience, his political wisdom, and his intuitive leadership skill. Much the same is seen in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s equally good Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Both Washington and Lincoln lead men of varying abilities and loyalties through a time of crisis. There are lessons to be learned here.
Leadership is not the only skill to be learned from these pages, however. I am captivated by the story-telling skill of McCullough, Goodwin, and others I’ve read recently, such as Walter Isaacson and Laura Hillenbrand. It would be worthwhile to return to each book and assess how they accomplish what they do.
Sure, I’d like to lead like Washington or Lincoln; but even more, I’d love to write like McCullough, Goodwin, Isaacson, or Hillenbrand.