Marching, marching, and always marching: in a run, in a trot, in a walk, in stumbles, with bloody feet smearing ice-caked roads—such was the pace off the rag-tag Continental army maintained throughout the historical narrative, 1776 (2006) written by David McCullough.

In April, that year, George Washington assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief of the colonies’ ill-trained militias, in combat against thousands of professional British soldiers and sailors and Hessian mercenaries. The following July saw the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. That much I had remembered.

What made this narrative jump off the page was the author’s extensive use of primary sources drawn from twenty-five libraries, archives, special collections, and visits to historical sites in America and Great Britain. Like an experienced collector of folk stories, McCullough referenced the living voices of the participants, British and American, drawn from journals, letters, diaries, newspapers, pamphlets, early histories of the War, etc. His use of white space gave readers needed moments to internalize the full import of what was just said or described—Painful pauses were frequent..

Experiencing the human face in this page-turner, however, inspired my indebtedness to the colonists with their passionate dream for liberty, with scarce means to achieve it. No words can describe their sacrifices and loss of life: twenty-five thousand Americans, and countless maimed whose chronic pain relived the story until their deaths.

David McCullough’s 1776 more than fulfills his sense of history: “… an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.” Such was my experience of this book.