SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Author: David McCullough
Page Count: 386
Genre: Narrative nonfiction, History
Tone: Upbeat, Nostalgic
1. Could King George III have done anything differently in 1776 to avoid war, or was it inevitable at that point?
2. Did he underestimate the Americans? How so?
3. What did you learn about George Washington from this book that surprised you? How much of what we know about Washington is a myth?
4. How important was Washington’s role in American independence?
5. How did Washington try to overcome his failings? Was he successful?
6. Why did—and perhaps still do—people respond so positively to him?
7. How has the reputation of Commander-in-Chief affected wars in our country since Washington’s time?
8. 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?
9. Washington was very concerned about his appearance. McCullogh 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?
10. 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?
11. Washington was originally referred to as “His Excellency.” Do you think Americans today want their president to have an air of grandeur, or do they desire a more approachable “commoner” president? What are the pros and cons of both?
12. What were some of the biggest differences between the warring armies, and how did they affect the battles?
13. 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?
14. In what ways did the technology of the time cause problems for the patriots that could have been avoided with today’s technology?
15. What formalities of war existed during Revolutionary times, and how does this differ from how wars are waged today?
16. What wins a war? Number of troops? Talent? Leadership?
17. Is it necessary for the enlisted to truly believe in the cause in order to win the war?
18. Are there any parallels to be drawn between the American Revolution and our current military conflicts?
19. Is it important for Americans to know the history of the Revolution? Why or why not?
20. How do you think modern English citizens would feel about this book and its portrayal of their history?
21. 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?
22. 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?
23. After reading this, do you find it miraculous America gained its independence?
24. Do you think you would have joined the American cause or stayed loyal to England?
Radio interview: Author discusses researching and writing 1776
The Declaration of Independence at the Library of Congress
Images from the American Revolution
George Washington biography