Today, being George Washington’s actual birthday (Feb. 22, 1732), I decided to review a recent book by David Hackett Fischer’s, Washington’s Crossing, recently published in paperback and winner of the Putlizer Prize in its category. Part of the Oxford Pivotal Moments in American History series, Fischer’s work is a cultural history surrounding the events that Washington’s Revolutionary Army participated in from March of 1776 to March of 1777, with the middle of the book focusing on the pivotal turning point of the unlikely capture of the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas of 1776, made famous by the painting featured on the cover of the book.

Fischer’s book was published at nearly the same time as McCullough’s 1776, which covers nearly the indentical time period, yet unlike McCullough’s focus on the narratives and characters of the of the dark days of the American cause in 1776, Fischer’s work is a close examination of cultural trends and mores that developed and moved the American Army, unlike no other movement in the world at the time. In short, McCullough’s book would be best enjoyed by those looking for a tree-top level of the events of the day. It is an excellent book that will be read for years, and Fischer is complementary of it, but Washington’s Crossing is an in-depth look at why the American cause took the course it did and what precisely that means for us today. It is most certainly not history-as-pageant-on-parade. Most importantly, Washington’s Crossing does a wonderful job of de-mythologizing the American cause to American readers, while reintroducing the concepts of rare and unique combinations of leadership and service that actors such as Washington, Knox, Monroe and down to the yeoman citizen-militia were in world history. Something new was happening along the banks of the Delaware that December, when it was most unlikely to.

Read more…