GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
1776 (2005) by David McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster.
David McCullough has received Pulitzer Prizes for the books, Truman (1992) and John Adams (2001). His recent book 1776 contains the same elements of thorough scholarship and detailed analysis that characterize these previous works. As a highly respected historian, he has presented the story of the first year of the American Revolution from both the British and American points of view. This story begins with King George III's address to Parliament in October 1775 regarding the rebellious American colonies. It then moves to the successful siege of Boston by General George Washington's ragtag army, and their brilliant coup in seizing Dorchester heights overlooking the British army encampment in Boston. Colonel Henry Knox provided the artillery in January 1776 that forced the British commanding general, William Howe, to withdraw his army from Boston. Knox and his troops brought much needed mortars and canons from Fort Ticonderoga, New York over hundreds of miles of ice and snow to Dorchester Heights. General Howe, upon seeing these siege weapons located above his troops, swiftly evacuated Boston. This first American victory electrified the citizens of Boston and the entire nation. General Washington was idolized and became a national hero.
After this grand victory, the Continental Army raced to New York City and Long Island to prevent the British from occupying this strategically and politically important area. The darkest days of the war then occurred when the full force of the British Empire was unleashed on the Americans, and they experienced for the first time the well-disciplined Hessian troops (employed as mercenaries by the British). As McCullough emphasizes, the war was almost lost in the spring and summer of 1776 during this low point of the American's military performance. The army retreated into New Jersey and appeared to be too weak to carry on. However, on Christmas day of 1776, General Washington and his troops invaded Trenton where they overwhelmed 1,500 Hessians. This victory improved the morale of the Continental Army and roused the hopes of all American citizens. At last, the American army learned how to achieve victory through careful planning and disciplined action.
As a work of scholarship in American history, 1776 is a superb book, e.g., McCullough includes 72 reference pages including original sources and current publications. An interesting project for gifted students would be to compare McCullough's style and methods of analysis with those used by Jeff Shaara who wrote a historical fiction account of the Revolutionary War (The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution (2002). His book was reviewed in the June-July 2004 issue of Gifted Education News-Page. Another project would be for gifted students to study McCullough's excellent descriptions of King George III and George Washington as a basis for conducting biographical studies of the key figures in the War of Independence.
"Washington's wealth and way of life, like his physique and horsemanship, were of great importance to large numbers of the men he led and among many in Congress. The feeling was that if he, George Washington, who had so much, was willing to risk 'his all,' however daunting the odds, then who were they to equivocate. That he was also serving without pay was widely taken as further evidence of the genuineness of his commitment." (p. 48)
"FROM HIS NEW COMMAND POST on the crest of Harlem Heights, four miles to the north, Washington had heard the roar of cannon at Kips Bay and seen smoke rising in the distance. In an instant he was on his horse and racing south at a gallop, down the post road. Reining up at a cornfield about a mile inland from Kips Bay, he found men 'flying in every direction.' It was everything he had feared and worse, his army in pell-mell panic, Americans turned cowards before the enemy.
"In a fury, he plunged his horse in among them, trying to stop them. Cursing violently, he lost control of himself. By some accounts, he brandished a cocked pistol. In other accounts, he drew his sword, threatening to run men through. 'Take the walls!' he shouted. 'Take the corn field!' When no one obeyed, he threw his hat on the ground, exclaiming in disgust, 'Are these the men with which I am to defend America?' " (p. 212)
"The war was a longer, far more arduous, and more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate. By the time it ended, it had taken the lives of an estimated 25,000 Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population. In percentage of lives lost, it was the most costly war in American history, except for the Civil War.
"The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget." (p. 294)
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman (1999). Jeffrey Robbins (Editor). New York: Basic Books.
Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner (1965) in physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics, was a wide ranging creative thinker on new developments in science and technology. He was well-liked by colleagues and students for his knowledge and humor. Both attributes are illustrated throughout this fascinating book of essays. For example, he gives an informative account of his work (as a new Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University) on the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project during World War II, where he was surrounded by such scientific geniuses as Robert Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe. The book also includes Feynman's pioneering speech on nanotechnology, a proposal for miniaturizing information (e.g., placing the entire Encyclopędia Britannica on the head of a pin), his famous minority report on the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and a speech to science educators where he gives tribute to his father's influence on his life and thinking. His father (a uniforms salesman) provided the impetus for stimulating a lifelong interest in systematic observation, experimentation and analytic thinking. His discussion of his early years would be particularly interesting to educators.
"We had the Encyclopędia Britannica at home and even when I was a small boy [my father] used to sit me on his lap and read to me from the Encyclopędia Britannica, and we would read, say, about dinosaurs and maybe it would be talking about the brontosaurus or something, or the tyrannosaurus rex, and it would say something like, 'This thing is twenty five feet high and the head is six feet across,' you see, and so he'd stop all this and say, 'Let's see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard he would be high enough to put his head through the window but not quite because the head is a little bit too wide and it would break the window as it came by.'
"Everything we'd read would be translated as best we could into some reality and so I learned to do that--everything that I read I try to figure out what it really means, what it's really saying by translating and so (LAUGHS) I used to read the Encyclopędia when I was a boy but with translation, you see, so it was very exciting and interesting to think there were animals of such magnitude--I wasn't frightened that there would be one coming in my window as a consequence of this, I don't think, but I thought that it was very, very interesting, that they all died out and at that time nobody knew why." (p. 3)
H.G. Wells: Writer for the Gifted Imagination
By Michael E. Walters
Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
Gifted students need to discover the British writer, Herbert George Wells (1866-1946). He is to the English language what Jules Verne is to the French language. They were both significant contributors to the human imagination. Recent writers who are very similar to Wells and Verne are Isaac Asimov and Michael Creighton. What all these writers have in common is the ability to fuse scientific knowledge with the imaginative aspects of the human psyche.
Wells is also an exemplar for giftedness who came from a meager social environment. His mother was a domestic servant and his father was a gardener. When he was eight years old, he had an accident that left him with a broken leg. During his recuperation he developed a lifestyle that left him a book lover. After recovering, he entered the Academy of Thomas Morley, named after the famous composer of Renaissance madrigals who lived from 1558 to 1602. However, he had to leave this academic setting due to an accident his father had playing professional cricket. He then became an apprentice to a draper. After being dismissed by his employer, he became a teacher for a brief time at Midhurst Grammar School. During this time, his scientific and autodidactic skills were so appreciated that he was given a scholarship to the Normal School of Science where he studied biology under T.H. Huxley. As an alumnus, he was instrumental in establishing the Royal College of Science Association, a teacher training endeavor. Wells not only benefitted as a student of a world famous scientist, he also served as a mentor for other gifted students who were mostly from the working class.
In the last years of the nineteenth century, he wrote three of the most engaging science fiction novels in the English language. These were, The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898). He referred to his writing as "scientific romances." In The Time Machine, a scientist goes into the future and discovers that human beings are the slaves of a barbaric race of humans called the Morlocks. The scientist-time traveler helps the humans to reclaim their legacy. When Wells was visiting President Theodore Roosevelt, he was criticized by the President because of his pessimistic view of human history. For Roosevelt, the progressive, the idea that barbarians would be in control was unthinkable. Wells, although, an idealist and social activist, sought to depict human history in an honest manner. He told President Roosevelt that his book was positive, because no matter how human history turned out, the spirit of the human race to live free and with dignity would endure and prevail.
Wells was also a nonfiction writer. He wrote a classic work for the layman called The Outline of History (1920) which is comparable to the great historical writings of the Will and Ariel Durant, and Arnold Toynbee. Gifted students need to read the works of H.G. Wells in order to understand some of the major challenges facing contemporary society. In particular, Wells addresses the problem of barbarism and science being fused together, and threatening the physical survival, moral grandeur and dignity of the human species.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-September 2005