Pair Movies with Books: Washington D.C.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Today I'm in Washington D.C. visiting a friend and enjoying the cherry blossoms! My mini-vacation prompted some pre-trip reading on our Nation’s Capital. Here’s what I read and a few movies to watch at the same time.

Washington Schlepped Here
Walking in the Nation’s Capital
by Christopher Buckley
★★★☆

This walking guide is part of the Crown Journeys series, books written by well-known authors about the cities in which they live. It reads like a Bill Bryson travel book, high praise if you know my feelings on Bryson.

It’s full of fun anecdotes about the people who designed and built D.C., which I knew very little about before reading this. It’s a slim volume, so there’s not a lot of room for depth, but it’s a quick glimpse at how the city developed in the way it did.

The second half of the book takes on a slightly more serious feel as Buckley wanders through Arlington Cemetery and some of the city’s somber monuments. The sections on the Holocaust Museum and the struggle to get the Vietnam War Memorial built were particularly good. The story of the competition for the Vietnam War memorial design is so similar to The Submission it gave me chills. I had no idea it was so controversial.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s more entertaining than a regular travel guide, but it still has helpful info. I love seeing a city I’m visiting through the eyes of someone who lives there, so I enjoyed it. Read it if you’re planning a trip to D.C.

1776
by David McCullough
★★★★

History buffs rejoice! This nonfiction account of the first major year of the American Revolution will certainly hit the spot for you. After the United States declared its independence from British rule all hell broke loose. McCullough chronicles the ebb and flow of British power in the states as the battle was fought.

I didn't realize that the American army was completely voluntary. The majority of the men were trying to run their farms at the same time. They left their wives and children alone with all the duties on the farm and many of them had to leave the battle front for awhile to return home during harvest time to help their families. Meanwhile the British army they were fighting was made up of trained soldiers with no opportunity to return home.

I loved learning about the Americans taking the hill above Boston in the middle of the night. The British woke up and realized they were completely screwed. So much in war depends on chance, to pull that off they had to have the perfect weather and luckily they did! I also learned so much more about George Washington. He was a great leader who had a wonderful ability to instill confidence in soldiers, but he made mistakes just like anyone else.

There were so many moments when it looked like America would lose it all. We were the underdogs. The British had well-trained forces and plenty of supplies. We had exhausted farmers with mismatched jackets and a severe lack of food. Somehow a victory with those circumstances is even sweeter.  

My only complaint is that when it comes to history tomes it’s easier for me to stay connected when the focus falls on one person. One could argue George Washington in the lynch pin in this book, but it’s really about the war as a whole. I always feel like the facts stay with me longer if I see them in the context of one person’s life. I still really enjoyed it, but not quite as much as a straight biography.  

BOTTOM LINE: If you love history, especially regarding America, then this is for you. It’s well-written, covers fascinating territory and gives a complete picture of just how important that year was in the creation of a brand new nation.

p.s. I’d also recommend checking out the Crash Course videos on the American Revolution here and here.

Pair with a viewing of The Patriot and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. One is a harsh look at the violence in the Revolutionary War. The other is an idealist’s trip to the Capital, complete with Jimmy Stewart’s incomparable voice.


8 comments:

Jeanne said...

Oh, lucky you! I did my dissertation research in D.C. and still miss seeing the cherry blossoms this time of year.

Nikki Steele @ BookPairing.com said...

I've heard so many good things about 1776 -- what a fun reading vacation!

Sarah said...

I need to read 1776! I've had it on my shelf for.ev.er and just haven't gotten around to it.

Have fun in D.C.!!! I've never been, but I bet it's awesome :)

Trish said...

Please please post pictures of the cherry blossoms! :) One day I'd love to go and visit--DC is a city I've flown into several times but never set foot in.

1776 has been on my shelf for years. I should pull it down soon...or at least think about maybe switching to audio. And I LOVED The Patriot movie. A little cheesy but still...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - It's been years since I was in D.C. It's been fun to revisit the memorials as an adult.

Nikki - I love reading about the places I'm about to visit.

Sarah - I had 1776 on my shelf for about 5 years! It was way too long.

Trish - I will! The blossoms still hadn't bloomed all the way, which was a bummer but it's still pretty around the Tidal Basin.

Roof Beam Reader said...

I love David McCullough! He's such a great writer - I've never been a fan of nonfiction (though I've been reading much more of it lately), but McCullough really draws me in. Have you read his book "John Adams" it is fantastic (as is the miniseries adapted from it for HBO).

I also LOVE both The Patriot (though it takes some liberties) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The latter is just superb... I sure wich that old fashioned speaking filibuster was still required in Congress. Now anybody can "filibuster" anything without any effort (and even anonymously!) to prevent a bill from coming to the floor. Silly, stupid stuff!

JaneGS said...

Both books are appealing--I love Bryson's travel books, and if the C. Buckley book is in that vein, I'm sold!

I really like McCullough's writing, and this has been on my wish list for awhile now. I understand about preferring to have a central character to follow, though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Roof Beam Reader - John Adams is really high on my list! I loved the HBO miniseries. I remember seeing The Patriot in the theatre. I loved it!

JaneGS - The 1776 book is absolutely worth reading. It's fascinating! I just probably won't remember quite as much as I do with biographies.