1776: THE ILLUSTRATED EDITION, by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, 256 pages, $65, oversized slip-case edition

David McCullough, one of the finest historians writing today, originally published "1776" in 2005 to great critical acclaim. There are now 2.6 million copies in print.

With this handsomely illustrated edition, the author expands on that pivotal year — or "darkest year" as he calls it — and makes the book a visual treat as well as an intellectual one.

In the original edition, McCullough proved he could make the Revolutionary War interesting to the average reader by analyzing primary sources and collecting anecdotes with unusual grace. He treated Washington honestly, with his flaws and mistakes, yet characterized him as a great leader tested to the ultimate.

Besides providing a trustworthy portrayal of Washington, he makes the "ragtag group of soldiers" come to life in an extraordinary way. He uses letters and diaries effectively and causes the personalities of the principals in the war — including King George

III, Lord North and General Henry Clinton — to jump off the page.

The illustrated edition is especially useful in showing how well history and art go together. Found here are 140 illustrations, 37 removable facsimiles of historical documents, and maps and letters that are crucial to understanding the revolution.

There are also a number of wonderful paintings of King George III, General William Howe, Lord North, Alexander Hamilton, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, Admiral Howe's Royal Navy, Washington crossing the Delaware, etc.

Gratitude is due the Yale University Art Gallery for much that is in the book. McCullough twice won the Pulitzer Prize, for his books on Harry Truman and John Adams, and twice the National Book Award, for "The Path Between the Seas" and "Mornings on Horseback. (He is also widely known for "Brave Companions, " "The Great Bridge" and "The Johnstown Flood.")

This new edition of "1776" is McCullough's first illustrated book, and it's a keeper.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com