David McCullough, RIP

Source: Power Line

Today comes news of the death of historian David McCullough yesterday at the age of 89. The New York Times obituary by Daniel Lewis is here. McCullough was a popular historian who was an intense researcher with an incredible gift for narrative. I think he loved narrative history and America in roughly equal measure. The two loves made him an immensely popular popular historian — a popular historian of quality. His death represents a great loss to our life and letters.

The American reading public found him and took him to their bosom. The Times obit reminds us that McCullough won Pulitzer Prizes for two presidential biographies, Truman (1992) and John Adams (2001). He received National Book Awards for The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal” (1977) and Mornings on Horseback (1981), about the young Theodore Roosevelt and his family.

If not something like his manifesto, his Imprimis essay “Knowing history and knowing who we are” may serve as a good introduction to his work. The same is true of his Imprimis essay “A man worth knowing.”

I read A Stillness at Appomattox when I heard McCullough, in the course of a C-SPAN interview, describe its impact on him. McCullough had majored in English at Yale and received the book as a graduation present in 1955. Reading this one of Bruce Catton’s several magnificent books made McCullough want to write history. I thought, correctly, that must be some book.

In a 2017 interview John Avlon asked McCullough about his favorite books and authors at the Charleston Library. Among others, McCullough expressed his appreciation of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope. (He loved The Way We Live Now as well as Trollope’s autobiography). McCullough also lauded the British mystery writer Ruth Rendell, (Rendell’s New York Times obituary is here.)

McCullough also talked about favorite books and authors in this 2013 Boston Globe interview. In the Globe interview he named Henry Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams and Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast along with a few surprises (as they seemed to me).