David McCullough dead at 89: Writer of “Truman,” “John Adams”

McCullough is best known for his biographies, but documentary aficionados might remember him for something else.

BOSTON – David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted short stories on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him one of the most popular and influential historians of his time, has died. He was 89.

McCullough died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts, according to his publisher Simon & Schuster.

“David McCullough was a national treasure. His books brought history to life for millions of readers. Through his biographies, he has dramatically illustrated the loftiest sides of the American character,” Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp said in a statement.

A joyful and tireless student of the past, McCullough devoted himself to sharing his own passion for history with the general public. He saw himself as anyone, blessed with a lifetime of curiosity and the opportunity to explore the issues that mattered most to him. His fascination with architecture and construction inspired his early work on the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge, while his admiration for leaders he considered good men drew him to Adams and Truman. In his 70s and 80s, he indulged his affections for Paris with 2011’s publication The Greater Journey and for aviation with a 2015 bestseller about the Wright Brothers.

Aside from his books, the handsome, white-haired McCullough had perhaps the most recognizable presence of any historian, his fatherly baritone familiar to fans of PBS’s The American Experience and Ken Burns’ epic documentary Civil War. Hamilton author Ron Chernow once called McCullough “both the name and the voice of American history.”

As a non-academic, McCullough was not loved by all the reviewers, who accused him of eschewing the harder truths about his subjects and prioritizing storytelling over analysis. “McCullough’s chief weakness is one he shares with Truman: he occasionally fails to wrestle with the moral complexities of politics,” Walter Isaacson once wrote in Time magazine. Interviewed by The Associated Press in 2001, McCullough responded to criticism that he was too soft on Truman and others by saying that “some people not only want their leaders to have feet of clay, they want them to be made entirely of it.” are clay.”

But even colleagues who found flaws in his work praised his kindness and generosity. And millions of readers and the smaller circle of award winners welcomed him above all others. For years, from a wireless cottage on the grounds of his Martha’s Vineyard home, McCullough completed work on a Royal Standard typewriter that changed minds and shaped the market. He helped raise the reputation of Truman and Adams, and he launched a wave of best-sellers about the American Revolution, including McCullough’s own 1776.

McCullough received the National Book Award for “The Path Between the Seas” on the construction of the Panama Canal; and for Mornings on Horseback, a biography of Theodore Roosevelt; and Pulitzers for “Truman” in 1992 and for “John Adams” in 2002. “The Great Bridge,” a lengthy investigation into the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, was ranked #48 on Modern Library’s list of the top 100 non-fiction books of the 20th century and is still widely considered to be the definitive text of the great 19th century project. On his 80th birthday, his hometown of Pittsburgh renamed the 16th Street Bridge the David McCullough Bridge.

McCullough was also a favorite in Washington, DC. He spoke at a joint session of Congress in 1989 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. Politicians frequently claimed to have read his books, particularly his biographies of Truman and Adams. Jimmy Carter cited “A Path Between the Seas” as a factor in pushing for the 1977 treaties that returned control of the Panama Canal to Panama. Barack Obama included McCullough in a gathering of scholars that met at the White House shortly after Obama’s election.

The historian has been impartial for most of his life, but spoke out against Donald Trump in 2016, leading a group of historians that included Burns and Chernow in denouncing the Republican presidential nominee as a “monstrous clown with a monstrous ego.” McCullough also had a pressing concern: education. He worried that Americans knew too little about history and failed to appreciate the sacrifices of the revolutionary era. He often spoke on campus and before Congress, and once told a Senate committee that because of the No Child Left Behind Act, “history is being shelved in many or most schools, or taken off the stove altogether, in favor of math and reading.”

McCullough was committed to preserving historic regions. He opposed the construction of a residential tower near the Brooklyn Bridge and was among the historians and writers who, in the 1990s, criticized the Walt Disney Company’s proposed Civil War theme park in a region of historic importance in northern Virginia.

“We have so little authentic and genuine left,” McCullough said at the time. “Replacing what we have with plastic, made-up history is mechanical history almost sacrilegious.”

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/pulitzer-winning-historian-david-mccullough-dead-at-89/507-2de09b0d-4b53-4159-bd07-64f57c264422 David McCullough dead at 89: Writer of “Truman,” “John Adams”

Alley Einstein

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