David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly written accounts on subjects ranging from New York’s Brooklyn Bridge to US Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman have made him one of America’s most popular and influential historians of his time, died. He was 89 years old.
McCullough died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts, according to his publisher, Simon & Schuster. He died less than two months after his beloved wife, Rosalee.
“David McCullough was a national treasure. His books have brought history to life for millions of readers. Through his biographies he dramatically illustrated the most ennobling parts of the American character,” Simon & Schuster chief executive Jonathan Karp said in a statement.
A cheerful and tireless student of the past, McCullough has dedicated himself to sharing his own passion for history with the general public.
He saw himself as an ordinary man with a lifelong curiosity and the ability to talk about the topics 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 believed to be good men drew him to Adams and Truman.
Aged 70-80, he satisfied his affection for Paris with the release of 2011 The Greater Journey and for aviation with a bestseller on the Wright brothers released in 2015.
Beyond his books, the distinctive white-haired McCullough has had perhaps the most recognizable presence of any historian, his fatherly baritone known to fans of PBS’s The American Experience and Ken’s epic Civil War documentary. Burns.
Hamilton author Ron Chernow once called McCullough “both the name and the voice of American history“.
McCullough’s celebrations of America’s past have also led to the harshest criticism of him – that affection too easily turned into romanticism. His 2019 book, The Pioneers, has been accused of downplaying the atrocities committed against Native Americans as 19th-century settlers moved west. In earlier works he has been accused of avoiding the harshest truths about Truman, Adams and others and of placing storytelling above analysis.
“McCullough’s specific contribution has been to treat large-scale historical biography as another kind of viewer appreciation, an exercise in character recognition, a reliable source of edification and pleasurable upliftment,” wrote Sean Wilentz. in The New Republic in 2001.
Interviewed the same year by The Associated Press, McCullough responded to criticism that he was too soft by saying that “some people not only want their leaders to have feet of clay, but to be all clay.”
McCullough received the National Book Award for The Path Between the Seas, about 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 exploration of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, was ranked 48th on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best non-fiction works of the 20th century and is still widely regarded as the definitive text of the great 19th century project. .