David McCullough

David McCullough
David McCullough

David McCullough speaking at Emory University, on April 25, 2007
Born David Gaub McCullough
July 7, 1933 (1933-07-07) (age 78)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Occupation Historian, author
Nationality American
Period 1968 – current
Genres History
Notable work(s) The Path Between the Seas (1977), Truman (1992), John Adams (2001)
Spouse(s) Rosalee Ingram Barnes McCullough (1954 – present)
Children Five

David Gaub McCullough (pronounced /məˈkʌlə/; born July 7, 1933) is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer.[2] He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award.[2][3]

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, McCullough earned a degree in English literature from Yale University. His first book was The Johnstown Flood (1968); and he has since written eight more on such topics as Harry S Truman, John Adams, and the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough has also narrated multiple documentaries, as well as the 2003 film Seabiscuit; and he hosted American Experience for twelve years. McCullough's two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted by HBO into a TV film and a mini-series, respectively. McCullough's most recent work, The Greater Journey, about Americans in Paris from the 1830s to the 1900s, was released on May 24, 2011.[4]


Life and career

Youth and education

McCullough was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[5] the son of Ruth (née Rankin) and Christian Hax McCullough.[6] He is of Scotch-Irish descent.[7] He was educated at Linden Avenue Grade School and Shady Side Academy, in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[8] One of four sons, McCullough had a "marvelous" childhood with a wide range of interests, including sports and drawing cartoons.[9] McCullough's parents and his grandmother, who read to him often, introduced him to books at an early age.[7] His parents talked openly about history, a topic he feels should be discussed more often.[7] McCullough "loved school, every day";[9] he contemplated many career choices ranging from architect, actor, painter, writer, lawyer, and even attending medical school.[9]

In 1951, McCullough began attending Yale University.[10] He believed that it was a "privilege" to study English at Yale because of faculty members such as John O'Hara, John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren, and Brendan Gill.[11] McCullough occasionally ate lunch with Pulitzer Prize-winning[12] novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder.[11] Wilder, says McCullough, taught him that a competent writer maintains "an air of freedom" in the storyline, so that a reader won't anticipate the outcome, even if the book happens to be non-fiction.[1]

While at Yale, he became a member of Skull and Bones.[13] He served apprenticeships at Time, Life, the United States Information Agency, and American Heritage.,[11] where he found enjoyment in research. "Once I discovered the endless fascination of doing the research and of doing the writing, I knew I had found what I wanted to do in my life."[11] While attending Yale, McCullough studied Arts and achieved his Bachelor's degree in English, with the intention of becoming a fiction writer or playwright.[7] He graduated with honors in English literature (1955).[14][15]

Writing career

Early career

After graduation, McCullough moved to New York City, where the recently formed Sports Illustrated hired him as a trainee.[9] He was later hired by the United States Information Agency, in Washington, D.C., as an editor and writer.[5] After working for twelve years, including a position at American Heritage, with a consistent concentration on editing and writing, McCullough "felt that [he] had reached the point where [he] could attempt something on [his] own."[9] McCullough "had no anticipation that [he] was going to write history, but [he] stumbled upon a story that [he] thought was powerful, exciting, and very worth telling."[9] While working at American Heritage, McCullough wrote in his spare time for three years.[9][16] The Johnstown Flood, a chronicle of one of the worst flood disasters in United States history, was released in 1968[9] to high praise by critics.[17] John Leonard, of The New York Times, said of McCullough, "We have no better social historian."[17] Despite rough financial times,[10] McCullough, with encouragement from his wife, Rosalee, made the decision to become a full-time writer.[18]

"People often ask me if I'm working on a book. That's not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It's like putting myself under a spell. And this spell, if you will, is so real to me that if I have to leave my work for a few days, I have to work myself back into the spell when I come back. It's almost like hypnosis."[19]

Gaining recognition

After the success of The Johnstown Flood, two new publishers offered him contracts, one to write about the Great Chicago Fire and another about the San Francisco earthquake.[20] However, Simon & Schuster, publisher of The Johnstown Flood, also offered McCullough a contract to write a second book.[10] Trying not to become "Bad News McCullough",[20] he decided to write about a subject showing "people were not always foolish and inept or irresponsible."[20] Remembering the words of his Yale teacher, "[Thornton] Wilder said he got the idea for a book or a play when he wanted to learn about something. Then, he'd check to see if anybody had already done it, and if they hadn't, he'd do it."[10] McCullough decided to write a history of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he had walked across many times.[10]

"To me history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn't just part of our civic responsibility. To me it's an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is."

– David McCullough[11]

He also proposed, from a suggestion by his editor,[7] a work about the Panama Canal; both were accepted by the publisher.[10] Published in 1972, critics hailed The Great Bridge as "the definitive book on the event."[21] Five years later, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal was released, gaining McCullough widespread attention for the first time.[10] The book won the National Book Award for history,[22] the Samuel Eliot Morison Award,[23] the Francis Parkman Prize,[24] and the Cornelius Ryan Award.[25] Later in 1977, McCullough travelled to the White House to advise Jimmy Carter and the United States Senate on the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which would give Panama control of the Canal.[23] Carter later said that the treaties, which were agreed upon to hand over ownership of the Canal to Panama, would not have passed, had it not been for the book.[23]

"The story of people"

McCullough's fourth work was his first biography, reinforcing his belief that "history is the story of people".[26] Released in 1981, Mornings on Horseback tells the story of seventeen years in the life of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.[27] The work, ranging from 1869, when Roosevelt was ten years old, to 1886, tells of a "life intensely lived."[27] The book won McCullough's first Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography and New York Public Library Literary Lion Award and his second National Book Award.[28] Next, he released Brave Companions, a collection of essays that "unfold seamlessly".[29] Written over twenty years, the book[30] includes works about Louis Agassiz, Alexander von Humboldt, John and Washington Roebling, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Conrad Aiken, and Frederic Remington.[30] McCullough's next book and second biography continued the trend of writing about American presidents—Truman (1993) about the 33rd president. The book won McCullough his first Pulitzer Prize, in the category of "Best Biography or Autobiography."[31] Two years later, the book was adapted into Truman, a television movie by HBO, starring Gary Sinise as Truman.[10]

"I think it's important to remember that these men are not perfect. If they were marble gods, what they did wouldn't be so admirable. The more we see the founders as humans the more we can understand them."

– David McCullough[32]

Working for the next seven years,[33] McCullough released John Adams (2001), his third biography about a United States president. One of the fastest-selling non-fiction books in history,[10] the book won McCullough's second Pultizer Prize for "Best Biography or Autobiography."[31] It began as a book about founding fathers and back-to-back presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams; but Jefferson was eventually dropped, and the book focused solely on Adams.[32] HBO returned to McCullough's works to adapt John Adams.[34] Premiering in 2008, the seven-part miniseries starred Academy Award-nominated actor Paul Giamatti in the title role.[34] The DVD version of the miniseries includes the biopic, "David McCullough: Painting with Words."

McCullough's 1776, tells the story of the founding year of the United States, focusing on George Washington, the amateur army, and other struggles for independence.[33] Because of McCullough's popularity, its initial printing was 1.25 million copies, many more than the average history book.[3] Upon its release, the book was a number one best-seller in the United States.[33] HBO is scheduled to release a miniseries adaptation of 1776 in 2011, possibly involving Tom Hanks, who produced John Adams.[35][36]

McCullough considered writing a sequel to 1776.[33] However, he signed a contract with Simon & Schuster to do a work about Americans in Paris between 1830 and 1900, The Greater Journey, which was released in May 2011. The book covers 19th-century Americans like Mark Twain and Samuel Morse, who migrated to Paris and went on to achieve importance in culture or innovation. Other subjects include Elihu Washburne, the American ambassador to France during the Franco-Prussian War, and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States.[37]

Personal life

David McCullough currently lives in Boston and is married to Rosalee Barnes McCullough, whom he met at age 17, in Pittsburgh. The couple have five children and eighteen grandchildren.[38] He enjoys sports, history and art, including watercolor and portrait painting.[39]

McCullough speaking in 2008 at Vassar College.

Awards and accolades

McCullough has received numerous awards throughout his career. In December 2006, McCullough received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that a United States citizen can receive.[3] McCullough has been awarded over 40 honorary degrees, including one from the Eastern Nazarene College in John Adams' hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts.[40] For his writing, McCullough has received two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, two Francis Parkman Prizes, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and New York Public Library’s Literary Lion Award, among others.[16][41] McCullough was chosen to deliver the first annual John Hersey Lecture at Yale University on March 22, 1993. (Author, Yale alumnus, and Yale writing professor John Hersey died later that year.)[42] He is a member of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship[43] and the Academy of Achievement.[44] In 2003, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected McCullough for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[45] McCullough's lecture was entitled "The Course of Human Events";[46]

In 1995, McCullough received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. The Helmerich Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.

McCullough has been called a "master of the art of narrative history."[47] New York Times critic John Leonard wrote that McCullough was "incapable of writing a page of bad prose."[26] His works have been published in ten languages, over nine million copies have been printed,[7] and all of his books are still in print.[2]



Title Year Awards[48]
The Johnstown Flood 1968
The Great Bridge 1972
The Path Between the Seas 1977 National Book Award – 1978
Francis Parkman Prize – 1978
Samuel Eliot Morison Award – 1978
Cornelius Ryan Award – 1978
Mornings on Horseback 1981 National Book Award – 1982
Brave Companions 1992
Truman 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography – 1993
The Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award – 1993
John Adams 2001 Pulitzer Prize – 2002
1776 2005 American Compass Best Book – 2005
In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story 2010
The Greater Journey 2011


McCullough has narrated many television shows and documentaries throughout his career. In addition to narrating the 2003 film Seabiscuit, McCullough hosted PBS's American Experience from 1988–1999.[32] McCullough has also narrated numerous documentaries directed by Ken Burns, including Emmy Award winning The Civil War,[32] Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge,[49] The Statue of Liberty,[50] and The Congress.[51]

List of films presented or narrated


  1. ^ a b Bolduc, Brian (June 18, 2001). "Don't Know Much about History". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304432304576369421525987128.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_opinion. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  2. ^ a b c "Biography at Simon & Schuster". Archived from the original on 2008-06-06. http://web.archive.org/web/20080606224818/http://www.simonsays.com/content/destination.cfm?tab=1&pid=328883&agid=13. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b c Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06350/746640-44.stm. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  4. ^ Books – The Greater Journey, Simon and Schuster.com. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  5. ^ a b "David McCullough Biography". Academy of Achievement. 2005-02-02. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mcc2bio-1. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  6. ^ "David McCullough". National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches. National Book Foundation. http://www.nationalbook.org/nbaacceptspeech_dmccullough.html. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "David McCullough". The Charlie Rose Show. PBS. 2008-03-21. 60 minutes in.
  8. ^ Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06350/746640-44.stm. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview: David McCullough Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography". Academy of Achievement. 1995-06-03. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/printmember/mcc2int-1. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hoover, Bob (2001-12-30). "David McCullough: America's historian, Pittsburgh son". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/books/20011230mccullough1230fnp2.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Cole, Bruce. "David McCullough Interview". National Endowment for the Humanities. http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/mccullough/interview.html. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  12. ^ "Biography". Thorton Wilder Society. http://www.tcnj.edu/~wilder/biography/frame.html. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  13. ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 127. ISBN 0-316-72091-7. 
  14. ^ "YALE News Release" (Press release). Yale University. 1998-05-25. http://www.yale.edu/opa/newsr/98-05-25-01.all.html. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  15. ^ "David McCullough". PBS.com. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/character/bios/mccullough.html. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  16. ^ a b "David McCullough biography: The Citizen Chronicler". National Endowment for the Humanities. http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/mccullough/biography.html. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  17. ^ a b "Johnstown Flood: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. http://www.electriceggplant.com/davidmccullough/flood_reviews.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  18. ^ "David McCullough Profile". Academy of Achievement. 2005-02-02. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mcc2pro-1. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  19. ^ Fein, Esther (1992-08-12). "TALKING HISTORY WITH: David McCullough; Immersed in Facts, The Better to Imagine Harry Truman's Life". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). http://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/12/garden/talking-history-with-david-mccullough-immersed-facts-better-imagine-harry-truman.html?pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  20. ^ a b c Leslie Shaver (2003-04). "A Painter of Words About the Past". Special Libraries Association. http://www.sla.org/content/Events/conference/2003annual/confevents/mccullough.cfm. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  21. ^ "The Great Bridge: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. http://www.electriceggplant.com/davidmccullough/bridge_reviews.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  22. ^ "National Book Awards – 1978". National Book Foundation. http://www.nationalbook.org/nba1978.html. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  23. ^ a b c "Samuel Eliot Morison Award 1978". AmericanHeritage.com. http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1978/6/1978_6_107.shtml. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  24. ^ "Francis Parkman Prize". Book Awards. LoveTheBook.com. http://www.lovethebook.com/Awards.aspx?wid=283&pg=4&bn=9&pbn=1000. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  25. ^ "Cornelius Ryan Award". Overseas Press Club of America. http://www.opcofamerica.org/opc_awards/archive/byaward/award_ryan.php. Retrieved 2008-04-24. [dead link]
  26. ^ a b Paul Giambarba. "History is the Story of People. Not Events". CapeArts2. http://www.giambarba.com/mccullough/mccullough.html. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  27. ^ a b "Mornings on Horseback". ElectricEggplant. http://www.electriceggplant.com/davidmccullough/mornings.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  28. ^ "Mornings on Horseback". SimonSays.com. http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?sid=814&pid=414119. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  29. ^ Andriani, Lynn (2008-03-17). "McCullough and S&S: 40 Years". Publishers Weekly. http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6542965.html?q=David+McCullough. Retrieved 2008-04-25. [dead link]
  30. ^ a b "From Publishers Weekly". Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0671792768. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  31. ^ a b "The Pultizer Prize Winners". The Pulitzer Board. http://www.pulitzer.org/cgi-bin/query.cgi?E=1&X=0&searchtype=1&Q=David+McCullough&FormsCheckbox1=1&words=0&case=1&FormsButton2=Search. Retrieved 2008-05-02. [dead link]
  32. ^ a b c d Leopold, Todd (2005-06-07). "David McCullough brings 'John Adams' to life". CNN. http://edition1.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/books/06/07/david.mccullough/index.html. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  33. ^ a b c d Guthmann, Edward (2005-06-27). "Best-selling author David McCullough writes his stories from the inside out". San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/06/27/DDG7TDEBOF1.DTL. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  34. ^ a b "David McCullough's biography 'John Adams' becomes HBO miniseries". The Dallas Morning News. 2008-03-08. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-johnadams_0315gl.ART0.State.Edition1.464fbd1.html. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  35. ^ "1776(HBO)". The Futon Critic. http://www.thefutoncritic.com/moviewatch.aspx?id=1776_hbo. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  36. ^ "1776". IMDB.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847152/. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  37. ^ Maslin, Janet (2011-05-22). "The Parisian Experience of American Pioneers". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/books/the-greater-journey-david-mcculloughs-latest-review.html. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  38. ^ "David McCullough". Smithsonian Institution. http://americanhistory.si.edu/about/staff.cfm?key=12&staffkey=1172&type=board. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  39. ^ "David McCullough: Painting With Words". HBO. 2009. http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/davidmccullough/synopsis.html. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  40. ^ Tziperman Lotan, Gal (May 17, 2009). "McCullough tells Eastern Nazarene graduates their education is just beginning". The Patriot Ledger. http://ledger.southofboston.com/articles/2003/03/21/news/export30841.txt. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 
  41. ^ "Simon & Schuster:David McCullough". Archived from the original on 2007-12-24. http://web.archive.org/web/20071224101737/http://www.simonsays.com/content/destination.cfm?tab=1&pid=328883&feature_id=3375. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  42. ^ The Yale Alumni Magazine, October, 1993
  43. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. "Fellows whose last names begin with M". Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. http://web.archive.org/web/20080408040108/http://www.gf.org/mfellow.html. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  44. ^ Academy of Achievement. "David McCullough". Academy of Achievement. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mcc2bio-1. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  45. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  46. ^ David McCullough, "The Course of Human Events, text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  47. ^ "Biography at ElectricEggplant". http://www.electriceggplant.com/davidmccullough/. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  48. ^ "Awards". Simon & Schuster. Archived from the original on 2008-04-03. http://web.archive.org/web/20080403020648/http://www.simonsays.com/content/destination.cfm?tab=1&pid=328883&feature_id=3375. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  49. ^ "Brooklyn Bridge: About the Film". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/brooklynbridge/about/. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  50. ^ "The Statue of Liberty: About the Film". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/statueofliberty/about/. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  51. ^ "The Congress: About the Film". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/congress/about/. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 

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