David McCullough is called the "citizen chronicler" by Librarian of Congress James Billington. His books have led a renaissance of interest in American history--from learning about a flood in Pennsylvania that without warning devastated an entire community to discovering the private achievements and frailties of an uncelebrated president. His biography of Harry Truman won him a Pulitzer, as did his most recent biography of another president, John Adams.
Meeting Thornton Wilder at Yale as an undergraduate inspired McCullough to become a writer--his first love, in fact, had been art. While at college he also met his wife, Rosalee. He learned his craft working at Sports Illustrated, at the United States Information Agency, and at American Heritage. McCullough researched and wrote his first book in the precious hours away from his job with American Heritage; The Johnstown Flood came out in 1968. It was a story and region familiar to McCullough, who was born and raised in nearby Pittsburgh. The book was a success and he became a full-time author.
Since then, McCullough has given us six more books--The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, Truman, and John Adams--earning him two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and two Francis Parkman Prizes from the American Society of Historians. His other honors include a Charles Frankel Prize, a National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, and a New York Public Library’s Literary Lion Award.
David McCullough: John and Abigail Adams were too immensely vital, energetic, aspiring and affectionate people whose story is a great love story. They are a great real love story and their character, their personality, their mental vitality work together in a way that would not have happened to had either one of them have been going it alone. They are also very revealing to us, about what life was like them? And what they thought? What they felt? What they found painful or exhilarating or hardcore or uplifting because they report all their feelings out in letters, on paper and they did it all through their whole lives for over a thousand letters between John and Abigail Adams that have survived and we don’t have to wonder about, what did they think or where they frighten, where they depressed, where they optimistic. We know, we told each other, and they are honest about it, they are candid about it because the other one would have known in a minute if the one writing was being superficial or instance here, and they were both superb writers that is not a dull letter in the whole lot, nor of short one, they daily reported out and if they had done nothing else in their lives, but write those letters in that day, in that time in the letter survived as they have, they would have made an immense contribution of the country because they are the great window on to their time and on to their own intimate lives of anybody who lived there, any American who lived there. Jefferson for example destroyed every letter his wife ever wrote to him or he wrote to her, Martha Washington destroyed orbit of one or two letters that her husband wrote to her, but not sure why they did it, there any web they have succeeded in obliterating that record, the Adams is saved everything and because of it was written on, red paper that is paper made from jobbed up linen rags and not wood pulp as our paper is that paper is this good today, those letters are as good today isn’t they were written and to whole one of those in your hands very same piece of paper about the same distance from your eyes as the recipient of letter held it from her eyes or his eyes is to make contact with those people in the way that’s surpasses almost anything I have ever experienced, it’s a tacto real contact with those manage people.
Recorded on: 3/3/08