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David Gaub McCullough

David McCullough speaking at Emory University, on April 25, 2007
Born July 7, 1933 (1933-07-07) (age 76)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Occupation Historian, Author
Nationality American
Scotch-Irish descent[1]
Writing period 1968 - current
Genres History
Spouse(s) Rosalee Ingram Barnes McCullough (1954 - present)
Children Five
Official website

David Gaub McCullough (mə·kŭl′·ə) (born July 7, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)[2] is an American author, narrator, and lecturer.[3] 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.[3][4]

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, McCullough attended Yale University, earning a degree in English literature. His first book, The Johnstown Flood, was published in 1968; he has since written seven more on topics such as Harry S. Truman, John Adams, and the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough has also narrated multiple documentaries, as well as the 2003 film Seabiscuit; he also hosted American Experience for twelve years. Two of McCullough's books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted into a TV film and mini-series, respectively, by HBO. McCullough's next work, about Americans in Paris, is due out in 2010.[5]




Youth and education

Born to Christian Hax and Ruth McCullough,[6] McCullough was educated at Linden Avenue Grade School and Shady Side Academy, in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[7] One of four sons, McCullough had a "marvelous" childhood; he had a wide range of interests, including sports and drawing cartoons.[8] McCullough's parents and grandmother, who read to him often, introduced him to books at an early age.[1] His parents talked openly about history, a topic which he feels should be discussed more often.[1] McCullough "loved school, every day";[8] he contemplated many career choices ranging from architect, actor, painter, writer, lawyer, and even attending medical school.[8]

In 1951, McCullough began attending classes at Yale University.[9] He believed that it was a "privilege" to study English at Yale due to the staff, which included John O'Hara, John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren, and Brendan Gill.[10] He occasionally ate lunch with Pulitzer Prize winning[11] novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder.[10] While at Yale, he became a member of Skull and Bones.[12] He served apprenticeships at Time, Life, the United States Information Agency, and American Heritage.[10] He attributes finding enjoyment in research while he was at these jobs, stating, "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."[10] While attending Yale, McCullough studied arts and achieved his bachelor's degree in English, with the intention of becoming a fiction writer or playwright.[1] He graduated with honors in English literature in 1955.[13][14]

Writing career

Early career

After graduation, McCullough moved to New York City, where the recently formed Sports Illustrated hired him as a trainee.[8] He was later hired by the United States Information Agency, in Washington, D.C. as an editor and writer.[2] 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 my own."[8] 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."[8] While working at American Heritage, McCullough wrote in his spare time for three years.[8][15] The Johnstown Flood, a chronicle of one of the worst flood disasters in United States history, was released in 1968;[8] to high praise by critics.[16] John Leonard, of The New York Times, said of McCullough, "We have no better social historian."[16] Despite rough financial times,[9] McCullough, with encouragement from his wife, Rosalee, made the decision to become a full-time writer.[17]

Gaining recognition

After the success of The Johnstown Flood, two new publishers offered him contracts, one to write about the Great Chicago Fire, another about the San Francisco earthquake.[18] However, Simon & Schuster, publisher of The Johnstown Flood, also offered McCullough a contract to write a second book.[9] Trying not to become "Bad News McCullough",[18] he decided to write about a subject showing "people were not always foolish and inept or irresponsible."[18] 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."[9] McCullough decided to write a history of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he had walked across many times.[9]

"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 [10]

He also proposed, from a suggestion by his editor,[1] a work about the Panama Canal; both were accepted by the publisher.[9] Published in 1972, critics hailed The Great Bridge as "the definitive book on the event."[19] Five years later, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal was released, gaining McCullough widespread attention for the first time.[9] The book won the National Book Award for history,[20] Samuel Eliot Morison Award,[21] the Francis Parkman Prize,[22], and the Cornelius Ryan Award.[23] 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.[21] 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.[21]

"The story of people"

McCullough speaking in 2008

McCullough's fourth work was his first biography, reinforcing his belief that "history is the story of people".[24] 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.[25] The work, ranging from 1869 to 1886, beginning when Roosevelt was ten years of age, tells of a "life intensely lived."[25] 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.[26] Next, a collection of essays which, "unfold seamlessly"[27] entitled Brave Companions, was released from McCullough. The essays, which were written over a twenty-year period,[28] include works about Louis Agassiz, Alexander von Humboldt, John and Washington Roebling, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Conrad Aiken, and Frederic Remington.[28] McCullough's second biography continued the trend of writing about American presidents. Truman, about Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, was released in 1993. The book won McCullough his first Pulitzer Prize, in the category of "Best Biography or Autobiography."[29] Two years later the book was adapted into Truman, a television movie by HBO, starring Gary Sinise as Truman.[9]

"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 [30]

Working for the next seven years,[31] McCullough released John Adams; his third biography about a United States president, in 2001. One of the fastest-selling non-fiction books in history,[9] the book won McCullough's second Pultizer Prize, also for "Best Biography or Autobiography."[29] Beginning as a book about founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the former was eventually dropped and the book focused solely on the second president.[30] HBO returned to McCullough's works to adapt John Adams.[32] Premiering in 2008, the seven-part miniseries starred Academy Award-nominated actor Paul Giamatti in the title role.[32]

McCullough's latest work, 1776, tells the story of the founding year of the United States, with focus on George Washington, the amateur army, and other struggles for independence.[31] Due to McCullough's popularity, its initial printing saw 1.25 million copies made, many more than the average history book.[4] Upon its release, the book was a number one best-seller in the United States.[31] HBO is scheduled to release a miniseries adaptation of 1776 in 2009, possibly involving Tom Hanks, who produced John Adams.[33][34]

McCullough considered writing a "sequel" to 1776.[31] However, he has signed a new contract with Simon & Schuster to do a work about Americans in Paris; it is scheduled for release in 2010.[5] Spanning multiple topics and people, "the book will touch on achievements in literature, medicine, art, architecture, music and dance."[5]

Personal life

David McCullough is married to Rosalee Barnes McCullough, whom he met at age 17, in Pittsburgh. He is a fan of sports, art history, watercolor and portrait painting.[35] The couple have five children and eighteen grandchildren.[36] One of his sons, David McCullough Jr, is a high school English teacher at Wellesley High School. His daughter, Dorie McCullough Lawson, is an author of two books, Along Came a Stranger and Posterity, and is married to the painter T. Lawson. The couple have homes on Martha's Vineyard and in Camden, Maine. The couple used to live on Martha's Vineyard at all times, but moved to the mainland to be closer to their children and grandchildren.[37]

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.[4] McCullough has been awarded over 40 honorary degrees, including one from the Eastern Nazarene College in John Adams' hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts.[38] 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.[39][15] 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.)[40] He is a member of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship[41] and the Academy of Achievement.[42] 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.[43] McCullough's lecture was entitled "The Course of Human Events";[44]

McCullough has been called a "master of the art of narrative history."[45] New York Times critic John Leonard wrote that McCullough was "incapable of writing a page of bad prose."[24] His works have been published in ten languages, over nine million copies have been printed,[1] and all of his eight books have stayed in print.[3]



Title Year Awards[46]
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 - 1993
The Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award - 1993
John Adams 2001 Pulitzer Prize - 2002
1776 2005 American Compass Best Book - 2005


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.[30] McCullough has also narrated numerous documentaries directed by Ken Burns, including Emmy Award winning The Civil War,[30] Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge,[47] The Statue of Liberty,[48] and The Congress.[49]

List of films presented or narrated


  1. ^ a b c d e f "David McCullough". The Charlie Rose Show. PBS. 2008-03-21. 60 minutes in.
  2. ^ a b "David McCullough Biography". Academy of Achievement. 2005-02-02. Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  3. ^ a b c "Biography at Simon & Schuster". Retrieved 2008-04-21.  
  4. ^ a b c Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2006-12-18.  
  5. ^ a b c Publishers Weekly (2007-11-12). "S&S Signs McCullough to Next Book". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2008-04-25.  
  6. ^ "David McCullough". National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches. National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  7. ^ Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2006-12-18.  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview: David McCullough Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography". Academy of Achievement. 1995-06-03. Retrieved 2008-04-22.  
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hoover, Bob (2001-12-30). "David McCullough: America's historian, Pittsburgh son". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-04-21.  
  10. ^ a b c d e Cole, Bruce. "David McCullough Interview". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2008-04-22.  
  11. ^ "Biography". Thorton Wilder Society. Retrieved 2008-04-22.  
  12. ^ 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.  
  13. ^ Yale University (1998-05-25). "YALE News Release" (in English). Press release. Retrieved 2008-04-21.  
  14. ^ "David McCullough". Retrieved 2008-04-21.  
  15. ^ a b "David McCullough biography: The Citizen Chronicler". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  16. ^ a b "Johnstown Flood: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  17. ^ "David McCullough Profile". Academy of Achievement. 2005-02-02. Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  18. ^ a b c Leslie Shaver (2003-04). "A Painter of Words About the Past". Special Libraries Association. Retrieved 2008-04-23.  
  19. ^ "The Great Bridge: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  20. ^ "National Book Awards - 1978". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  21. ^ a b c "SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON AWARD 1978". Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  22. ^ "Francis Parkman Prize". Book Awards. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  23. ^ "Cornelius Ryan Award". Overseas Press Club of America. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  24. ^ a b Paul Giambarba. "History is the Story of People. Not Events". CapeArts2. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  25. ^ a b "Mornings on Horseback". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  26. ^ "Mornings on Horseback". Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  27. ^ Andriani, Lynn (2008-03-17). "McCullough and S&S: 40 Years". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2008-04-25.  
  28. ^ a b "From Publishers Weekly". Retrieved 2008-04-25.  
  29. ^ a b "The Pultizer Prize Winners". The Pultizer Board. Retrieved 2008-05-02.  
  30. ^ a b c d Leopold, Todd (2005-06-07). "David McCullough brings 'John Adams' to life". Retrieved 2008-05-02.  
  31. ^ a b c d Guthmann, Edward (2005-06-27). "Best-selling author David McCullough writes his stories from the inside out". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-02.  
  32. ^ a b "David McCullough's biography 'John Adams' becomes HBO miniseries". The Dallas Morning News. 2008-03-08. Retrieved 2008-05-03.  
  33. ^ "1776(HBO)". The Futon Critic. Retrieved 2008-05-03.  
  34. ^ "1776". Retrieved 2008-05-03.  
  35. ^ url=|title= David McCullough: Painting With Words|accessdate=3 January 2009 |publisher= HBO|date=2009
  36. ^ url=|title= David McCullough|accessdate=3 January 2009 |publisher= Smithsonian Institution}}
  37. ^ url=|title= The time machine|accessdate=3 January 2009 |publisher= Chicago Tribune|date=26 October 2008
  38. ^ Tziperman Lotan, Gal (May 17, 2009). "McCullough tells Eastern Nazarene graduates their education is just beginning". The Patriot Ledger. Retrieved May 20, 2009.  
  39. ^ "Simon & Schuster:David McCullough". Retrieved 2007-10-12.  
  40. ^ The Yale Alumni Magazine, October, 1993
  41. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. "Fellows whose last names begin with M". Retrieved 2008-05-17.  
  42. ^ Academy of Achievement. "David McCullough". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved 2008-05-17.  
  43. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  44. ^ David McCullough, "The Course of Human Events, text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  45. ^ "Biography at ElectricEggplant". Retrieved 2008-04-21.  
  46. ^ "Awards". Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  
  47. ^ "Brooklyn Bridge: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19.  
  48. ^ "The Statue of Liberty: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19.  
  49. ^ "The Congress: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19.  

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