In Memory of David McCullough

9 Aug

Today we mourn the passing of a legend. David McCullough, one of the foremost masters of historical writing, died over the weekend at his Massachusetts home at the age of 89. He will of course be remembered for his iconic books such as Truman, John Adams, 1776, Mornings On Horseback, and The Wright Brothers, among an impressive body of work that included service as a narrator on popular video documentaries such as Ken Burns’ famed Civil War series. If you ever have a chance to listen to him narrate one of his audiobooks, you will quickly learn that he was a master storyteller in whatever medium he chose to work.

It was the stellar example he set as a practitioner of narrative history that we want to draw to attention to as we contemplate his legacy. McCullough inspired us, and countless others, to be better writers and to always remember our primary audience is the general public. He encouraged us to understand all history is the story of individual human experience, and when related in comprehensible and compelling fashion it is as interesting as any work of fiction—perhaps even more so. Above all, though, his work is a reminder that the most fundamental and impactful work a historian can do is to write history in a readable, accessible fashion. McCullough was no insular academic, writing for his peers and focusing on the minutia of historical topics or urging some sort of reconsideration of one preconceived notion or another. His audience was always the general public, and his stories were always straightforward accounts on a grand scale. He excelled in telling these engrossing tales in a way that readers connected with, learned from, and were inspired by. In so doing, he had a tremendous influence on the enthusiasm for the study of the past by the public during his time and far beyond.

He will be missed.

JMB/CPW

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