Liberal Arts Blog — David McCullough (1933–2022) — Master Story Teller, Voice of America

Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Religion, and Culture Day

Today’s Topic: David McCullough (1933–2022) — Master Story Teller, Voice of America

I have never featured a modern historian on Literature Day. This ends now. David McCulllough is the only historian that my family ever listened to in the car. To everyone’s delight. He brought the past alive like no one else. He was one of a kind. Today, a few quotes and a partial list of his books and narrations. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT — a defining moment

1. “Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat.”

2. “After several days on the river. He caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off in a borrowed wagon to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow-covered wastes of the Badlands to the railhead at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, the entire 40 miles.

3. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in Roorsevelt’s eventful life.”

NB: “But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say that they haven’t time to read.”


1. “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

2. “If you get down about the state of American culture, just remember that there are still more public libraries in this country than there are Mcdonalds.”

3. “You can’t be a full participant in our democracy if you don’t know our history.”


1. “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.”

2.“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.”

3. “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.”

FOOTNOTE — Selected books and narrations

1. The Johnstown Flood (1968), The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972). The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, (1870–1914), 1977 (winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize)

2. Mornings on Horseback (biography of Theodore Roosevel), 1981, winner of the National Book Award. Truman, 1992, winner of the National Book Award for Biography. John Adams (2001), ditto

3. 1776 (2005), The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (2011), The Wright Brothers (2015)

NB: Narrated: The American Experience (PBS series, 1988–1999), Ken Burns documentaries: The Civil War, Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, The Congress. And many of his own audio books.


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20PDF with headlines — Google Drive

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



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