Peggy Noonan calls David McCullough our greatest living historian





On David McCullough: ... He is America's greatest living historian. He has often written about great men and the reason may be a certain law of similarity: He is one also. His work has been broadly influential, immensely popular, respected by his peers (Pulitzer Prizes for "Truman" and "John Adams," National Book Awards for "The Path Between the Seas" and "Mornings on Horseback") and by the American public. It is not often—it is increasingly rare—that the academy shares the views of the local dry cleaner, the student flying coach and the high school teacher, but all agree on Mr. McCullough, as they did half a century ago on, say, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. He is admired by normal people and esteemed by the intellectual establishment.

Why? Here are a few reasons. He has the eye of a gifted reporter and the depth of a historian. He sees and explains the true size of an incident or endeavor, he factors in, always, the fact that we are human, and he captures the detail that is somehow so telling—it was a scarf of green silk, not soft muslin, that Rodney wore to the vote on American independence. He writes like a dream, of course. He is broad gauged and has range—the Johnstown flood, the building of the Panama Canal, the founders.

Mr. McCullough betrays no need to be contrarian but is only too happy to knock down history's clichés, to wit George III, the mad doofus, who was in fact "tall and rather handsome" and played both the violin and piano. "His favorite composer was Handel, but he adored also the music of Bach." He rendered "quite beautiful architectural drawings," assembled a distinguished art collection, collected books that in time constituted "one of the finest libraries in the world," loved astronomy, was nonetheless practical, and had a gift for putting people at their ease. He impressed even crusty old Samuel Johnson, who after meeting him called him "the finest gentleman I have ever seen." As for the famous madness, he suffered not during the American Revolution but later in life from what appears to have been "prophyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century."

One can't know if Mr. McCullough is correct in his judgment here, or fully so. One can know he inspected the available data, pondered it, and attempted a fair-minded assessment. He is reliable. (Of how many can that be said?) And he loves America. His work has gone to explaining it to itself, to telling its story....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Herbert Barger - 7/6/2009

As a well known historian, Mr. McCullough could bring more truth to the charges that Thomas Jefferson fathered slave children, but he does not come out to fully investigate this FALSE charge. He is on the board of the Thomas Jefferson Legacy Foundation, however I see no opposition to the misinformation being distributed by Monticello and Annette Gordon-Reed. Does Mr. McCullough not know that Annette Gordon-Reed cannot TRUTHFULLY claim in her book thatThomas Jefferson fathered seven of Sally Hemings children..........this is GARBAGE and he and Monticello should "come out" against such false claims.

Mr. McCullough, I challenge you to earn your title bestowed upon you by Peggy Noonan here "Greatest Living Historian." Please investigate the politically correct charges that TJ fathered slave children. Please read the newest book, "In Defense of Thomas Jefferson, The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal." Need any first hand e-mails from Dr Foster, Dan Jordan, Nature, and many more contact me.

Herb Barger
Jefferson Family Historian
herbar@comcast.net

History News Network