David McCullough and The Greater Journey

Darryl Campbell on May 16, 2011

McCulloughDavid Like a lot of people, I first got to know David McCullough through his voice, as the narrator of the PBS series The Civil War and The American Experience. Of course, there's much more to David McCullough than that -- two Pulitzers, a National Book Award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom award, and a bibliography that stretches all the way back to 1978 (!).

His newest book is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Even though the subject seems a little unusual at first glance, the book itself is classic McCullough, which is to say quintessentially American: he traces the travels of future household names like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Paris, and uncovers the many ways that the City of Light helped shape their lives in particular, and the course of American history in general. It's a dazzling, kaleidoscopic look at a broad cross-section of writers, thinkiers, artists, and professionals, and it's amazing how much material he's sifted through to produce the book.

McCullough's histories have always managed to combine meticulous research with his sheer enthusiasm for his subjects, and it's hard not to come away with a sense that you've learned something new and important about whatever he's tackled. For instance, it's no small feat both to show that John Adams was both prickly, prideful, and downright unpleasant at times, and to argue that he significant contributions to the diplomatic, economic, and political foundations of the new republic in ways that aren't readily apparent in history textbooks. Or to show that a flood that most people outside of Pennsylvania have probably never heard of helped shape disaster relief in the United States, all the way down to the present day.

So here's to David McCullough's long and fruitful career, and to his newest foray into American history with The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris -- available one week from tomorrow, on May 24.

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