David McCullough Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David Gaub McCullough (muh-KUHL-uh) is an important American historian who has popularized history through his award-winning books and appearances on PBS television. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he is the son of Christian Hax and Ruth Rankin McCullough, who worked in a family-owned electrical supply business. An avid reader in a house full of books, McCullough received a B.A. degree in English from Yale University and planned to pursue a career in writing.

In 1954, McCullough married Rosalee Ingram Barnes and eventually settled in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. After graduating from college in 1955, he worked in New York for Time, Incorporated, writing circulation promotion for Sports Illustrated for six years. In 1961, he went to work in Washington, D.C., as a staff writer at the U.S. Information Company but returned to New York in 1964 to accept a position as writer and editor with American Heritage Publishing Company. While there, he edited The American Heritage Picture History of World War II and began writing his first book at night and on weekends. The Johnstown Flood, his account of a nineteenth century disaster in his native Pennsylvania, became successful enough for him to devote his full time to his writing.

McCullough’s next writing project, The Great Bridge, the story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, came about through his interest in topics involving human beings who cooperate in a concerted effort to accomplish something of great significance. In 1972, McCullough shifted his interest from Brooklyn to Panama, for The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914. His...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Graham, Judith, ed. “McCullough, David.” In Current Biography Yearbook, 1993. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1993. A wealth of details about McCullough’s life, interest in history, methods of research, and techniques of writing. Also provides insight into McCullough’s attitude toward his subjects.

McCullough, David. “David McCullough on the Art of Biography.” Interview by Ronald Kovach. The Writer 114, no. 10 (October, 2001): 32-38. An interview with McCullough about the writing of John Adams. McCullough describes his sense of tactile connections with the people whose diaries and letters he reads and insists that writing is a means of arriving at conclusions or solutions or insights that could not have been obtained otherwise.

McCullough, David. “There Isn’t Any Such Thing as the Past.” Interview by Roger Mudd. American Heritage 50 (February, 1999): 114-125. In this interesting interview, McCullough, who considers the United States a future-oriented country, deplores its loss of interest in the past. He also laments the minimal teaching of history in U.S. public schools and the vast number of students who know very little about American history.

Wilentz, Sean. “America Made Easy: McCullough, Adams, and the Decline of Popular History.” The New Republic, no. 1 (July 2, 2001): 35-40. Wilentz distinguishes between two methods of presentation of history—one, an exercise in critical analysis, and the other, a pleasant, nostalgic, uplifting narrative that McCullough has popularized. Wilentz sees McCullough’s biography of John Adams as representative of the current condition of popular history in the United States: treating historical biography as a spectacle that ignores the political and intellectual significance of the subject’s actions.