When I say that author David McCullough is a national treasure, I’m not being trite. I’ve admired his work for years.
While in graduate school, I was asked to bring in a quote from an author I admire. I immediately thought of McCullough’s opening lines to The Johnstown Flood:
Again that morning there had been a bright front in the hollow below the dam, and the sun was not up long before storm clouds rolled in from the southeast.
By late afternoon a sharp, gusty wind was blowing down from the mountains, flattening the long grass along the lakeshore and kicking up tiny whitecaps out in the center of the lake.
Can’t you see it?
I had the privilege of visiting the actual site in western Pennsylvania a few years ago. Even in midsummer, the place was eerily chilling. McCullough described it dead-on. I already knew the place before I arrived.
Without question, McCullough is the master of creating accessible American history narratives: 1776, Mornings on Horseback, Truman, John Adams…no small task to bring to life history so many consider boring. He has turned a whole generation on to American history while snagging two Pulitzers.
Last week I had the good fortune of attending his presentation of his latest book, The Greater Journey. The large auditorium was packed, cars were parked willy-nilly on the grass. The man certainly draws a crowd.
As McCullough read from his latest tome, that famous “voice” entered the room, straight from Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” and other documentaries. Yet when he spoke in conversation, he was a kindly uncle offering sage advice. Remember, he said, no one accomplishes anything of significance by themselves.
An humbling thought from one who has realized some mighty lofty dreams.