David Gaub McCullough (/məˈkʌlə/; born July 7, 1933) is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer.[2] He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award.[2][3]

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, McCullough earned a degree in English literature from Yale University. His first book was The Johnstown Flood (1968); and he has since written nine more on such topics as Harry S. Truman, John Adams, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Wright brothers. McCullough has also narrated numerous documentaries, such as The Civil War by Ken Burns, as well as the 2003 film Seabiscuit; and he hosted American Experience for twelve years.

McCullough's two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted by HBO into a TV film and a miniseries, respectively.

Life and career

Youth and growth

McCullough was born in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[4] the son of Ruth (née Rankin) and Christian Hax McCullough.[5] He is of Scots-Irish descent.[6] He was educated at Linden Avenue Grade School and Shady Side Academy, in his hometown of Pittsburgh.[7] One of four sons, McCullough had a "marvelous" childhood with a wide range of interests, including sports and drawing cartoons.[8] McCullough's parents and his grandmother, who read to him often, introduced him to books at an early age.[6] His parents often talked about history, a topic he says should be discussed more often.[6] McCullough "loved school, every day";[8] he contemplated many career choices, ranging from architect, actor, painter, writer, to lawyer, and contemplated attending medical school for a time.[8]

In 1951, McCullough began attending Yale University.[9] He said that it was a "privilege" to study English at Yale because of faculty members such as John O'Hara, John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren, and Brendan Gill.[10] McCullough occasionally ate lunch with the Pulitzer Prize-winning[11] novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder.[10] Wilder, says McCullough, taught him that a competent writer maintains "an air of freedom" in the storyline, so that a reader will not anticipate the outcome, even if the book is non-fiction.[1]

While at Yale, he became a member of Skull and Bones.[12] He served apprenticeships at Time, Life, the United States Information Agency, and American Heritage,[10] where he enjoyed research. "Once I discovered the endless fascination of doing the research and of doing the writing, I knew I had found what I wanted to do in my life."[10] While attending Yale, McCullough studied Arts and earned his bachelor's degree in English, with the intention of becoming a fiction writer or playwright.[6] He graduated with honors in English literature (1955).[13][14]

Writing career

Early career

After graduation, McCullough moved to New York City, where Sports Illustrated hired him as a trainee.[8] He later worked as an editor and writer for the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C.[4] After working for twelve years, including a position at American Heritage, in editing and writing, McCullough "felt that [he] had reached the point where [he] could attempt something on [his] own."[8]

McCullough "had no anticipation that [he] was going to write history, but [he] stumbled upon a story that [he] thought was powerful, exciting, and very worth telling."[8] While working at American Heritage, McCullough wrote in his spare time for three years.[8][15] The Johnstown Flood, a chronicle of one of the worst flood disasters in United States history, was published in 1968[8] to high praise by critics.[16] John Leonard, of The New York Times, said of McCullough, "We have no better social historian."[16] Despite rough financial times,[9] he decided to become a full-time writer, encouraged by his wife Rosalee.[17]

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.[18]

Gaining recognition

After the success of The Johnstown Flood, two new publishers offered him contracts, one to write about the Great Chicago Fire and another about the San Francisco earthquake.[19] Simon & Schuster, publisher of his first book, also offered McCullough a contract to write a second book.[9] Trying not to become "Bad News McCullough",[19] he decided to write about a subject showing "people were not always foolish and inept or irresponsible."[19] He remembered the words of his Yale teacher: "[Thornton] Wilder said he got the idea for a book or a play when he wanted to learn about something. Then, he'd check to see if anybody had already done it, and if they hadn't, he'd do it."[9] McCullough decided to write a history of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he had walked across many times.[9]

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.

– David McCullough[10]

He also proposed, from a suggestion by his editor,[6] a work about the Panama Canal; both were accepted by the publisher.[9] Critics hailed The Great Bridge (1972) as "the definitive book on the event."[20]

Five years later, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal was released, gaining McCullough widespread recognition.[9] The book won the National Book Award in History,[21] the Samuel Eliot Morison Award,[22] the Francis Parkman Prize,[23] and the Cornelius Ryan Award.[24] Later in 1977, McCullough travelled to the White House to advise Jimmy Carter and the United States Senate on the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which would give Panama control of the Canal.[22] Carter later said that the treaties, which were agreed upon to hand over ownership of the Canal to Panama, would not have passed had it not been for the book.[22]

"The story of people"

McCullough's fourth work was his first biography, reinforcing his belief that "history is the story of people".[25] Released in 1981, Mornings on Horseback tells the story of seventeen years in the life of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.[26] The work ranged from 1869, when Roosevelt was ten years old, to 1886, and tells of a "life intensely lived."[26] The book won McCullough's second National Book Award[27][a] and his first Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography and New York Public Library Literary Lion Award.[28] Next, he published Brave Companions, a collection of essays that "unfold seamlessly".[29] Written over twenty years, the book[30] includes essays about Louis Agassiz, Alexander von Humboldt, John and Washington Roebling, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Conrad Richter, and Frederic Remington.[30]

With his next book, McCullough published his second biography, Truman (1993) about the 33rd president. The book won McCullough his first Pulitzer Prize, in the category of "Best Biography or Autobiography,"[31] and his second Francis Parkman Prize. Two years later, the book was adapted as Truman (1995), a television film by HBO, starring Gary Sinise as Truman.[9]

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.

– David McCullough[32]

Working for the next seven years,[33] McCullough published John Adams (2001), his third biography about a United States president. One of the fastest-selling non-fiction books in history,[9] the book won McCullough's second Pulitzer Prize for "Best Biography or Autobiography."[31] He started it as a book about the founding fathers and back-to-back presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; but dropped Jefferson to focus on Adams.[32] HBO adapted John Adams as a seven-part miniseries by the same name.[34] Premiering in 2008, it starred Paul Giamatti in the title role.[34] The DVD version of the miniseries includes the biopic, "David McCullough: Painting with Words."

McCullough's 1776, tells the story of the founding year of the United States, focusing on George Washington, the amateur army, and other struggles for independence.[33] Because of McCullough's popularity, its initial printing was 1.25 million copies, many more than the average history book.[3] Upon its release, the book was a number one best-seller in the United States.[33] A miniseries adaptation of 1776 was rumored.

McCullough considered writing a sequel to 1776.[33] However, he signed a contract with Simon & Schuster to do a work about Americans in Paris between 1830 and 1900, The Greater Journey, which was published in 2011.[35][36] The book covers 19th-century Americans, including Mark Twain and Samuel Morse, who migrated to Paris and went on to achieve importance in culture or innovation. Other subjects include Benjamin Silliman, who had been Morse's science teacher at Yale, Elihu Washburne, the American ambassador to France during the Franco-Prussian War, and Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States.[37]

In 2015, McCullough's The Wright Brothers was published. On October 6, 2016, Simon & Schuster announced that they will publish David McCullough’s new book, The Pioneers, in 2019. The Pioneers is the story of the first settlers of the Northwest Territory, a vast American wilderness to which the Ohio River was the gateway.[38]

Personal life

David McCullough lives in Boston and is married to Rosalee Barnes McCullough, whom he met at age 17 in Pittsburgh. The couple have five children and eighteen grandchildren.[39] He enjoys sports, history, and art, including watercolor and portrait painting.[40]

His son, David Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in the Boston suburbs, achieved sudden fame in 2012 with his commencement speech. He told graduating students, "you're not special" nine times, and his speech went viral on YouTube.[41]

McCullough speaking in 2008 at Vassar College

A registered independent, McCullough has typically avoided publicly commentating on contemporary political issues. When asked to do so, he would repeatedly say, "My specialty is dead politicians." During the 2016 presidential election season, he broke with this tradition to criticize Donald Trump, whom he called "a monstrous clown with a monstrous ego."[42]

Awards and accolades

McCullough has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 2006, the highest civilian award that a United States citizen can receive.[3] In 1995 the National Book Foundation conferred its lifetime Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.[43] McCullough has been awarded more than 40 honorary degrees, including one from the Eastern Nazarene College in John Adams' hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts.[44] McCullough has received two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, two Francis Parkman Prizes, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, New York Public Library's Literary Lion Award, and the St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates,[45][46] among others.[15][47] McCullough was chosen to deliver the first annual John Hersey Lecture at Yale University on March 22, 1993.[48] He is a member of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship[49] and the Academy of Achievement.[50] In 2003, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected McCullough for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[51] McCullough's lecture was entitled "The Course of Human Events".[52]

In 1995, McCullough received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. The Helmerich Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.

McCullough has been called a "master of the art of narrative history."[53] The New York Times critic John Leonard wrote that McCullough was "incapable of writing a page of bad prose."[25] His works have been published in ten languages, over nine million copies have been printed,[6] and all of his books are still in print.[2]

In December, 2012, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania announced that it would rename the 16th Street Bridge in Pittsburgh in honor of McCullough.[54]

In a ceremony at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on November 16, 2015, the Air University of the United States Air Force awarded McCullough an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree.[55] He was also made an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa at Yale University in 2015.[56]

In May 2016, McCullough received the United States Capitol Historical Society's Freedom Award. It was presented in the National Statuary Hall May 11.[57]

In September 2016, McCullough received the Gerry Lenfest Spirit of the American Revolution Award from the Museum of the American Revolution.[58]



Title Year Subject matter Awards[59] Interviews and presentations
The Johnstown Flood 1968 Johnstown Flood
The Great Bridge 1972 Brooklyn Bridge Presentation by McCullough on The Great Bridge, September 17, 2002, C-SPAN
The Path Between the Seas 1977 Panama Canal, History of the Panama Canal National Book Award – 1978[21]
Francis Parkman Prize – 1978
Samuel Eliot Morison Award – 1978
Cornelius Ryan Award – 1978
Mornings on Horseback 1981 Theodore Roosevelt National Book Award – 1982[27][a]
Brave Companions 1991
Truman 1992 Harry S Truman Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography – 1993[31]
The Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award – 1993
Francis Parkman Prize
Booknotes interview with McCullough on Truman, July 19, 1992, C-SPAN
Presentation by McCullough on Truman at the National Press Club, July 7, 1992, C-SPAN
John Adams 2001 John Adams Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography – 2002[31] Presentation by McCullough on John Adams at the Library of Congress, April 24, 2001, C-SPAN
Presentation by McCullough on John Adams at the National Book Festival, September 8, 2001, C-SPAN
1776 2005 American Revolution, American Revolutionary War American Compass Best Book – 2005 Presentation by McCullough on 1776 to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, June 9, 2005, C-SPAN
Q&A interview with McCullough on 1776, August 7, 2005, C-SPAN
Presentation by McCullough on 1776 at the National Book Festival, September 24, 2005, C-SPAN
Presentation by McCullough on 1776 at the Texas State Capital, October 29, 2005
In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story 2010 Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Arcadia Conference
The Greater Journey 2011 Part one and Part two of Q&A interview with McCullough on The Greater Journey, May 22 & 29, 2011, C-SPAN
Interview with McCullough on The Greater Journey at the National Book Festival, September 25, 2011, C-SPAN
Presentation by McCullough on The Greater Journey at the National Book Festival, September 25, 2011, C-SPAN
The Wright Brothers 2015 The Wright Brothers National Aviation Hall of Fame Combs Gates Award - 2016 Q&A interview with McCullough on The Wright Brothers, May 31, 2015, C-SPAN
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For 2017 Q&A interview with McCullough on The American Spirit, April 23, 2017, C-SPAN
The Pioneers[60] 2019 American pioneers to the Northwest Territory


McCullough has narrated many television shows and documentaries throughout his career. In addition to narrating the 2003 film Seabiscuit, McCullough hosted PBS's American Experience from 1988 to 1999.[32] McCullough has also narrated numerous documentaries directed by Ken Burns, including Emmy Award winning The Civil War,[32] Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge,[61] The Statue of Liberty,[62] and The Congress.[63] He served as a guest narrator for The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, a Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert Special that aired on PBS in 2010.[64] McCullough has also narrated some of his own audiobooks, including introductions for the anniversary edition of The Great Bridge and The Greater Journey and the entire audiobooks of 1776 and The Wright Brothers.

List of films presented or narrated


  1. ^ a b Mornings on Horseback won the 1982 award for hardcover "Autobiography/Biography".
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and several nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including the 1982 Autobiography/Biography.


  1. ^ a b Bolduc, Brian (2001-06-18). "Don't Know Much about History". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  2. ^ a b c "Biography at Simon & Schuster". Archived from the original on 2008-06-06. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b c Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  4. ^ a b "David McCullough Biography". Academy of Achievement. February 2, 2005. Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2008. 
  5. ^ "David McCullough". National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches. National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "David McCullough". The Charlie Rose Show. March 21, 2008. 60 minutes in. PBS. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. 
  7. ^ Sherman, Jerome L (2006-12-16). "Presidential biographer gets presidential medal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview: David McCullough Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography". Academy of Achievement. June 3, 1995. Archived from the original on April 3, 2008. Retrieved April 22, 2008. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hoover, Bob (2001-12-30). "David McCullough: America's historian, Pittsburgh son". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Cole, Bruce. "David McCullough Interview". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  11. ^ "Biography". Thorton Wilder Society. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  12. ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 127. ISBN 0-316-72091-7. 
  13. ^ "Orthodox Church Patriarch and Entertainer Lena Horne Among Honorary Degree Recipients at Yale University" (Press release). Yale University. 1998-05-25. Retrieved 2008-04-21. David McCullough graduated from Yale in 1955 with honors in English literature and began his career as writer and editor for Time Inc. in New York City. 
  14. ^ "David McCullough". PBS. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  15. ^ a b "David McCullough biography: The Citizen Chronicler". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  16. ^ a b "Johnstown Flood: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-23. . The bestselling author Erik Larson has written that The Johnstown Flood was a book that changed his life. He found it full of "suspense, drama, class conflict, dire goings-on." Larson decided to write in the same genre, what he calls "narrative nonfiction," and thought McCullough's book "a Baedeker for how to go about it. I analyzed his source notes and outlined the story chapter by chapter, to try to divine just how he did it. And suddenly I had my compass. The result was Isaac's Storm." AARP Magazine, April/May, 2015,10.
  17. ^ "David McCullough Profile". Academy of Achievement. February 2, 2005. Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2008. 
  18. ^ Fein, Esther (1992-08-12). "Talking History With: David McCullough; Immersed in Facts, The Better to Imagine Harry Truman's Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  19. ^ a b c Leslie Shaver (April 2003). "A Painter of Words About the Past". Special Libraries Association. Archived from the original on October 29, 2002. Retrieved April 23, 2008. 
  20. ^ "The Great Bridge: Reviews and Praise". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  21. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1978". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  22. ^ a b c "Samuel Eliot Morison Award 1978". AmericanHeritage.com. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2008. 
  23. ^ "Francis Parkman Prize". Book Awards. LoveTheBook.com. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  24. ^ "Cornelius Ryan Award". Overseas Press Club of America. Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  25. ^ a b Paul Giambarba. "History is the Story of People. Not Events". CapeArts2. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. Retrieved April 24, 2008. 
  26. ^ a b "Mornings on Horseback". ElectricEggplant. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  27. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1982". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  28. ^ "Mornings on Horseback". SimonSays.com. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  29. ^ Andriani, Lynn (2008-03-17). "McCullough and S&S: 40 Years". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  30. ^ a b ASIN 0131401041, Brave Companions: Portraits in History
  31. ^ a b c d "Biography or Autobiography". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  32. ^ a b c d Leopold, Todd (June 7, 2005). "David McCullough brings 'John Adams' to life". CNN. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  33. ^ a b c d Guthmann, Edward (2005-06-27). "Best-selling author David McCullough writes his stories from the inside out". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  34. ^ a b "David McCullough's biography 'John Adams' becomes HBO miniseries". The Dallas Morning News. 2008-03-08. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  35. ^ Books – The Greater Journey, Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  36. ^ ASIN 1416571760, The Greater Journey
  37. ^ Maslin, Janet (2011-05-22). "The Parisian Experience of American Pioneers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  38. ^ "New Book by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author David McCullough About American Pioneers to be Published by Simon & Schuster". News and Corporate Information about Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2016-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  39. ^ "David McCullough". Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on April 18, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2009. 
  40. ^ "David McCullough: Painting With Words". HBO. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  41. ^ "Teacher defends "You're not special" speech". CBS News. June 11, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  42. ^ Dwyer, Jim (July 12, 2016). "Scholars Steeped in Dead Politicians Take On a Live One: Donald Trump". The New York Times. Retrieved July 23, 2017. 
  43. ^ "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-12.
    (With acceptance speech by McCullough and ex-post introduction by one of his publishers.)
  44. ^ Tziperman Lotan, Gal (May 17, 2009). "McCullough tells Eastern Nazarene graduates their education is just beginning". The Patriot Ledger. Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved May 20, 2009. 
  45. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University". 
  46. ^ Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Recipients of the St. Louis Literary Award". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  47. ^ "Simon & Schuster:David McCullough". Archived from the original on 2007-12-24. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  48. ^ "A Life in Writing John Hersey, 1914–1993" Archived October 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.. Yale Alumni Magazine. October 1993.
  49. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. "Fellows whose last names begin with M". Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  50. ^ Academy of Achievement. "David McCullough". Academy of Achievement. Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved May 17, 2008. 
  51. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved 2009-01-22).
  52. ^ David McCullough, "The Course of Human Events, text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  53. ^ "Biography at ElectricEggplant". Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  54. ^ Barcousky, Len (2012-12-06). "Historian McCullough 'humbled' by Pittsburgh bridge honor". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  55. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2015. 
  56. ^ "Phi Beta Kappa inducts alumnus David McCullough with inaugural Joseph W. Gordon Award". 
  57. ^ U.S. Capitol Historical Society. "David McCullough to Receive 2016 Freedom Award". USCHS 2016 Freedom Award: David McCullough. U.S. Capitol Historical Society. Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  58. ^ "David McCullough receives inaugural Lenfest award". 
  59. ^ "Awards". Simon & Schuster. Archived from the original on 2008-04-03. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  60. ^ Pitz, Marylynne (6 October 2016). "Pittsburgh native David McCullough's next book will focus on generations of Northwest pioneers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 10 June 2017. 
  61. ^ "Brooklyn Bridge: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  62. ^ "The Statue of Liberty: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  63. ^ "The Congress: About the Film". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  64. ^ "Photo: Natalie Cole performs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir". Deseret News. December 11, 2009. 

External links