The Best of the Book Nook: Remembering America's Most Popular Historian, David McCullough
Vick Mickunas shares his commentary he wrote for the Dayton Daily News.
I wrote this commentary for the Dayton Daily News on August 8:
David McCullough (July 7, 1933 – August 7, 2022) has died. He was 89.
McCullough probably did more to popularize and disseminate American
history than any other writer over the last half century. It took him a
long while to write a book, over the course of his sterling career he
published ten of them.
In 1968 he put out his first work of history; "The Johnstown Flood: the
Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating Disasters America
Has Ever Known." It got enough good reviews that McCullough decided to
quit his day job to become a full-time writer.
The next book was his magnificent 1972 account "The Great Bridge: the
Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge." It sold well-the
author was on his way to becoming our great popular historian. He
followed that one up in 1977 with "The Path Between the Seas: the
Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914."
His 1981 biography of Teddy Roosevelt, "Mornings on Horseback," won the
National Book Award. In 1992 he published his magisterial biography of
President Harry S. Truman. "Truman" won the Pulitzer Prize for
Biography. Did you notice his titles were getting shorter?
By the time he published his biography of John Adams in 2001 he was
becoming a household name. Many Americans admired his writing and
recognized his majestic voice. He narrated some notable TV programs over
the years. Do you remember the Ken Burns PBS series "The Civil War" in
1990? David's distinctive voice enhanced that series with requisite
In 2002 "John Adams" had come out in paperback and was about to win
another Pulitzer. I got the opportunity to interview David on my radio
show. I called him at his hotel in Washington, D.C. When he answered the
phone I became almost speechless as I was in awe. OMG, that voice, it
was the closest thing to the voice of God.
That day he was talkative and warm and appreciative that I had read his
book and was so engaged with the material. We had a lively chat. I
finally had to end the call because David was expected at the White
House. He was in town to meet with President George W. Bush.
The thing which really struck me was that he was very down to earth. He
treated me with respect. I admired him for that. I assumed I would never
get another chance to interview him. He had become so famous.
Then in 2015 he published another biography. "The Wright Brothers"
became another best-seller and fortune was smiling upon me because the
subject matter, our beloved local geniuses who invented powered flight,
made it so that the author was coming to Dayton for an event.
I scored another interview. His voice had gotten softer. He was as sharp
as ever. It was such a gift and a privilege to have those conversations
with him. You can listen to that final interview I did with David
McCullough right here.
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.