Over the next decades he published 11 more books, including, besides those mentioned above, “Brave Companions: Portraits in History,” a collection of his essays; “1776,” which dealt specifically with the American military under George Washington and which complemented the John Adams book; and “In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story,” about the message of hope that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sent forth when they met soon after Pearl Harbor.
In 2011 came “The Greater Journey,” a lushly illustrated book about Americans in Paris beginning in 1830. It did not fare so well with critics. Janet Maslin of The Times wrote that Mr. McCullough had trouble finding a unifying theme, and thus ended up with “space-filling observations” and uncharacteristically awkward juxtapositions.
He followed “The Greater Journey” with “The Wright Brothers” (2015); “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For (2017); and his most recent book, published in 2019, “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” which provoked sharply critical reviews in The Times and The Washington Post as part of a wider controversy. “A new generation of historians, scholars and activists took to social media to accuse McCullough of romanticizing white settlement and downplaying the pain inflicted on Native Americans,” wrote The Associated Press.
Such complaints as there were about his earlier works often had to do with his obvious affection for the subjects he chose. “Truman,” for instance, helped change history’s opinion of the man for the better; it did not bring an independent point of view to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ordered by Truman. But then, Mr. McCullough made no secret of his admiration for men and women who were known not only for achievement but also for their courage and independence, and for principles that put the greater good above personal ambition.
Mr. McCullough was himself often held up as an exemplar of solid values. He received many awards from professional historical societies and some 40 honorary doctorates. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2003, he was chosen by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the prestigious Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in Washington. He spoke of the founders’ notion of the pursuit of happiness — which, he said, did not mean “long vacations or material possessions or ease.” Rather, he said, “as much as anything it meant the life of the mind and spirit.”
Leave a Reply