David McCullough: Master Historian Relishing Life in Historic Hub


History Buzz

Source: Boston Globe, 5-31-11

David McCullough was taking his customary morning stroll through the Public Garden one day last week when a woman asked for a word with him. Spotting the eminent historian was easy enough. With his mane of snow-white hair and stately, professorial mien, McCullough, 77, is as recognizable as any working — or walking — American author alive today.

David McCullough walked in the Boston Public Garden discussing Boston and his new book.

The woman praised his book “1776’’ for its humanizing of Revolutionary War-era history. McCullough, who moved from Martha’s Vineyard into a Back Bay apartment two months ago, graciously heard her out. Then, with little prompting, he told her how much he’s enjoying living in the city — “one of the two or three top destinations in the country for history, a center of civilization,’’ filled with great statuary, architecture, museums, and libraries.

The woman reacted as if she’d just gotten an impromptu cello lesson from Yo-Yo Ma.

If McCullough had an extra spring in his step that morning, it wasn’t solely due to his chance encounter with a fan. Last week also marked publication of his latest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,’’ a sprawling narrative centered on a large contingent of artists, writers, physicians, and politicians who migrated to Paris in the 19th century, to lasting effect on their lives and careers. Spanning seven decades, McCullough’s story weaves memorable portraits of Samuel Morse, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Sumner, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, among others.

The book draws heavily upon personal correspondence and diary entries, a hallmark of McCullough’s previous books, which have earned him dozens of honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Boston-Paris connection in “Greater Journey’’ is a strong one, McCullough said while making his way south from the George Washington statue, near Arlington Street, to the park’s Boylston Street border.

“George Healy, for instance, is a great American story,’’ McCullough said as he walked along at a brisk pace, pointing out treats like a chestnut tree in full bloom. “An Irish boy from the streets of Boston with no connections or money and not much education. Yet he goes off on his own and becomes the premier American portrait painter of his time.’’ Pause. “He’s like Forrest Gump. He keeps showing up at important moments.’’…READ MORE

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