Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature and Mass Media
6. “History Teaches by Example” David McCullough’s John Adams Biography 1
When it comes to questions of historiography, i.e., the theories, techniques, and principles of historical research and presentation, there has long existed a gulf between the pure, factual, objective and yet quite often cut-and-dry scholars and the less informed, superficial, subjective but vivid popularizers of history. The academics are addressing a small group of experts and are pleased if their books get published at all and make it into major scholarly libraries, while those authors who write for the mass market spread their books across the landscape in the thousands. Occasionally, however, we find historians who bridge this dichotomy by being truthful to academic principles and by being able to write in a style that is accessible and enjoyable for both professional historians and general readers. There is no doubt that David McCullough, renowned author of such books as The Johnstown Flood (1968), The Great Bridge (1972), The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914 (1977), and the Pulitzer-prize winning Truman (1992) biography as well as distinguished narrator of PBS’s American Experience and such historical documentaries as Ken Burn’s Civil War, is both an academic and popular historian. How else could it be explained that his most recent voluminous biography on the hitherto lesser known and appreciated John Adams could be equally acclaimed as a magisterial historical biography by profes- sional historians and the general public alike? Never before has such a book met with so much success. Barely three months after its publication in...
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