David McCullough is out with a new book

Historians in the News
tags: David McCullough, The American Spirit



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... Acclaimed historian David McCullough’s “The American Spirit” is as inspirational as it is brilliant, as simple as it is sophisticated. It will at the same time make you laugh and give rise to tears of despair.

McCullough’s latest work is a selectively chosen and edited collection of 15 talks from hundreds he has given over a 27-year period in such diverse venues as the U.S. Capitol, a small college in Schenectady and a lecture hall in Hillsdale, Mich.

Each as been chosen, the publisher tells us, because each brings a different view, at a different time and through a different audience of who we are as Americans and what we are as a nation.

This is not patriotic boilerplate. McCullough is a historian and a realist. He sees his nation with all its warts, beginning with its indelible birthmark of slavery and continuing through to today’s government dysfunction and political polarization. Yet he remains confident and upbeat.

Shortly after 9/11, he reminded a Providence audience: “We are still the strongest, most productive, wealthiest, the most creative, the most ingenious, the most generous nation in the world.”

At 83, McCullough laces his talks with quotes from figures he has spent a lifetime studying. He leans heavily on our second president, John Adams, his son and sixth president, John Quincy Adams, and the wife and mother of presidents, Abigail Adams. But he recalls seemingly without effort the words of little-known signers of the Declaration of Independence and recent Presidents.

He talks of the men who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence as if we were there in Philadelphia in 1776. Each had much to lose, yet they knew they were signing their death warrants if caught because they had just declared treason against their king.

As an afterthought, McCullough takes a swipe at governing by consensus, estimating from his research that if a poll had been taken in 1776, “they would have scrapped the whole idea of independence” because the colonies were split a third for, a third against, and a third who “in the old human way, was waiting to see who came out on top.” ...




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