If you thought I liked David McCullough’s writings, you should sample the several responses I got to my April 29 column, headlined, “Need Some Distraction? — Try a McCullough Book.”

Take this comment from my friend Al Carter:

“As much as or perhaps more than any other writer of history that I have enjoyed over the years, McCullough’s ability to create a captivating narrative places history in a clear perspective that is insightful, informative and enjoyable at the same time.”


Al concluded his email: “McCullough’s perceptive treatment of ‘John Adams,’ ‘The Great Bridge,’ ‘The Path Between the Seas’ and ‘1776’ have enriched my life beyond measure.”

Wow. That’s some endorsement. But I couldn’t agree more.

I had mentioned most of those books in my earlier piece — along with “Truman,” “The Wright Brothers” and “The Johnstown Flood.” All of them are pretty long, be warned, but they keep you spellbound by so adroitly combining immaculately detailed research with a strong intrinsic sense of drama.

Another Pilot acquaintance who responded was Jeff Gilbert.

“I agree with you about David McCullough,” he wrote. “Every book he has written has been fascinating. He makes history come alive. I liken him to Charles Dickens. My high school English teacher (Miss Mary Parsons at Sidney Lanier HS in Montgomery, Ala., of all places) induced me to read Dickens for the story and to admire the beauty of his writing. I find I do that with McCullough’s work. …

“By the way, you once loaned me your copy of ‘The Great Bridge.’ I also have an autographed copy of ‘The Path Between the Seas,’ which I received after passage through the Panama Canal.”

I’m jealous. I’m even more envious of a most unusual experience Jeff told about, which involved “the pleasure of cocktails and dinner with McCullough” in Hershey, Pa., although it came at a most unpleasant time: the morning after the 9/11 attacks. The occasion was a business meeting at which McCullough was a guest.

“He speaks just like he writes,” Jeff said. “He explained that he had been in Washington on Sunday, Sept. 9, and was receiving Communion at St. John’s Episcopal Church. As he kneeled, he saw a man kneel next to him — George Bush. He marveled about a country where ordinary citizens would be joined in faith by the most powerful man in the world.”

Another reader I heard from was Robert Brown, a friend and retired history professor at UNC Pembroke. His favorite McCullough work, he said, is a more recent one — “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.” I, too, remember being taken with his tales about how various Yankees journeyed to the legendary French capital during the 19th century.

Robert wrote: “Beginning with the journey — the exhausting and often terrifying voyage took from four to six weeks in the 1830s — McCullough tells the story of how these Americans encountered, sometimes with disbelief, a historic and richly cultured city with an economy of narration and an eye for the telling quotations from memoirs, diaries and letters. …

“The reader accompanies Samuel F.B. Morse, who journeys to Paris to master the craft of history painting — and who while there has an inspiration that later becomes the telegraph. Or there is the horrific daily experiences of Parisians during the siege of Paris and the Commune in 1870. Learning details such as this and many more … is the great virtue of this compelling and readable book — a vicarious journey to the ‘City of Light’ during this time when the pandemic has us staying home.”

OK. Enough about David McCullough. But if you have other books that have helped you through this crisis, I’d like to hear about them.

Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at bouser@email.unc.edu.

(1) comment

Peyton Cook

He is an excellent author and his subjects very interesting. My favorite among the several I have read is the “Wright Brothers”. I grew up in an aviation environment as my father was an Army Air Corps pilot among others things. I followed my father into the Air Force. He knew Orville Wright and I had the honor of being introduced to him.

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