David McCullough: An Author and Historian Like No Other

Photo credit: Vineyard Gazette

Did you know that if not for the fog, George Washington and his troops may have been captured by the British in 1776? Where would that have put the future of 13 colonies?

That is one of many anecdotes uncovered by David McCullough, one of America’s greatest historians and authors, in my favorite McCullough book, 1776. Today, I feel like I have lost a friend. McCullough died Sunday (August 7) at 89.

While I traveled through his books, he was my guide. I imagined each word through his gentle voice that enthralled millions who listened to his work as a television and motion picture narrator.

His non-fiction works read like novels. He immersed himself in research that uncovered stories that other books about his subjects missed. Reading about history has never been so entertaining and informative.

He won a pair of Pulitzers and more awards than I can list here. I read his books before I started this blog; thus there are no McCullough book reviews on Books and My Backpack.

Another of my favorites was The Path Between the Seas, which chronicled the building of the Panama Canal. And if you think you know about the Wright Brothers, you don’t, unless you have read his book about their journey into the sky. Truman and John Adams set a high standard for biographies about American presidents. There are many more great stories that began on sheets of paper in his manual Royal Standard typewriter.

McCullough died just two months after the death of his wife, Rosalee Barnes, who was his editor.

What is your favorite McCullough book?

A 100-Year-Old Man Does the Unthinkable(s)

On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of his Swedish nursing home and makes a run for it. Actually, as most people his age would do, he shuffles off to an adventure that leaves readers to decide if he is a hero or a bumbling fool.

Take a deep breath for the title: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson. Karlsson’s daring escape from his caretakers quickly becomes the least surprising of his actions in this ridiculous, but charming story. His life becomes linked with an unlikely collection of co-conspirators, shady criminals, and law enforcement officers. Millions of crowns, several killings, explosions and an elephant named Sonya all play roles.

If you are a history buff, you may be intrigued by his connections to Harry Truman, Mao Tse-tung, General Franco and Joseph Stalin. And explosives. Then there is his role in the development of nuclear weaponry.

At the beginning of the story, I turned pages as fast as I could. I got bogged down a few times in the flashbacks to his earlier exploits, told in perhaps too much detail. But if I live to be 100, I know I will share Allan Karlsson’s desire to do the unexpected, to defy those who think they have me figured out. I just hope those who follow me are as curious about my fate as I was about Allan Karlsson’s.