Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
   + [ The Arts ]
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like David McCullough's story, you might also like:
Stephen Ambrose,
Tom Clancy,
David Herbert Donald,
Shelby Foote,
Doris Kearns Goodwin,
James Michener,
Peggy Noonan,
Vincent Scully
and Neil Sheehan

David McCullough's recommended reading: Reveille in Washington

David McCullough also appears in the videos:
Democracy and Citizenship: The 250th Celebration of Thomas Jefferson's Birthday

So, You Want to Be a Writer

Related Links:
David McCullough
NEH Lecture
Paris Review

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

David McCullough
David McCullough
Profile of David McCullough Biography of David McCullough Interview with David McCullough David McCullough Photo Gallery

David McCullough Interview (page: 3 / 4)

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

Print David McCullough Interview Print Interview

  David McCullough

What books do you think influenced you when you were growing up?

David McCullough Interview Photo
David McCullough: We had the classics, published by Scribners, all the great stories by Robert Louis Stevenson and the rest which were illustrated by the great N.C. Wyeth. In those days, when childhood diseases were extended, you were home with the measles or mumps or chicken pox for two or three weeks at a time, and you were supposed to stay in bed. There wasn't any television, there wasn't much to do, so I would stare at those paintings in those books by the hour.

I didn't read them all. I loved to just look at those pictures and study every detail. I could sit down and draw most of those pictures right now without having to refresh my memory because they were so exciting to me. I entered into that. "What was it like to have been there?" You know, those wonderful pictures in The Last of the Mohicans, for example. And the imagination ran wild!

Then I began reading, and I couldn't read enough. I couldn't stop. I read mostly fiction. I write history and biography, but for my own pleasure I read fiction, and poetry, and drama.

What are your favorites?

David McCullough: Oh, my. Almost all of Willa Cather, and Wallace Stegner, who I think is one of the literary giants of our time.

I love to read mysteries. I love Dickens -- who doesn't love Dickens? -- either on stage or movies, but more in the printed page. And, I love the theater. I saw Frank Fay in Harvey when the road company came to Pittsburgh. I saw Brando in Streetcar. I saw plays like Inherit the Wind, and I thought, "Look at the possibilities in history as drama!"

[ Key to Success ] Vision

David McCullough Interview Photo
All of those things you wanted to be as a kid you really can be as a historian, can't you? You're putting on a drama.

David McCullough: Well you can. I don't think you can underestimate the impact of the movies on my generation.

I don't think we're going to understand that for a long time, but the movies were how we saw the world.

When I said earlier...

I couldn't wait to go to New York, it was because of the way New York was portrayed in the movies. When you got to New York, boy, you know, there it was. "You can do anything, be anything!" And it wasn't all about work and manufacturing and business, which really was what Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was primarily about. And the heroes of those movies -- very important to understand that -- the Henry Fonda characters, the Spencer Tracy characters, real heroes. And Jimmy Stewart! I think Jimmy -- If I were to ask who most influenced me, maybe it was Jimmy Stewart, the parts he played and the way he was. And of course the fact that he came from Western Pennsylvania, which is not very far from where I grew up.

There's a resemblance, too.

David McCullough: Oh, you think so? Oh, that's a wonderful compliment. His father ran a hardware store and he went off to Princeton, and my father had an electrical supply business and I got to go to Yale, and I thought that's fine. But, you see...

Jimmy Stewart -- the part Jimmy Stewart is playing -- is very important. He's almost always playing the same part, and that is the seemingly ordinary, decent American who -- when put to the test in an extreme situation -- rises to the occasion and does the extraordinary. And that's an old, old story in our American way of life. In fact, it's the story of Harry Truman, which is what I've spent the largest part of my creative writing life working on, a project of 10 years. That's the story of Harry Truman, the seemingly ordinary fellow who -- put to the test -- rises to the occasion and does the extraordinary. And, I think we like that story because that's the story of our country.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

David McCullough Interview Photo

We are all, in effect, ordinary people who have been given an extraordinary opportunity and presented, therefore, with an extraordinary problem. Can we rise to the occasion and be extraordinary? We had the Founding Fathers, who set this very idealistic, lofty, aspiring set of rules, and guidelines, and design for the ultimate culture, civilization, way of life we were going to create here, and then they leave the stage. Can we live up to the promise of their concept?

And that's the story of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The father has the dream of this extraordinary bridge, this unprecedented bridge. He is killed. He dies at the very beginning. His son has to take over. Can he carry out the father's exceptional, idealistic conception? Those early Founders of our country, in a way, set the bar -- if you've ever been a high jumper -- set the bar very high. Can we -- are we up to jumping that high? And if we don't, that's all right. We're at least trying.

David McCullough Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   

This page last revised on Feb 14, 2008 17:08 EST
How To Cite This Page