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David McCullough, Pulitzer-winning historian, dies at 89

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NEW YORK — David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time, has died. He was 89.

McCullough died Sunday in Hingham, according to his publisher, Simon & Schuster. He died less than two months after his beloved wife, Rosalee.

“David McCullough was a national treasure. His books brought history to life for millions of readers. Through his biographies, he dramatically illustrated the most ennobling parts of the American character,” Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp said in a statement.

A joyous and tireless student of the past, McCullough dedicated himself to sharing his own passion for history with the general public.

His fascination with architecture and construction inspired his early works on the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge, while his admiration for leaders whom he believed were good men drew him to Adams and Truman.

Beyond his books, the handsome, white-haired McCullough may have had the most recognizable presence of any historian, his fatherly baritone known to fans of PBS’s “The American Experience” and Ken Burns’ epic “Civil War” documentary. “Hamilton” author Ron Chernow once called McCullough “both the name and the voice of American history.”

McCullough’s celebrations of the American past also led to the toughest criticism against him — that affection turned too easily to romanticization. His 2019 book “The Pioneers” was faulted for minimizing the atrocities committed against Native Americans as 19th century settlers moved westward. In earlier works, he was accused of avoiding the harder truths about Truman, Adams and others and of placing storytelling above analysis.

McCullough received the National Book Award for “The Path Between the Seas,” about the building of the Panama Canal; and for “Mornings on Horseback,” a biography of Theodore Roosevelt; and Pulitzers for “Truman,” in 1992, and for “John Adams” in 2002.

“The Great Bridge,” his lengthy exploration of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction, was ranked No. 48 on the Modern Library’s list of the best 100 nonfiction works of the 20th century and is still widely regarded as the definitive text of the great 19th century project.

McCullough had five children and an affinity for happily married politicians such as Truman and Adams that could be traced to his wife, Rosalee Barnes, whom he married in 1954 and who died in June. She was his editor, muse and closest friend. At his home on Martha’s Vineyard, McCullough would proudly show visiting reporters a photograph of their first meeting, at a spring dance, the two gazing upon each other.

FILE - Writer and historian David McCullough appears at his Martha's Vineyard home in West Tisbury, Mass., on May 12, 2001. McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time, died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts. He was 89. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE – Writer and historian David McCullough appears at his Martha’s Vineyard home in West Tisbury, Mass., on May 12, 2001. McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time, died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts. He was 89. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

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