Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
One of the country's most respected writers, McCullough has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award twice.
Awards: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award; Pennsylvania Governor’s Award of Excellence in Humanities; Harry S. Truman Award for Service; the Pennsylvania Society’s Gold Medal; Francis Parkman Prize
Born in Pittsburgh in 1933, David Gaub McCullough has been honored with two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies, Truman and John Adams. McCullough has also received two National Book Awards and two Francis Parkman Prizes. His first book, a historical account of The Johnstown Flood, quickly became a best-seller when it was published in 1968. Since this initial success, McCullough has published six more books, none of which have ever been out of print. In addition to his achievements as a writer, McCullough has narrated several successful documentaries, most notably The Civil War and Brooklyn Bridge.
David Gaub McCullough was born in 1933 in Pittsburgh, where he was raised and received his high school diploma. McCullough went on to graduate from Yale with honors in English literature. While attending Yale, he met his future wife, Rosalee Barnes, who was a student at Vassar.
Although McCullough has enjoyed a successful writing career, his first love was actually art. After graduating from Yale, he began his literary career as an assistant editor at Sports Illustrated in New York City. During the excitement of the "Kennedy Era," McCullough moved to Washington, DC. and became an editor for the United States Information Agency. While living in Washington, McCullough also worked part-time for American Heritage, during which time he researched and wrote his first book, The Johnstown Flood, in his spare time.
The Johnstown Flood of 1889 was personally meaningful for McCullough because it hit close to his hometown of Pittsburgh. He combined his passions for history and writing in an attempt to raise awareness about the tragic disaster—a result of poor planning, insufficient upkeep, and carelessness on the part of the club of wealthy sportsmen who owned the dam. The flood took the lives of 2,209 people—over a fifth of the town's total population—including 99 entire families.
The unexpected success of The Johnstown Flood launched McCullough's writing career as it quickly became a best-seller when it was published in 1968. Ken Burns—one of the most highly esteemed historical documentary filmmakers of all time—transformed McCullough's second book, The Great Bridge, into the Academy Award-nominated documentary Brooklyn Bridge in 1981. McCullough's own voice can be heard as the narrator of this documentary, as well as in Ken Burns's PBS documentary The Civil War. His work with Ken Burns represents the culmination of McCullough's career as a documentary narrator. An Emmy winner for his contributions to public television, McCullough may actually be best known by his voice, as he was also the host of such public television programs as Smithsonian World and The American Experience.
McCullough's third book, an account of the building of the Panama Canalentitled The Path Between the Seas, earned him his first National Book Award for History and his first Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. In addition to becoming a best seller, The Path Between the Seas played an important historical role as it influenced future policy decisions concerning the Panama Canal. McCullough was honored with his second National Book Award in 1981 for his biographical depiction of the youth of Theodore Roosevelt, entitled Mornings on Horseback.
McCullough's exploration of Theodore Roosevelt's life influenced him to take a special interest in the lives and characters of American presidents. This interest gained him his first Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his biography of President Harry S. Truman, Truman. His fascination with the characters of former American presidents earned McCullough a second Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his most recent New York Times best-seller John Adams in 2002.
David McCullough was called the "citizen chronicler" by Librarian of Congress James Billington and "one of America's foremost historians" by the Landon Lecture Series Chairman Charles Reagan. Upon being awarded an honorary degree from Yale University, the citation praised him: "As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breath, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character." A past president of the Society of American Historians, McCullough's profound impact on historical and biographical literature is undeniable. He is a recipient of the Pennsylvania Governor's Award of Excellence in Humanities, the Harry S. Truman Award for Service, the Pennsylvania Society's Gold Medal, two Francis Parkman Prizes, two National Book Awards, and two Pulitzer Prizes, among other prestigious awards. Also a gifted speaker, McCullough has lectured all over America and the world, and he is one of the few private citizens to be honored with an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress. On December 15, 2006, David McCullough received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of "his lifelong efforts to document the people, places, and events that have shaped America."
McCullough currently resides in West Tisbury, Massachusetts with his wife, Rosalee, where he continues to research and write about American history. They have five children and fifteen grandchildren.
The Johnstown Flood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.
The Great Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
The Path Between the Seas. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.
Mornings on Horseback. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Brave Companions: Portraits in History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Florentine Films, 1981.
Geronimo and the Apache Resistance. South Burlington, VT: WGBH Boston Video, 1988.
The Civil War. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1989.
Smithsonian World. Van Nuys, CA: Vestron Video, 1992.
The Presidents. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1997.
Lost in the Grand Canyon. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1999.