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Monday, February 15, 2010

David McCullough: The Art of Fictionalized Historicity

Since the 1960s historians have been having a field day revisiting well-worn historical mythologies and revising how we view major historical figures and the times that they inhabited. But in the last decade or so a new strain of revisionism has cropped up that has breathed new and vibrant life into the genre of biography and historical essay. Taking cues from the epics of James Michener these neo-historians are mixing two parts hard academic study with one part storytelling and a dash of speculation to create a potent mix of slightly fictionalized biographical novels.

At the vanguard of this new type of biography is David McCullough, the bestselling author of 1776, John Adams, Truman, etc. McCullough combines the best of both worlds; he's an incisive and exhaustive researcher who immerses himself in the minutiae of his subject's daily lives but he is also a gifted storyteller with a knack for the dramatic. I particularly enjoyed John Adams since it built an incredibly believable case for Adams'--who is more often than not confused with his beer-brewing cousin Samuel Adams--inestimable importance in the formation of the United States.

Since this day is set aside to celebrate the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents* I figured I would lift a glass** to one of the best contemporary biographers. Here's to you Dave, and keep up the good work!

*Neither of which, strangely, has McCullough done a proper biography on.
**Of, what else? Sam Adams.