Posted by: philipfontana | July 28, 2012

D. McCullough, Bks #6-9

Summer Edition, continued

For All of August 2012

Return from Dewey Beach & More Reading Suggestions


     Excuse us for living, but we were “Doing Dewey” for a few weeks, i.e., what we enjoy in Dewey Beach, Delaware. (See July 2012 Post for Dewey’s exact location!) The town’s motto there is, “Dewey Beach, A Way of Life.” Those words reflect the mood there that it’s OK to do nothing. It’s a small strip of a town with little to do but a few restaurants and “hot spots”/bars with bands for the young set. We enjoy our Happy Hours as we cook together our favorite recipes. And we have a few favorite restaurants up and down the Del Marva Peninsula. We love Lewes (pronounced “Louis”) for it’s history. It’s like a tiny Nantucket right off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Rehoboth offers some “honky-tonk” Boardwalk fun & food stands, shops, & restaurants galore. There are plenty of fishing spots from surf fishing right on the beach in Dewey to party boats & private charters, to Cape Henlopen State Park to the north and Delaware Seashore National Park to the south. And besides all the beach time & reading, we utilize those cloudy/rainy days to explore the many antique shops in the quaint towns inland from the shore. This our season # 15 there proved to be a hot one with calm surf, warm ocean, and, thus, more swim time. We already booked the condo for 2013!


     Excuse us for living, but here are David Mc Cullough’s remaining four books to cover. For his first five books, see July 2012 “Excuse Us…”


     Harry S. Truman’s hometown newspaper headline the day after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945.

     Truman, 1993, ten years in writing it, marked David McCullough’s first Pulitzer Prize. And it is no wonder, based on new first hand sources and extensive interviews, compiling 992 pages, that it reads like a novel. Ironically, what touched me most about David McCullough’s Truman was not the chronicle of the monumental events of Harry Truman’s presidency, though monumental they were, from World War II and its aftermath to the Korean War (so much so, it hurts me not to list them here!) What struck me most were the formative years that contributed to the making of this giant of a diminutive man:  his modest but excellent high school education and lifelong diligence reading history and literature; his years laboring as a farmer and, thus, his indefatigable work ethic; his leadership abilities honed as Captain of Battery D of the 2nd Battalion, 129th Field Artillery, during World War I in the battle for France’s Argonne Forest (one of the most costly in loss of human life in all the history of warfare); and his considerable administrative skills and honesty beyond reproach as Administrative Judge of Jackson County, Missouri. It was this strength of character that enabled this modest man from Independence, Missouri, to solely hold atomic power in his hands as the most powerful man to walk the face of the earth, from 1945 until 1949 when the Soviet Union achieved the same. And it was Harry Truman’s solid attributes that shine upon his retirement to Independence, MO, from where he came. It was there in his old hometown that he would oversee the writing of his memoirs and the building and day-to-day operation of his Presidential Library on his very own farmland that he donated. No wonder that just two years after publication, in 1995 Truman became an HBO television movie.


     And why not follow this Pulitzer Prize winner with another “PP,” David McCullough’s John Adams! (–Now this one became the famous HBO 2008 seven-part miniseries starring Paul Giamatti.) Seven years in writing, published in 2001, what began as a biography about Jefferson, according to McCullough’s own words, turned out to be the more captivating story of John Adams. It is impossible to capsulate the breath and depth of this again amazing novel-like biography on one of the most fascinating  Americans who ever lived. – – Drawing from the collection of Adams family letters and diaries, especially over one-thousand letters between John and wife, Abigail. – -The cast of Founding Fathers from George Washington and Ben Franklin and the others to the infamous Aaron Burr. – -Then the contrasting friendship, arch rivalry, and his return to friendship and corresponding in his later years with Thomas Jefferson. How could fiction trump reality with Adams and Jefferson dying within hours of one-another on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826?

And then we come to his book, 1776, (that’s the whole title!) published in 2005, just four years after John Adams. While the interval between the two books quickened, 1776, inevitably, had to benefit from the research of the previous book. It is not your usual history book of clear-cut facts and figures. It is more a series of historical paintings in words giving you mental images, if you will, scenes described and woven together into a non-fiction novel about the American Revolution. First comes the surprise victory of Washington’s forces in Boston’s Dorchester Heights. The picture does emerge of the British advantage over the Continental Army in troop strength in the battle for New York City, the bulk of the book’s content. Troop numbers alone do not tell the whole story as much as Continental desertions and illness! – -And then the massive size of the British navy, unimaginable, in excess of 120 ships! What transpires is nothing less than an American retreat from the New York City territory under Washington’s command at the hands of the King’s forces under British Commander General William Howe. While the Continental Army escapes across the Hudson River and New Jersey, the reader bears witness to Washington’s seemingly embarrassing circumstances, but brilliant move when considering the overall strategy that changes the course of the American Revolution and, ultimately, gives birth to a nation.


     With David McCullough’s recent book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 2011, once again (I never learn!) I cried out as with some of his earlier books, “Why such a topic?” – -A book about 19th century Americans who lived in Paris for a varying number of years to learn and advance themselves in their careers? Well, that’s where my criticism ended as I opened the book’s cover to read about these adventurous American artists, writers, doctors,  architects inventors, even politicians. – -An unbelievable cast of characters, the likes of Samuel Morse, James Fenimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr., John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, to scratch the surface. (Many famous names…you would be surprised!) It is David McCullough teaching us as he goes from one person and their field or discipline to another. A case in point is the renowned sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. David McCullough not only tells you about the process of creating a bronze sculpture, but even describes the people, the subjects, being immortalized in statue form and the present-day locations of these works! e.g., Admiral Farragut and General Sherman both located in New York City. It is another novel-like story you wish would never end about Americans in Paris, “The City of Light,” in the 1800’s. – -Embarrassed once again that I ever doubted the author’s choice of subject!

And so, David McCullough’s stories, hopefully, do not end with his ninth book, with his fans awaiting what next he has in store for us. At this point in my reading experience of David McCullough’s books, I am sure whatever the subject he selects is a good one, the “right one.” With two Pulitzer Prizes, every conceivable book award that is out there, over 40 honorary doctorates, and in 2006 receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award an American can receive, David McCullough should write about anything he so chooses. – -Don’t you think?

Once his research journeys are complete for a given project, to over-simplify (unbelievable bibliographical listings of sources!), Mr. McCullough retreats to his one-room cabin-like structure behind his home on Martha’s Vineyard to “work his magic” which he calls writing history…

…Excuse us for living, but we his readers know his works are so much more.

    Comments: Please!


  1. Ahhh, Geri and Phil, A Toast to the Two of you! Dewey the place of Peace and happiness. Oh, Yes, Rehoboth, now that is the place for a great Staycation. A trip to Old Gooseberry Island. Than a stop at a vinyard in Wesport, Ma. The Pacheecks are thrilled to see that you are enjoying the fresh ocean air. Reminds me of the old days in Pt. Pleasant on the Manasquan. Can you believe it is 11 years since we moved. Mandy, just completed her CNA certification and state test. Hope she finds a job soon.
    Jon, continues to work at Reeb. . Jaime has left ACS for other pursuits. Am not sure what she will be doing. She said she is able to collect in the interim. Jaime says, that she could not endure losing clients any more. She got to close to many of her causes. She wants a change. Life is great. Watching the Olympics in London and thinking of your trip. Plus, wondering how many events Peter will be attending. Glad your summer is going well. Best wishes. Peace.
    John and MaryLouise

    • John & Mary Louise, It’s like ESP…thinking its about time I email John & here you are! Great reminiscences of Pt. Pleasant! Sounds like Mandy & Jon are moving along well. Good that Jamie is following her gut & moving on. The non-profit world has many ways to go unless she wants to enter the business world. Peter’s girl friend works for a non-profit outfit at the admin. level re children’s programs. Peter has tickets for women’s fencing & actually attended today, Saturday. You sound good & all is fine here. I’ll email soon. Thanks! Phil

  2. well I am so happy that you and Geri had some “down time”-everyone should do that…! And Dewey Beach sounds soooo relaxing!

    • Margaret!!! Thanks! Yep, Dewey was good! I guess you are closing in on mid-way for your Michigan stay. I am sure it must be nice having two locales for a change of atmosphere each year. Regards to Jim. It would be nice to see you both again sometime maybe over the next year. Be well you two!!! Phil

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: