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‘He truly was an American treasure.’ Luminaries react to death of historian David McCullough

Historian and author David McCullough posed with art by George Catlin, one of the artists featured in his book, "The Greater Journey," at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington on May 13, 2011.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Luminaries from academia, publishing, and government on Monday posted tributes to best-selling author and award-winning historian David McCullough, who died Sunday at his home in Hingham at the age of 89.

“Remember and honor the incomparable David McCullough,” tweeted author and presidential historian Michael Beschloss on Monday. “I hope that the great David McCullough is right now chatting and laughing with T.R., Truman and John Adams.”

McCullough’s best-selling biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams made him one of America’s most popular and acclaimed historians, and his connections to Massachusetts were extensive.

The two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award told the Boston Globe in 2015 that he and his wife, Rosalee, raised their children at the couple’s home on Martha’s Vineyard, and the National Park Service honored him during a 2016 ceremony on Boston Common for featuring park sites in his many books.

The Patriot Ledger reported in 2017 that McCullough and his wife had moved in 2016 from Boston’s Back Bay to Hingham.

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Upon his death, the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia released a statement in honor of McCullough, who had been a “passionate advocate” for the institution since its establishment in 2017.

In the statement, the museum quoted its late founding chairman, Gerry Lenfest.

“David McCullough has been a major force in keeping alive the bold spirit of the American Revolution and has given an entire generation a new appreciation for the great responsibility of liberty,” Lenfest said.

“I sat next to David McCullough at Mount Vernon,” tweeted Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, on Monday. “He was like a 15 year old with a first crush- so in love was he with our country. We could all use a dose of McCullough today. Rip.”

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Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said the nation is “forever grateful” to McCullough for his literary output.

“I’m saddened to hear about the passing of the great historian David McCullough,” Hayden tweeted Monday. “His dedication in telling this nation’s story taught us more about the American spirit and its value to our collective history. For that we are forever grateful. He truly was an American treasure.”

Documentarian Ken Burns said it was “impossible to conceive” of McCullough’s death, adding that the historian wrote with “an almost magical command of language and story.”

McCullough co-wrote Burns’ film “The Congress,” and narrated several other Burns works — including the Emmy-award winning series “The Civil War.”

“He was also a gifted teacher who taught me about history and writing, and allowed me to escape my many limitations in those areas,” Burns said. “I’ll forever cherish the time we spent together, and I’ll miss my friend dearly.”

Jon Meacham, a prominent historian whose books include “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” praised McCullough as well Monday.

“A generous man who chose to believe the best about America, and about Americans,” Meacham tweeted. “May light perpetual shine upon him.”

Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire expressed a similar sentiment about the “visionary storyteller.”

“His work informed and inspired many — including me — and his words will live on for generations,” she tweeted.

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Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey called McCullough a “truly great American.”

“He was one of our nation’s most gifted historians and his work profoundly influenced me,” he tweeted. “He will be truly missed by many.”

Jonathan Karp, president and chief executive officer of McCullough’s publisher Simon & Schuster, also described McCullough as a “national treasure” in a statement Monday.

“His books brought history to life for millions of readers,” Karp said. “Through his biographies, he dramatically illustrated the most ennobling parts of the American character. Simon & Schuster has been honored to be David’s publisher for 54 years. He was greatly admired and beloved throughout our company. We will cherish his work for as long as we are publishing books.”

McCullough’s biography on Truman is a leading title on the former president, according to the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

“We are very saddened to learn of the death of David McCullough,” the library tweeted Monday. “His Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Mr. Truman is indeed one of the best books out there on President Truman.”

Retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, tweeted Monday that a different McCullough title was his favorite.

“Sorry to hear of the passing of David McCullough,” Stavridis wrote. “He did more to shine a light on our history than anyone. My favorite is ‘The Greater Journey’ which he signed for me. Sail proud, sir.”


Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy, home to Adams National Historic Park, added his voice Tuesday to the many tributes to McCullough.

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“David McCullough helped bring John Adams back to life in many ways. He breathed new vitality into Adams with his biography  and the HBO miniseries that followed. We are forever in his debt and know he helped pave a path for our City. He was an inspiration for the creation of the Hancock Adams Common in  2018,” Koch said.

McCullough was “friend” to residents of the South Shore city and  our collective hearts are with his family at this time,” Koch said.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report. Correspondent Camilo Fonseca contributed reporting.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.