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Remembering the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Finally, we remember the great historian and writer David McCullough his own words.

He was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies of two often overlooked presidents, John Adams and Harry Truman. And PBS viewers might recognize him as the voice of Ken Burns' acclaimed series "The Civil War."

But his interests ranged far and wide, including the arts. In 2011, he spoke to Jeffrey Brown about his book "The Greater Journey" about the influence of French artist and thinkers on Americans traveling to France in the 19th century.

In this excerpt, Jeff began by asking McCullough about his love of research and discovery.

Jeffrey Brown: What have you learned after all of these years of looking for material?

David McCullough, Presidential Historian: I guess what I have -- I have never been involved with a project where something didn't turn up new.


Jeffrey Brown: Never?

David McCullough: And I -- never. And you think, oh, that's been gone over again and again, where you aren't going to find anything. Oh, yes, you do.

And you find it in surprising places.

Jeffrey Brown: But you have to know how to -- you have to know how to dig or look.

David McCullough: Well, you also have to keep an open mind, because often you find it in a person, somebody who has something say.

When I was working on my Truman book, I interviewed one of his Secret Service guards. And at the end of the interview, I said -- I thanked him very much, because he really gave me a lot of time, and it was infinitely interesting and valuable.

And I thanked him. And I said, particularly when I think about how many times you must have been asked these questions.

He said: "Mr. McCullough, I have never been asked these questions."


David McCullough: You have to be sure you don't let appearances lead you to wrong conclusions about people and about where things are.

I have felt for a very long time that history is more than politics and the military and social issues. Yes, it is politics and the military and social issues, but it's also art and music and architecture and ideas and science and medicine. It's the works. It's human.

Jeffrey Brown: I understand that you yourself wanted to be a painter early on and studied...

David McCullough: I still do.

Jeffrey Brown: You still do?

David McCullough: I still do. I paint all the time. I love it.

Jeffrey Brown: You do?

David McCullough: Yes, I do, indeed.

And I highly recommend it to everyone. Get out there and paint. It's good for the soul.

But I also particularly stress to people who say they want to become writers, young people, to take a course in drawing or painting, because it helps you to learn to see, to look. And that's what writing is often about.

Judy Woodruff: Great advice from David McCullough, who was not only an extraordinary historian and writer. He was just a delightful human being.

We mourn his passing.

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