Write Again … A towering talent

Published 10:29 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

David McCullough.

It would be my belief that just about everyone who reads this column has heard of David McCullough. Further, I would think that many of you, if not most, have read one or more of his books.

Literary works he has authored include “The Wright Brothers,” “The Greater Journey,” “1776,” “John Adams,” “Truman,” “Brave Companions,” “Mornings on Horseback,” “The Path Between the Seas,” “The Great Bridge” and “The Johnstown Flood.”

Honesty compels me to state that I have read some, but not all, of these books.

He is a much-honored writer. Among such honors are two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and twice-won Francis Parkman Prizes.

He has been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal and the Gold Medal for Biography, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

This man has also been an editor, teacher, lecturer and familiar presence on public television.

And — get this — as of this writing he has received 54 honorary degrees. Amazing.

The most-honored historian in the United States had published, in 2017, a “timely collection of speeches” given out over the years at graduation ceremonies in many, many universities, as well as at other notable institutions and events.

It was in 1998, speaking at commencement exercises at the University of Massachusetts, that he concluded his remarks by urging the graduates to read.

“So on you go. If your experience is anything like mine, the most important books in your life you have still to read.

“And read you will. Read for pleasure. Read to enlarge your lives. Read history, read biography, learn from the lives of others. Read Marcus Aurelius and Yeats. Read Cervantes and soon; don’t wait until you’re past 50 as I did. Read Emerson and Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor and Langston Hughes.”

He mentioned other books as well.

I have a pin-on button I bought at the University of Washington way back in 1985. It says, “So many books. So little time.”

Let me end by suggesting, once again, that I think there are three kinds of people: Those who know. Those who don’t know. And those who don’t know they don’t know.

That third group, most surely, are not readers.