History Lesson

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Last night I sat in the Second Balcony of Symphony Hall in Boston for the inaugural talk in the new Boston Speakers Series.

David McCullough. Historian. Author of Truman and John Adams. Winner of The Pulitzer Prize: twice. He was wonderful. Erudite and fluent, while maintaining an innate humanity and warm accessibility. Perhaps his character is what informs his great biographies. He has the gift of putting  the human being back inside the historical figure. He searches for the little detail with which to accomplish this, the tiny clue that says more than any editorializing ever could about a person. And he learns with and from his subjects. He spoke of visiting Paris, so that he could see the places, walk the streets, and suffer with the bone penetrating damp of Parisian winters, in order to understand the experiences of his Americans in Paris, The Greater Journey.

David McCullough said he started walking every morning, because Harry Truman wrote that his morning walk was his critical time to think. Now, when he is in Boston, he walks along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, or through the Boston Garden and the Common, or along the Esplanade, like I do. I was charmed that he directs his walks so that he passes Boston’s many statues of distinguished sons and daughters, whom he called “all the people that I know”.

He said some wonderful things, stunningly simple as the truth so often is.

“Nothing ever happened in the past. It was the present.”

And (worrying about the education of our children and grandchildren):

“Information is not education.”

In the audience was his ‘girl’ (later his wife) of 60 years, whom he met at a high school dance in Pittsburgh. “I’d never met anyone like her before.” He asked her to stand up, and told us she was ‘perfect’. It was the 60th anniversary of the night they met.

Leave it to a historian to get the important dates right.


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