tv David Mc Cullough The American Spirit CSPAN October 14, 2017 4:00am-4:56am EDT
they struck a chord in the national conversation about poverty in america. thomas freedom barely needs an introduction he is an internationally recognized writer on the foreign affairs and the environment. in michael lewis is famous for his books about finance such as liars poker but he is equally famous for his books about topics as diverse as adoption and baseball. the screen adaptations of the blindside in moneyball among others had been enormously popular.
in condoleezza's rice was the secretary of state for the united states. and she is now on the faculty of stanford university traveling from california to be here with us today. and finally mr. david baldacci. in fact, for a record setting eight time at the national book festival's thrillers and books for young people have been read by millions. i'm very pleased to be able to turn this over to the person who has helped make this festival possible and is our cochair mr. david rubenstein.
[inaudible] the first national book festival how many people were here at the first one. anybody. how many had been to everyone. how me this is the first time. how many people like the price of admission. we are very honored to have david mccullough and his let's get quick background. grew up as one it's for boys and a family. where his family had the small electrical supply company. david went to yale where he
did quite well graduated in 1955. he then went to new york york went to new york and joined sports illustrated which was then a novel novice new publication. and then came to work in washington at the usia and my at the usia got interested in something that he was interested in from his time in pittsburgh and then wrote his first book about the down town plot. that was his first book. he has now written with this book. the american spirit. he has written 11 books. will talk about that shortly. every single one of his books is still in print. it is very unusual. the first book is almost now 50 years old.
david has won the pulitzer's price. he has been given to the presidential medal of freedom. he has been asked to speak to a joint session of congress and given every onerous citizen can get. also 55 honorary degrees which must be a record. so that is very impressive. but even more impressive is he has five children 19 grandchildren on the love of his life is here his wife of 63 years. [applause]. okay. did you ever think when you're growing up in pittsburgh that you would one day become the most famous chronicle of american history.
i never imagined such a thing. what did you want to do. i wanted to get good grades in school. not to spend too much of my time worrying about that and i got interested in girls and that took a lot of my preparations. once i got college i knew i wanted to be an artist or a writer or an architect or an actor. i couldn't make up my mind. so when i finish college i thought i know what i'll do. i will go to new york and see what happens. so i went to new york and a lot happened. my father would call me after my second or third book and say now it was time to come
back to pittsburgh and get a real job. he never understood. i'm very grateful i grew up when i did than at that time in that city. it was a lesson in history itself it was a stimulation for the arts in the literature the principal by school was one of the founders of the first station in america and katie ka was the first radio station in america and i was invited to do a little voice over when i was still in high school. so that interested me as well. that is not american history
but what did you work on there. in the circulation promotion department. they have to have the test i was can ask if i could contribute the competitor in the test. yes we have to do it on your own time. don't waste office time doing that. tend to job. i was a trainee i broke the letter and submitted it and they decided to use it and they won the test. from that point on i was looking good. the wonderful thing about it was sports illustrated was brand-new and nobody knew exactly where it was going or how to make it go.
it was a very exciting time. in the holy spirit of the city then was amazing. i went to work for $5,000 a year they allowed me an extra $10 a week because i was married so that stereotype for women was not just in salaries it was in expressed in other ways also. i also found right away at how many wonderful women there were working there and when i came to washington i found some of the best people i have ever worked with in my life where the women at the u.s. information agency. when kennedy ran i thought this is really exciting. he was can i make a difference. he was can give us all a chance to take part. and when he gave his magnificent inaugural address and said what can you do for your country i took that
entirely in heart. i quit my job. i knew one in the kennedy grout --dash my kennedy crowd. i went door-to-door looking for some place in the federal government where my training and education would be appropriate and wound up luck would have it and look is a big factor not just in our lives but in history as luck would have it i would wound up working at the usia on edward r murrow to be the director. it was a very exciting time. and it stayed in exciting time for the three years until the president was killed. but during that time i have to be in the library of congress doing some research for some articles we were to include in the magazine i was in a chance upon this big table at the
library and the princeton photographs prints and photographs division of photographs taken and johnstown right after the famous disastrous flood of 1889. i have heard about the flood all my life but he really knew nothing about it and i looked at those photographs and saw the devastating destruction and could not believe my eyes and i thought what happened. so i took the book out of the library which was okay but the author didn't really understand the geography of western pennsylvania which i did understand. so i took another book out of the library and it was a potboiler written at the time for full of inaccuracies and so forth. while i was in college i have the good fortune to cross paths with thorton wilder. the great playwright and novelist. he was asked at one point why do you write the plays you do
the subjects you choose what you write the novels you do. he said i imagine a story that i would like to be able to read and if i find nobody has written it so i can see it on stage or reading a book i write it myself so i can read it in a book or see it performed on stage. i thought why do you try to write the book about the one you want to read. i knew this is what i want to do for the rest of my life. did you quit your job at usia. i was asked to come back to new york. to work at the american heritage. the wonderful american history magazine which was published with hardcovers and no advertising. in exciting adventurous time i
worked there for six years and i wrote the johnstown flood at night and on weekends for three years carry not my job as usual. after had written the book and then after i got the idea for the next book i thought i've got a quit and see if i could doubt full-time and because i was married to very brave and wonderful woman she said as that's what that's what you want to do will do it. we know outside income only had was advance on the new book and after my johnstown book was published several other publishers came to me and one wanted me to do the chicago fire the other wanted me to do the san francisco
earthquake. i was hardly 30 years old and has been typecast as bad news mccollum. in it like that. i wanted a symbol of positive affirmation. i must say it took me a while people say where you get your ideas. i was having lunch with two friends one was a science writer the other an engineer and they started talking all that the builders of the brooklyn bridge didn't know they were in for it when when they first set out to do it. i thought there is my subject. i came out of that lunch was down at the lower east side i went straight to the new york public library and stay up this -- straight up the stairs
to the card catalog days and pulled out the drawer and there were over 50 cards on the subject of the brooklyn bridge but not one describing a book of the kind i intended to write. it was on the basis of that idea and the willingness of my publisher to go behind me and give me an advance and i was able to stop working full-time. i have never changed publishers. i figured if i was loyal and faithful to them it would be to me. and they certainly had been. [applause]. as i had described elsewhere. the style of writing.
it's a little unique in the sense that your wife is involved in the process of helping you with the writing can you describe how you do that. i've been confessing to this truth more lately than before but i don't consider myself a historian. i have no degree in history and no phd either. i majored in english. i only took the history courses that were required. and i've always believed that one authors write for the year here as well as the eye. because when you hear what you had written you begin to hear words that you're using too often. you hear sentence structures and become repetitious and you hear when your study to be boring. i had two or three wonderful writers help me along the way.
i had two or three wonderful writers help me along the way. a wonderful writer and charles arterburn. a brilliant wonderful naturalist and writer. and they helped me a great deal to understand you have to cut back if you write to write and rewrite. i am a re- writer. and all the best of them had been that way. she sometimes reads a chapter three or four times because i am rewriting it three or four times. one would wear working on this book about theodore roosevelt may tell the story we are the next-to-last chapter and she was reading aloud and she said there's something wrong with
that sentence i said will read it again. i said there's nothing wrong with that sentence. she said yes there is. i said give me that. i said she said yes there something wrong with that. i said just keep going please. i did do not do anything about that sentence in the book went to the publisher. and it came out and got wonderful reviews including a very timely review in the new york review of books. up until he was about to end the review he said sometimes however mr. mccullough doesn't write very well. consider the sentence. so when historians do a lot of
research and then they write you perhaps do something different. you research and write can you describe why you do it that way. i never undertake a book about a subject i know much about. if i knew all about it i wouldn't want to write the book because the research would not be an adventure. and for me each subject i undertake is a new experience. i'm setting foot on a continent i've never been on before. i really don't know much about the research of the last half of the book and i don't want to know that yet. i want to be involved with the people that were involved in the story. i want to be with them. i want to know them. i want to be inside their time. people used to say to me are you working on a new book by really say i'm working in a book. you have to get in the other time and you have to understand those human beings.
history is not about statistics and memorizing dates in boring quotations history is about people about human beings when in the course of humans and we have to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those other people and know what the life they lived was like and what the hardship and adversities that they faced that we don't even have to think about. and what spoiled brats we are that we have so much that we know it all to them. and yet we don't bother to know who they were. it's not right. i do the research as i go along. as you learn more than you have different questions you have to ask questions all the time what was he or she worried about.
and we have to keep learning more from the original sources. letters, diaries unpublished memory wires and the like. so much of it is right here in the library of congress. all those letters that they wrote to each other into their father into their mother and sister are all here in the library of congress and you read those letters these two young fellas who grew up in the house a house that had no running water no indoor plumbing. no essential he and no telephone you could put ten of them in this room a tiny little house but it was full of books and their father insisted that they all read and that they read above their
level in those letters that they wrote express what he drummed into them. and learned how to use the english language on paper and on your feet. their vocabulary in the handling is breathtaking and they never even finished high school. and when i see the writing that is produced by college students today when i learn that nearly half of all the law schools in our country are now requiring incoming freshman who of course are all college graduates to take a basic writing course because they can't write a respectable or presentable letter or report in the work that they're there could have to be doing. we have to knuckle down and get back to learning how to write learning how to read and with concentration and
understanding and teaching history we are raising a generation of young americans and i know this because i lecture or teach at colleges and universities all over the country where raising young people who are historically illiterate. it's not their fault. i think some of the brightest people i've ever met are some of the students i'm involved with in colleges and universities. and we have to stimulate curiosity ask questions. don't think you always had to have the answer. i don't have all of the answers. i hope i never reach the point where i think i have all of the answers. one of the great writers said curiosity is what separates us
from the cabbages. >> when you are writing do you type it do use a type writer or do you longhand what's the answer. i'm proud to say i work on a manual typewriter and when it breaks where do you get the parts it's never broken i bought it secondhand in order to write my first book. i went we are living in white plains new york i went to it typewriter shop and bought a secondhand typewriter that was then 25 years old. i paid $75 for it. i've written every speech every article every book on
that typewriter for over 50 years and there's nothing wrong with it and there never has been. by no means the notion of plant obsolescence is fantastic. now why not a word processor i don't think all that fast. and if you hit the wrong button you can eliminate months of work. a very good historian and burke writer lost 5,000 words because he hit the wrong button also i love to take the paper out of the typewriter after i finish a chapter and put it on the clipboard find a
nice comfortable place to take an outdoor chair and sat under a tree and let the editor and me show that mug who wrote that stuff how it should really be done with the machine all that dominated. what this you can see the process. the only other devoted type rated man that i know is tom hanks. and he writes all of his letters on a typewriter he has what must be the greatest type later --dash make -- typewriter collection. can understand perfectly why i work on a typewriter. and i urge others to do it. and i urge others to remember how much work goes into writing a book.
how many words do you do a day before you say okay that's it. in the old days when i was full of beans. i would do four pages of day now i try to do two pages a day. in two pages at day is ten pages a week or more. by the end of the month you have a chapter. are the beginnings of a chapter. i'm often asked how much of my time i spent writing and how much of my time i spend doing research and it's perfectly good question. nobody has ever asked me how much of your time spent thinking. what's the answer. a lot. if you are looking in the window you might think that guys asleep.
i am thinking deeply. in one of my roles at the smithsonian whatever you do retire can you give us a typewriter. have to talk to the boss. let's talk about this book. you had written ten books before. this is your 11th book. talk shortly about the next book. this book is a compilation of your speeches and honorary degree commencement talks. you've got and 55 honorary degrees. that must be near a world record. when you give a speech we had left to say that you haven't said before. the setting of every chalk like everyone you meet is different. and so you want to know something about the universities where you're speaking for the college were speaking or if your advice to speak at some events at the white house for capital you
have to do the homework. i am very conscientious that what i'm saying is good to go on the record at that university let's talk about some of these speeches. i highly recommend this book. let's talk about one of the first speeches in here you are asked to give a speech to the joint session of congress very few citizens are ever asked to do that how did that come about and what did you want to talk about to members of congress. there was a gathering of historians and biographers that spoke in a conference here at the library of congress on the congress. and after that was over when it came time for the bicentennial 1989 i was asked
to come and get a shorter version of the speech i gave at that gathering at the library of congress. i imagine they were afraid i would get runaway with my excitement and go on forever. but it was a very high compliment in honor and i work extremely hard on preparing that speech. one of the people you talked about their head been a member of congress after he left the presidency. what did you think was so appealing. he had been a diplomat he had been a senator and have been president of the united states. after he left the presidency he was asked if you would make
any chance a to run for congress and he said certainly. so he went back and served in congress. until his death. and he died on the floor of the congress. died in what is now statuary hall. he died in harnesses they said then. and he didn't have to do that. he didn't have to be a congressman as he was. but he have a mission not only to represent as best he could his constituency in massachusetts but to represent the country and, he was against slavery. so he was battling slavery on the floor of the congress until the day he fed -- -- and talk about devotion to the integrity, talk about truth and honesty and loyalty his
father john abbott was the only founding father president at a principal he never owned a slave. and his wife abigail was even more adamant on the subject. the next president who never owned a slave was john quincy adams. so it ran in the family. as a dedication to public service. he's also brilliant he was interested in everything. he spoke many languages. he was in many ways i think you have the highest iq that anybody who have been president including the greats among the founders. as chance would have it he was only a one term president and
they don't get the attention that the others do. let me ask about another president you have talked about. you spoke on the fourth of july in immigration said ceremony monticello. it is held every fourth of july. thomas jefferson gave us the creed that all men are created equal that he wrote in the preamble to the declaration of independence. how do you square that with the fact that he was a slave owner. and how did you think he address that. i don't. i can't. i don't understand it. nor do i understand the fact that he destroyed every letter he ever wrote to his wife and every letter she ever wrote to him. we don't even know what she looked like. i can understand that that he kept very close track of every cent and i'm he ever spent on
anything he is incredible. financial records that he never edited up. he was never out of debt from the time he was a young man. he does keep spending. i also don't understand where did that genius come from. been nothing but an architect that alone would qualify him to be somebody that we should all know about. he served a brilliant service to all of us under the idea that all men are created equal but he also said something that has not been sufficiently played out and given. he has not been given sufficient credit for. as his absolute belief in education.
he said any nation that expects the ignorant and free expects what never was and never can be. have to be educated. understand that there are no easy answers to big problems and so forth. thereafter he worked out i wish i have the chance to know him. of all the people you've written about. you can have dinner with any one president who is not a life who would you like to head dinner with. probably john adams. there's some questions i want to ask him. let's talk about him for a moment.
of the founding fathers he gets a gets a little less attention than george washington what he waiting so few people pay that much attention to what you think there's still no monument in washington dc. i don't. john adams was a first president to reside in the white house in his first night he was alone abigail had not arrived yet the next morning after his first name here are her a letter which he said. what he wrote and loved her. the state state dining room. he made sure that that
quotation say there. when kennedy became president he have carved into the marble and the mantelpiece so that it would stay forever. alma adams have said to the letter and may none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. i dig is very important to understand he put honesty first. ahead of wisdom. in your prize-winning book on john adams which was also made into an hbo series as well. you went through a thousand letters between have you ever experienced anything like that
between a husband and wife before and what was it that struck you so unusual about those letters. the quality of the youths of the mind. and how will were -- while red they both were. john adams advised his son about ten years old when they went off with his father to europe to serve as a diplomat he sent you will never be alone if you have a poet in your pocket. in other words carry a book. and that was part of the relationship and attitude towards life. they were incredible readers. and abigail was right there.
brave and patriotic and put up with incredible difficulties running the family in the household trying to stay afloat financially. when he was off serving overseas. and those children were raised by her in a way that they would never forget that dinner party you are asking me what i have i would definitely want abigail adams there. and i would definitely catherine right the sister of the right brothers. you can understand what they did if you don't understand the part played by catherine right. and i wish you something. she kept adam and made him toe the line and behave himself in a way that we all need.
>> you gave a speech at dartmouth. there were two people at that speech about who you had written . about the time he left new york in the east and went west. why did you find that so appealing and what was the most important lesson you took away from that book. unlike a at caterpillar turning into a butterfly. he was a child who is not expected to live he suffered terribly from the seizures of asthma which were really life-threatening he was afraid of everything. fearful of everything. and he outgrew it and he outgrew it by facing adversity. he took hold of himself and he
worked hard at it all the way through college but then on into life's father's death was a devastating experience for him. then his wife and his mother died on the same day he was shattered then. that's when he went west. this whole idea of going west is so american it's the way of healing the way of escaping. it has been it traditionally. and obviously they had written quite profoundly about this. and he is the essence of that but he never forgot who he was and where he was going back to. he remarries and gets involved in politics and in a big serious way. a wonderful writer and he was
historian. none of our great presidents had ever been one who had no interest in history. so hero about 40 books. he wrote many books including a very good book i still consider a naval war of 1812 which he started when he was still in college. woodrow wilson was a professor of history. the crusade in europe is one of the best books about world war ii ever written. and he wrote every word of that himself. about himself. no ghost writer. and of course kennedy wrote several works of history not just those. and kept referring to history citing history and bringing it into the dialogue of the presidency of the executive office again and again and again. you also talked about harry truman why was harry truman so
unpopular when he left the presidency but now he is everybody's favorite president. what changed in the year other than it began before i wrote to the book believe me. i grew up in a very old-fashioned republican family in the night of the 48 election i was a high school student i was very interested in politics and i tried to stay awake to hear who one but as some of you may know or remember the final tally did not come in until about two in the morning and i just couldn't stay up that late. i fell asleep. and my father was in shaving the next morning and i went in and i said dad, who one. he said truman like the end of the world. twenty or 30 years later i was back home we were having at chat after dinner.
he posited he said but harry truman is a great american story. this wonderful gathering here is about the american story. if there ever was a story that so american i don't know. it's harry truman had to going on his own. and he have all kinds of bad luck and defeat. but he never gave up. my favorite people are the people that he knew how to convince others.
they have many reasons to say that. they wouldn't give up. you gave a speech at ohio university about people who helped build the north rest territory you're now working on a book called pioneers. what was so unique about the northwest territories and what it is people not give up. i was invited to speak at the ohio university commencement and i thought i would learn something at ohio university. the oldest building on campus was called cutler hall. and i thought, who is cutler. was the oldest university college building west of the
allegheny mountains. colors name was vanessa cutler. he was a classic 18th century polymath. he is a medical dr.. a lawyer, and a minister. he was a minister of a small church. a group of war veterans. they'd been paid in worthless money and all the times that they have served. one way to compensate that would be to provide land in this new northwest territory at the treaty in paris when that land was in a way that no
one knew it was ever imagined. it belonged to the government and there it was. so this man cutler was picked by these officers from the war to get onto the capital which was sent in new york and sell them on the idea of creating a northwest territory ordinance whereby new states could be formed. now they have never lobbied anything in any way in his life the word lobbyist had not even entered the linkages yet. he have never been in new york. and never been out of new england. but off he went in his one or shea down to new york to convince the continental congress to go ahead with this. this is the summer of 1777. they put the ordinance through. he did it, one man.
and the ordinance stipulates three things of immense importance one of the most important bills ever passed by our congress even before we have a president. there would be complete freedom of religion. the government would be involved in education it would be public education all the way through college. hence the beginning of the state university system for example. and third, and most important of all there would be no slavery. what that meant was the territory was as big as all of the 13 colonies. there were slaves and everyone of in every one of the 13 colonies. the new empire would be free to everyone all you have to do was get across the ohio river. the northwest territory north and west of the ohio river. and now constitutes the states
of ohio, indiana, illinois, michigan, in wisconsin. it is as big as all of france. no slavery. so half of our country would be no slavery. imagine with one vote of congress, one man put it through. and yet, i never knew anything about it and most people know nothing about it. he was once asked about how he got his ideas and so forth. but i thought our town was one of the greatest things i ever saw on stage. i still love to see it. if it's been done again. and i've always wanted to write a book about people you never heard of to see if i can get you into the tent that tent is at work without relying on historic celebrities so none of the
characters except one or two are of this people that you ever heard of. but all of their letters and diaries have survived and there in the archives at marietta college in marietta ohio. and zero my goodness what they talk about what they reveal in the adversities that they face and they would not give up. >> as we wind down the time we have available. two final questions. one, what is the great pleasure of your life today as you look back on what you have achieved is exposing all of these things. what is the greatest pleasure in your life other than your relationship with your wife and children. what is the greatest professional pleasure of your life.
when people talk about you and the legacy that you would like to have left behind but what would you say is the legacy that you are most proud of having achieved. >> he tried to do his best. you've done a terrific job. the library of congress is indispensable. i also see it as a shrine. devoted to the idea of education. and it is available to all. the whole public library system is something that is a miracle the library of
congress is the greatest library in the world. if you ever get down and about in american culture there are more public libraries in this country than there are starbucks. thank you. thank you very much. [applause]. thank you.r being late, "thank you for being late: an optimist's guide to thriving in the age of accelerations" is the name of his most recent book. in the meantime we are pleased to be joined at the washington convention center by historian david mccullough whose most recent book is the american spirit, who we are and what we stand for. 202 is area code, 748-8200, east