tv David Mc Cullough The American Spirit SC CSPAN November 24, 2017 12:00pm-12:56pm EST
headquarters that were specifically basically our mission was to destroy al-qaeda. we figured out on the ground how best to do that. not having a lot of bureaucracy, encumbered by a lot of bureaucracy, but the people on the ground call the shots, be flexible, the dynamic and what we did, that's how can we are so successful in those initial months in afghanistan. ..
i was so worried. [applause] i was so worried. it was ringing. i thought are going to want to stay in bed and read. here you are. thank you and good morning. welcome to the 2017th national book festival. i am carla hayden. i am so honored to be able to say i'm the 14th librarian of congress. as you can see pretty excited to open this event. our 17th consecutive celebration of books and reading. it is wonderful to see a full house here.
not only will we have a full house here at the convention center, but we have millions and millions of people joining us live on facebook. thanks to everyone for joining us. now, we have a fantastic lineup of mainstage authors this year. what better way to kick off a festival than with one of our nation's most beloved historian historians, mr. david mcculloug mccullough. [applause] he is here for his sixth national book festival appearance, and we hope you will continue to make this a habit. he will be followed by diana..
[applause] she is the author of the wildly successful outlander series. she is here for her fourth festival. next is jd vance. it has struck a chord in the national conversation about poverty in america. thomas freedman verily needs introduction. he is an internationally recognized writer on the middle east, for affairs, and the environment. michael lewis is famous for his book about finance such as wire poker, but he is equally famous for his books about topics of diverse as adoption and baseball. the screen adaptations of the
blindside and moneyball, among others, have been enormously popular. miss condoleezza rice. [applause] 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. finally, mr. david. he is back for record-setting eighth time at the book festival. his thrillers and books for young people have been read by millions. and 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.
first national book festival, how many. how many were at the first one. how many have been to everyone? how many, this is the first time? >> okay. how many people like the price of admission. [laughter] okay. so, we are very honored to have david. let me give you a brief background. he is in a native of pittsburgh, he grew up as one of four boys and a family where his father had a small electrical supply company.
he went to yell he did quite well and graduated in 1955. he went to new york and did not go back to pittsburgh but joined sports illustrated in new york which was a novice new publication and ultimately came to work in washington at usia and while there, got interested in something he was interested in and wrote his first book which was a bestseller. that was his first book. he has now written with this book will talk about today, the american spirit. he's written 11 book that he's working on his 12 book. every one of his books is still in print. that's very unusual. his first book is almost 50
years old. david has won the pulitzer prize twice for his books on harry truman and john adams. he has won the national book price twice, he has been given the presidential medal of freedom by president clinton. he has been asked to speak to a joint session of congress and giv given virtually ever every honor a citizen can be given. he also has 55 honorary degrees which must be a record. that's very impressive, but even more impressive is that he has five children, 19 grandchildren, and the love of his life rosalie is here, his wife of 63 years. okay. so, did you ever think when
you were growing up in pittsburgh that you would one day become the most famous chronicler of american history? >> of course. >> never imagined such a thing. >> what was your ambition as a young boy in pittsburgh? >> i wanted to get good grades in school, but not to spend too much of my time worrying about that and then i got interested in girls and that took up a lot of my thought and preparations and once i got to college, i knew i either wanted to be an artist or writer or an architect or an actor, but i couldn't make up my mind so when i finish college i thought i know what i'll do, i'll go to new york if you happens when you went to new york and a lot happened. >> did your family say go to
new york or did they say come back to pittsburgh. >> my father would call me after my second or third book have been published in say now it's time for you to come back to pittsburgh and get a real job. he never understood it, but, i would go back to pittsburgh all time and i'm very grateful i grew up when i did at that time in that city. >> it was a lesson in history in itself. it was a simulation for the arts and the literature, the principle by school of the public school was one of the first pbs station in america. katie ka was the first radio station in america.
>> you went to sports illustrated. that is an american history that's a nice publication but what did you work on there. we had have these tests. they would write for five different letters to people asking them to take an interest in these new magazines. i asked if i could contribute as a competitor in the test and i was told yes, but you have to do it on your own time. don't waste office time doing that. i wrote the letter and from that point on, i was looking good. the wonderful thing about
sports illustrated is brand-new and nobody really knew exactly where it was going or how to make it go. it was a very exciting time. the whole spirit was amazing. i went to work for $5000. year. they allowed me an extra ten dollars. week because i was married. the stereotype for women was not just in salaries, it was other ways but i also found how many wonderful women there were working there and later when i came to washington i found some the best people were the women at the u.s. information agency. when kennedy iran this was really exciting. he was going to make a difference. when he gave his magnificent
inaugural address and said ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do to your country, i took that to heart and i took quit my job. i knew no one in the kennedy crowd. i came down and went door-to-door, looking for some place in the federal government were my training and my education would be appropriate and wound up as luck would have it, it's not sufficiently paid attention too. i ended up working at edward our world to be the director. it was a very exciting time. it stayed in exciting time for the three years until the president was killed. during that time, i happen to be in the library of congress doing some research for some
articles we were going to include. i heard about the flood all my life but i really knew nothing about it. i looked at those and saw the devastating destruction and i couldn't believe my eyes. i thought what happened. i took the book out of the library which was okay, but the author didn't understand the geography, which i did understand. i took another book out of the library and it was a potboiler written at the time full of inaccuracies and so forth, but while i was in college, i had the good fortune to cross paths with thorne wilder, the
great playwright and novelist. he was asked, at one point, why do you write the place you do, the subjects you choose, why do you write the novels you do in the subjects you choose. he said i imagine a story that i would like to be able to read and if i find no one has written it, so i can see it on stage, i write it myself so i can read in the book or see it performed on stage. i thought why don't i tried to write the book about the thug. here at the library of congress, i knew this was what i wanted to do for the rest of my life.
it was published with hardcovers and no advertising at that time. bruce gatton was the editor. it was an exciting, marvelous ventures time. i went there and worked there for six years and i wrote at night and on weekends for three years hearing on my job as usua usual. after had written the book and after i got the idea for the next book on building the brooklyn bridge, i thought of data quit and see if i can do it full-time. because i was married, and married to a brave, wonderful woman, she said if that's what you want to do, we will do it. we had no outside income, all we had was the advance on the new book and after my jonestown book was published, several other publishers came
to me and one wanted me to do chicago fire and the other wanted me to do the san francisco earthquake. i was already being typecast as bad news mccullough. i didn't like that. i wanted a symbol of affirmation, a symbol of positive affirmation and i must say, it took me a while to come up with the idea. it was a way to get your ideas. i get them from all over the place. i was having lunch. the builders of the brooklyn bridge didn't know what they were in for when they first set out to do it. i thought there's my subject.
in the old catalog days, i pulled out the drawer and there were over 50 cards on the subject of the brooklyn bridge but not describing one of the book i intended to write and i knew this was it. it was on the basis of that idea and the willingness of the publisher to go behind me and i was able to stop working full-time. i always figured if i was loyal and faithful to them they would be to me and they certainly have been. >> one wife and one publisher for 60 years. [applause]
you might describe your style of writing because it's a little unique because it was involved in the process of helping you with the writing. parents can i don't consider myself a historian. i have no degree in history. i didn't major in history, i majored in english. alan took the history courses that were required. i thought one ought to write to the ear as well as the eye. when you hear what you've written, you begin to hear words that you are using too often.
you start to hear when you're starting to be boring. i had two or three riders along the way. paul was a wonderful writer. they help me a great deal to understand that you have to cut back. you have to write and rewrite. i'm not a writer, i marie writer. all of the best of them have been that way. she sometimes read the chapter three or four times because i'm rewriting it three or four times. i was writing a book about roosevelt, can i tell a story?
we were in the next-to-last chapter and she was reading aloud and she said there's something wrong with that sentence. paradise had read it again. she read it again. i said there's nothing wrong with that sentence. she said yes there is. i said give me that. so i read aloud to her and i said c and she said no, there's something wrong with that sentence. i just keep going please. she kept going and i didn't do anything about that sentence and the book went to the publisher and the publisher published it and it came out and i got wonderful reviews including a very fine review by gorby doll. up until when he was about to and the review and he said somehow, however mr. mccullen doesn't write very well. [laughter] consider this sentence. [laughter]
>> some historians do a lot of research and then they write and you perhaps do something different. you research and write, research and write. can you describe why you do it that way. >> for one thing, i never undertake a book about a subject i know much about. if i knew all about it, i would want to write the book because the process would not be an adventure. for me, each subject i undertake is a new experience. i'm setting foot on the continent have never been to before or i'm working on a detective case and i really don't know much about the research of the last half the book and i don't want to know that yet. i want to be involved with people who were involved in the story. i want to be with them, i want to know them, i want to be inside their time.
you say to me, you're working on a new book i say yes, but i really same working in a book. you have to get in that other time and how to understand those human beings. history is not about statistics and memorizing dates and boring quotations. history is about people. it's about human beings, when, in the course of human events and we have to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those other people and know what the life they live was like, what the hardships and adversities that they faced that we don't even have to think about. what spoiled brats we are that we have so much that we owe all to them and yet we don't bother to know who they were. it's not right. [applause] and so i do the research as i go along. as you do the research and you learn more, then you have different questions. you have to ask questions. all the time.
why did this happen? where was he? who was he. what was he or she worried about. you have to kee keep learning more from the original sources , letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs and the like. of course, that's where the gold, so much of it is right here in the library of congress. when i was working on the wright brothers book, all those letters that they wrote to their father and 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 a house that had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone and you could put ten of them in this room, a tiny little house but was full of books and
their father insisted they all read and that they read above their level and those letters that they wrote express what he drummed into them, learn how to use the english language on paper and on your feet. their vocabulary, their handling is breathtaking and they never even finished high school. 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 now requiring incoming freshmen, who are all college graduates, to take a basic writing course because they can't write a respectable, presentable letter or report or proposal of some kind in the work that they are going to be doing. we have to knuckle down.
i know this because i lecture or teach at colleges and universities all over the country. we are 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 that i am involved with in colleges and universities. we have to stimulate curiosity, ask questions, don't think he always have to have the answer. i'll have all the answers. i hope i never reach the point where i think i have all the answers. curiosity, i forgotten who said this. i wish i could remember it,
one of the great writers said curiosity is what separates us from the cabbages. when you are writing, do you type it. >> are you ready? >> what is the answer. >> i'm proud to say i work on a manual typewriter. >> when it breaks, waiting at the par parts. >> it's never broken. bought it secondhand to write my first book. i've always worked with a manual typewriter on the job. so i went to a typewriter shop and bought a secondhand worl royal typewriter that was been 25 years old. i paid $75.
in britain everything i've ever written, every speech, every article, every book on that typewriter for over 50 years and there is nothing wrong with it and there never has been and talk about, by no means did the notion of planned obsolescence and her into the minds of that machine. it's fantastic. now, why this typewriter, why not wordprocessor? it goes too fast. i don't think that fast. and, if you hit the wrong button, you can eliminate months of work. i have a friend, very good historian and the greater who lost 5000 words because he hit the wrong button. also, i love to take the paper
out of the typewriter, and after i finished it, put it up on the clipboard, find a nice comfortable place to take an outdoor chair and sit under a tree and let the editor me show that mug who wrote the stuff how it should really be done. your editing on the manuscript. with the machine, all that eliminated. you never see that again. , but with this, you can see the process. now the only other advent devoted type writer man that i know is tom hanks and tom hanks writes all his letters, everything on a typewriter, and he has what must be the world's greatest typewriter collection, more i'm sure at the smithsonia smithsonian, and he understands 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. >> i think robert still uses his typewriter as well. how many words you do a day before he said that it was. >> well, in the old days when i was full of beans, i would do four pages a day when i was rolling underway. now i try to do two pages a day and two pages a day is ten pages. week or more because i often work seven days a week and by the end of the month you've got a chapter. or the beginnings of a chapter. i'm often asked how much of my time i spend writing much of your time you spend thinking. >> how much of your time you spend thinking? >> a lot.
>> in one of my roles at the smithsonian, whenever you do retire and you give us that typewriter. >> i'm not sure. i have to talk to the boss. all right. >> so let's talk about this book. you have now written ten books, this is your 11th book, you talk shortly about your book called the pioneers which will be out in 2019. this book is a compilation of your speech is an honorary degree commencement talks, you've given, you've gotten 55 honorary degrees. that must be near a world record. when you give a commencement speech, what do you have left to say that you haven't said before. you get tired of saying the same thing to these students. >> the setting of every talk, like everyone you meet, is different. so you want to know something about the university where you're speaking or the college
where you're speaking or, if you're invited to speak at some of it at the white house, you have to do the homework. >> you do the research. >> i do a lot of research and i am very conscientious that what i'm saying is going to go on the record at that university. >> so let's talk about some of the speeches. i highly recommend this book, let's talk about one of the first beaches, you are asked to give a speech at a joint session of congress, very few citizens are ever asked to do that. how did that come about? what did you want to talk about to the members of congress? >> there was a gathering of historians and biographers that spoke at 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 give a shorter version of the speech i gave at that gathering at the library of congress. >> a shorter vision because members of congress don't like long speeches? >> i imagine they were afraid i would get runaway with my excitement and go on forever, but it was very high honor and i worked extremely hard on preparing that speech. >> one of the people you talked about was john quincy adams who hadn't been a member of congress for 20 years after he left and what did you think was so appealing about him? >> john quincy adams had been a diplomat, he served in several diplomatic posts. he had been a senator and had
been president of the united states. after he left the presidency, he would ask if he would 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 congress. he died in what's now statuary hall in a little room off to the side. he died in harnesses. he didn't have to do that. he didn't have to be a congressman as he was, but he had a mission not only to represent as bestie could his constituency in massachusetts but to represent the country and more that really than the constituency, and, he was against slavery so he was battling slavery on the floor of the congress until the day he fell dead or fell down and died a few days later.
talk about devotion, talk about integrity, talk about truth and honesty and loyalty, his father, john adams was the only founding father, the only one of the presidency was a founding father who never owned a slave. that was out of principle. his wife abigail was even more adamant on the subject. the next president who never owned a slave was john quincy adams. iran in the family. as did dedication to public service. iran in the family. he's also brilliant. he was interested in everything. he spoke many languages. he was, in many ways, i think he may have had the highest iq and the most versatile mind of anyone who's been president including the greats among the
founders. but, as chance would have it, he was only a one term president and they don't get the attention the others do. same now as it was then. let me ask about another president we've talked about come you spoke on the fourth of july on immigration at monticello. it's thomas jefferson's home. thomas jefferson gave us the creed that all men are created equal that he wrote in the preamble to the declaration of independence. how did you square that with the fact that he was a slave owner and how did you address that issue and how do you think he address that issue. he was asleep slaveowner but he thought all men should be created equal. nor do i understand the fact that he destroyed every letter that he ever wrote to his wife in every letter she ever wrote him so we know nothing about her. we don't even know what she look like.
i can understand that. can understand that he kept very close track of every cent , every dime, everything he ever spent on anything, financial records, but he never added to that. >> that is probably why he was bankrupt. >> now. he was never out of money. the man was a genius. if he had been nothing but an architect, that alone would qualify him to be somebody we all should know about and he served a brilliant service to all of us with his idea that all men are created equal but he also said something that i think has not been sufficiently played out and he hasn't been given sufficient credit for. and that is his absolute
belief in education. he said any nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never can be. we have to be educated. we have to be literate. we have to understand there are no easy answers to big problems and so forth. nobody has glib solutions to big problems. they have to be worked out. i wish i had had the chance to know him. i wish i had had the chance. >> we will speak about that. >> if all the people you've written about, john adams, harry truman, john quincy adams, thomas jefferson, if you could have dinner with anyone president who is not alive, who would you have a dinner with? >> john adams. >> because there are so many questions i want to ask him. >> all right, let's talk about john adams. you gave a speech at the
university of massachusetts. you talk a lot about john adams. of the founding fathers, he gets a little less attention than george washington, why do you think so few people paid that much attention and why do you think there is still no monument to john adams in washington d.c. >> yes there is. >> where. >> it's on the mail piece in the white house. oh. >> you know about that. >> i don't. >> john adams was all the first president to reside in the white house and his first night he was alone, abigail had not arrived yet and the next morning, after his first night, he wrote her a letter in which he said, what he wrote in the letter, franklin roosevelt had carved into the wooden part of the mantelpiece in the east room.
when truman was in charge of redoing the white house, he made sure that stayed there. when kennedy became president, he had carved into the marble of the mantelpiece so would stay forever. what adams had said in the letter to abigail was this, may none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. [applause] , and i think it's very important to understand the thing about it, he put honesty first ahead of wisdom. honesty. >> so, in your pulitzer prize-winning book on john adams which was also made into an hbo series and one a lot of awards as well, you went
through a thousand letters between john adams and abigail adams. have you ever experienced anything like that between a husband and wife before? >> what struck you as unusual? >> the use of the mind, how well read they were. john adams advised his son, his young son who was about ten years old when they went off with his father to europe to serve as a diplomat, he said, 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, his attitude towards life. they were incredible readers. abigail was right there. her letters are phenomenal.
>> she was not college-educated. >> no, she never went to college but she never went to school. she was tutored at home, but she never stopped reading and she was brilliant and brave and patriotic and she put up with incredible difficulties running the family and household, trying to stay afloat financially when he was off serving overseas and those children were raised by her and away that they would never forget. that dinner party you are asking me, i would definitely, the sister of the wright brothers, you can't understand what they did and how they did it if you don't understand the part played by catherine wright. oh was she something. she kept that him and made him
toe the line and behave themselves in a way that we all need. >> you gave a speech at dartmouth and there were two people featured in that speech about whom you've written. one was teddy roosevelt. you wrote about not about his presidency but about the time he left new york in the east and went west. why did you find that such an appealing part of his life and what was the most important lesson you took away from that book? >> theater roosevelt is like a 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 life-threatening. he was afraid of everything, fearful of everything. he outgrew it and he outgrew it by facing diversity.
he took hold of his himself and he works hard at it all the way through college but then on to life. his father's death was a devastating experience. then when his wife and his mother died on the same day and he was shattered then. that's when he went west. this idea is so american, it's a way of healing and the way it's been traditionally. many historians had written quite profoundly about this. he is the essence of that but he never forgot who he was and where he was going back to any gets involved in politics in a
serious way. >> he was brilliant. he was a wonderful writer and historian. none of our great presidents have ever been one who had no interest in history. the roosevelt wrote many books including a very good book that i consider a good book on the naval war of 1812 which he started when he was still in college. he wrote every word of that himself. he kept fighting history, bringing history into the dialogue of the presidency of the executive office again and again and again. >> now he also, he talked
about harry truman and how he wrote another pulitzer prize book. why was harry truman so unpopular when he left the presidency but now he's everybody's favorite president? what changed in the years since he lost the presidency, other than your book? >> well, it began before i wrote the book. i grew up in a very old-fashioned republican family. 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 see one but, as some of you may remember, the final tally didn't come until about 2:00 a.m. and i just couldn't stay up that late. i fell sleep. my father was shaving the next morning and i went in and i said dad, who won. he said truman, like the end of the world well, 20 or 30 years later i was back home
and we are having a chat after dinner and he started in on how the world was going to hell in the country was going to hell any parts and he said to battle the areas and still in the white house. [laughter] , but harry truman is a great american story. this wonderful gathering is that the american story if there ever was a story that is so american. he is harry true man from a place called independence and he never went to college, he had to go it on his own and he had all kinds of bad luck and defeat but he never gave up. my favorite people are the people who don't give up. george washington in 1776 had every reason in the world to say that's enough, we can win this war but he would not give
up. the wright brothers never gave up. the building of the brooklyn bridge had many to say this is more than can be achieved, but they wouldn't give up. >> you gave a speech at ohio university about people who helped build the northwest territories and you now working on a book called the pioneers in 2019. what was so interesting in light of those people never give up? >> i was invited to speak at the ohio university other 200 university commencement i thought i better learn something about ohio university. i found out that the oldest building on campus was called cutler hall. i thought who's cutler?
i was told it was the oldest university college building west of mountains. well cutler's name. [inaudible] he was a classic 18th century polymath, he was a doctor, a lawyer, and a minister. he was a minister of a small church in massachusetts. a group of veterans in massachusetts, the revolutionary war veterans had the idea that because they had been paid in worthless money all the time that they served, eight and half years in the revolution, one way to compensate that would be in this new northwest territory be ceded to our country, by the british at the treaty in
paris, and that that land was fertile in a way that nobody in new england had ever imagined and i have belong to the government, and there was so this man cutler was picked by these officers from the war to go down to the capital which was then in new york and sell them on the idea of creating a northwest territory ordinance whereby new states could be formed. now cutler had never never lobbied anything in any way of his life. the word lobbyist or lobbying hadn't even entered the languages yet. he had never been to new york, never been out of new england, but off he went in his one horse shea down to new york to convince the continental congress there was no constitution to go ahead with us.
this was the summer of 1787. they put the ornaments through. he did it, one man, he did it, and the ordinance to belated three things of immense importance. one of the most important bills ever to pass by our congress, even before we had a president. one there would be complete freedom of religion, absolute, complete freedom of religion. number two, the government would be involved in education. there 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. , now what that meant, this territory was as big as all of the 13 colonies produced slaves and every one of the 13 colonies but amend this new empire, this wilderness empire would be free to everyone. all you had to do was get across the ohio river. the northwest territory north
and west of the ohio river. and now constitutes the state of ohio, indiana, illinois, michigan and wisconsin. it's as big as all of france. no slavery. 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. i go back to norton wilder. he was once asked about how he got his ideas and so forth. i thought our time was one of the greatest things i had ever saw on stage. i still love to see it. i've always wanted to write a book about people you never heard of to see if i can get
you into the tent without relying on historic celebrities so none of the characters, except one or two that were in the periphery are people you've ever heard of, but all their letters and diaries have survived and they are in the archives at marietta college in marietta ohio. it was as if i had come into kinked arts too. oh my goodness, what they talk about and what they reveal and the adversities they faced, and they would not give up so, as we wind down the time we have available, two final questions. one, what is the great pleasure of your life today? if you look back on what you achieved, is it exposing all these things to americans so they know more about our history? what is it that's given you the greatest pleasure in your life other than your relationship with your wife and your children. what is the greatest pleasure of your life. >> being an american.
[applause] , and when people talk about yo you, the legacy would like to have left behind, what would you say is the legacy would be most proud of having achieved? >> he tried to do his best. >> you have done a terrific job. a final thing about the library of congress, it's a place you've done a lot of your research, how important is the library of congress to you? >> the library of congress is indispensable for me, professionally, but i also see it as a shrine on our acropolis, devoted to the idea of education and it's available to all. our whole public library system is something that's a
miracle of american creation. [applause] the library of congress is the greatest library in the world. no question. and we did it. and if you ever get down about american culture, you might like to remember there are still more public libraries in this country than there are starbucks. [applause] >> david, thank you very much. it's been a great conversation. >> thank you. >> thank you very much. [applause] thank you. [applause] >> thank you very much