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A New York Times Bestseller

A timely collection of speeches by David McCullough, the most honored historian in the United States—winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many others—that reminds us of fundamental American principles.

Over the course of his distinguished career, David McCullough has spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. Now, at a time of self-reflection in America following a bitter election campaign that has left the country divided, McCullough has collected some of his most important speeches in a brief volume designed to identify important principles and characteristics that are particularly American. The American Spirit reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background. This is a book about America for all Americans that reminds us who we are and helps to guide us as we find our way forward.

Review

"This book is a gift. . . . It''s a powerful argument for keeping history alive." -- Michael Schaub ― NPR

“[McCullough] is one of the great historical storytellers of his generation. . . . Fundamentally Mr. McCullough loves the American story and its most illustrious characters.” -- Robert W. Merry ― The Wall Street Journal

“A national treasure, McCullough performs a national service in The American Spirit. Insightful and inspirational, it summons a vexed and divided nation to remember - and cherish - our unifying ideas and ideals.” -- Jay Strafford ― Richmond Times Dispatch

"McCullough''s passion for history and his profound belief in America, or at least his vision of America . . . is both encompassing and deeply hopeful. . . .Clio, the muse of history, smiles and nods her head on every page."  ― Kirkus Reviews

“McCullough perfectly embodies the part of remember-in-chief. . . . Happily, the same qualities that inform McCullough’s histories and biographies also shape his speeches. He is, whether at his desk or a lectern, a consummate storyteller.”
  -- Danny Heitman ― Christian Science Monitor

“Very few among us possess the encompassing and informed perspective on America’s past and present that historian and best-selling author McCullough has gained over decades of research. . . . McCullough’s legions of fans will flock to this edifying collection.” ― Booklist

“A carefully crafted, well-reasoned, heartfelt testament to what this nation can be — past, present, and we must believe — future.”

  -- Barbara Hall ― The Providence Journal

“Acclaimed historian David McCullough’s The American Spirit is as inspirational as it is brilliant, as simple as it is sophisticated. It will at the same time make you laugh and give rise to tears of despair. . . . This is not patriotic boilerplate. McCullough is a historian and a realist. He sees his nation with all its warts, beginning with its indelible birthmark of slavery and continuing through to today’s government dysfunction and political polarization. Yet he remains confident and upbeat.” -- Edward Cuddihy ― Buffalo News

"This collection captures McCullough''s passion and vigor throughout. . . . [His] enthusiasm for history is infectious." -- Andrew Carroll ― The Los Angeles Review of Books

About the Author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other acclaimed books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, Brave Companions, 1776, The Greater JourneyThe American Spirit, and The Wright Brothers. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Visit DavidMcCullough.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The American Spirit




David McCullough addressing Congress

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Top reviews from the United States

Ashutosh S. Jogalekar
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
History as a guide to America''s present and future
Reviewed in the United States on April 19, 2017
This book is a short collection of speeches by David McCullough, one of America''s foremost historians. The speeches span about twenty-five years and were delivered in a variety of locations and to mark a variety of occasions. Most of them are college commencement addresses... See more
This book is a short collection of speeches by David McCullough, one of America''s foremost historians. The speeches span about twenty-five years and were delivered in a variety of locations and to mark a variety of occasions. Most of them are college commencement addresses - in Boston, Ohio, Missouri and Pittsburgh - and a few mark the anniversary of important monuments (the White House) or events (the Kennedy assassination).

Some of the speeches are inspiring, some of them are informative, and many are both. McCullough''s thrust in all of them is to stress the importance of history as a guide to American character and values. He fears that many Americans, and young Americans in particular, are ignorant of the kind of history that can enrich and guide their views of the present and future; his fears are realized by a meeting with a bright young college student who did not know that the original thirteen states were all on the East Coast. He is convinced that not only can history inform people''s understanding of contemporary events, but that it can remind people of the values and men and women that made this country what it is. In an interview, McCullough mentioned that he put together this collection specifically for these politically troubled times. At the very least they should reassure people that their concerns and fears have been felt - and overcome - by many others in the past.

In most of his speeches McCullough focuses on one or more great Americans. He is not bashful about taking this ''Great Man'' view of history, since many of the characters he picks exemplify well the essential qualities of this country. He recognizes their flaws, but also sees their greatness. Famous Americans like John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson and JFK make regular appearances, but so do less famous but still important ones like Benjamin Rush, Simon Willard, James Sumner and Margaret Chase Smith. In speeches intended to commemorate buildings, McCullough also lovingly describes the rich history of monuments like the White House and Capitol Hill and cities like Pittsburgh and Boston.

Throughout the book, McCullough emphasizes many of the qualities that exemplified this country''s history: "the fundamental decency, the tolerance and insistence on truth and the good-heartedness of the American people". Relationships with France and other countries played a critical role, and so did the hard work of immigrants. There is also bravery here, exemplified by the Founding Fathers'' decision to defy the King of England under threat of execution, by abolitionists'' denunciation of slavery and by the ceaseless optimism of scores of politicians and common Americans who wanted to change the direction of this country for the better. There was Margaret Smith who stood up against Joseph McCarthy and said that she did not want "to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny - fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear". There was physician Benjamin Rush who emphasized "candor, gentleness, and a disposition to speak with civility and to listen with attention to everybody". And there was Adams who famously said that "facts are stubborn things". All lessons for the present and the future.

If there is one common theme that emerges most prominently from all the speeches, it is an emphasis on education and an appreciation of history. McCullough tells us how many of the most important Founding Fathers and presidents put learning and books front and center, not just in their own evolution but in their vision for America. Jefferson once said to Adams that he could not live without books, and Adams himself told his son John Quincy that with a poet in his pocket he will never feel alone. McCullough talks about Carpenter''s Hall in Philadelphia where Benjamin Franklin established the Library Company that evolved into the country''s first public library. As he describes it, the biographies of many famous people tell us that learning is not elitist, it is as American as apple pie. It is what turned this country into a beacon of democracy, science and finance. And for learning it is critical to read: "Read for pleasure. Read to enlarge your lives. Read history, read biography, learn from the lives of others". The same goes for history. McCullough is deeply concerned that younger Americans are losing touch with their history. He urges parents to take their children to historic sites at a young age and Americans of all ages to read and ponder their history. He constantly refers to American presidents who loved to read history; Theodore Roosevelt and JFK even wrote history books themselves. Ultimately, he says, "the pleasure of history consists in an expansion of the experience of being alive". And if nothing else, history should inform Americans of strategies and insights from the past that they can adopt to solve contemporary problems.

The overriding message that comes across from many of these speeches is that of optimism, hope and a constant drive in the American people to reinvent themselves. It should be a potent message in today''s times and should hopefully further encourage the study of this country''s history. As McCullough puts it, "It is a story like no other, our greatest natural resource. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years".
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William J. Bahr
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Character is Key for Liberty!
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2020
I love this book. It’s a chronological collection of the most important 15 of many speeches America’s most honored historian gave over 27 years, ending in 2016. For me, the book is essentially about the importance character has played in the American saga. I... See more
I love this book. It’s a chronological collection of the most important 15 of many speeches America’s most honored historian gave over 27 years, ending in 2016. For me, the book is essentially about the importance character has played in the American saga.

I should start by saying that my favorite American era is the Revolutionary War, and for a book I wrote about George Washington’s Liberty Key (Mount Vernon’s Bastille Key), Mr. McCullough graciously sent me a note to confirm an idea I thought I heard him say sometime earlier in a video interview: “The American Revolution was all about character.” Elsewhere, he had previously written, “Character it’s what counts most of all. [That’s] what’s taught in the story of the Revolution.” This was complemented by renowned historian Gordon Wood writing: “The Revolution is the most important event in American history. … The things we believe in came out of that revolution.”

So I very much welcomed this 2017 book from Mr. McCullough, which I bought and read as soon as it came out. As I reread it now, here are a few of the “character” gems I find:

Referring to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela: “And we saw greatness, too, in the conduct and character of the white man he replaced, President F.W. de Klerk.” “History teaches that character counts. Character above all.” “As Truman saw the presidency, the chief responsibility was to make decisions and he made some of the most difficult and far-reaching of any president. If not brilliant or eloquent, he was courageous and principled. The invisible something he brought to the office was character.” Per John Adams earnest wishes, now engraved on the White House mantelpiece: “I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” “The Greeks said that character is destiny, and the more I read of the human story, the more convinced I am they were right.”

I would point out that, for a new edition, the following assertion on page 91 might be clarified: “A third of the country was for it [independence], a third of the country was against it, and the remaining third, in the old human way, was waiting to see who came out on top.” According to “All Things Liberty,” this frequently characterized split in revolutionary-era Americans was made by John Adams. However, he was referring not to the American Revolution but the American view of the French Revolution. From my own research on the American Revolution, other historians place the ratio somewhere around 10% for the American Revolution, 10% against, and 80% just wanting to be left alone. However, as the Revolution progressed, the percentages varied wildly depending upon prospects for independence. It''s been written that, at most, those for the Revolution did not exceed 45% and those against 20%.

Overall, however, and this single issue aside, “The American Spirit” is a great book. Typical of all of McCullough’s works, it’s well-researched, well-written (almost poetic at times), and well-spoken —the chapters were, after all, speeches. True to his advice to educators, he makes history his “story.” And, indeed, a fascinating story it is, full of intriguing, little-known facts about America’s heroes that inform, entertain, and inspire.

Bottom-line: highly recommended!

“Character is Key for Liberty!” Check out how “Character, Culture, and Constitution” played “key” roles in the American and French Revolutions: George Washington''s Liberty Key: Mount Vernon''s Bastille Key – the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul , a best-seller at Mount Vernon.
19 people found this helpful
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Nancy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Breathes there a man with soul so dead, that ne''er a McCullough book has read?
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2017
Although I usually order for my Kindle, I prefer hardbacks when it comes to David McCullough, considering his books as valuable gems adorning my library; The American Spirit is the seventh I have read. This latest one is another McCullough treasure which revisits fifteen of... See more
Although I usually order for my Kindle, I prefer hardbacks when it comes to David McCullough, considering his books as valuable gems adorning my library; The American Spirit is the seventh I have read. This latest one is another McCullough treasure which revisits fifteen of his speeches given to mark uniquely American occasions, from a naturalization ceremony held at Monticello to the 50th anniversary of JFK''s assassination. He convincingly argues that knowledge of our country''s history is a necessary and vital foundation for progress. What individual on the national stage would I most like to chat with over a cup of tea? David McCullough! American history is his lifeblood, and he delivers it knowledgeably, lovingly and accessibly in print, so I assume that the nation''s demand, over the past half-century, for his spoken word to validate their patriotic celebrations proves he is equally effective verbally. What a teacher! What a patriot!
53 people found this helpful
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Glynn Young
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
What we''ve had, what we''re risking, and what we might need to do to recover
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2017
David McCullough has spent his professional lifetime exploring the people and events that form a goodly part of what we call American history. He’s fascinated by the history of the United States, but it’s a fascination that doesn’t preclude understanding of or excuse things... See more
David McCullough has spent his professional lifetime exploring the people and events that form a goodly part of what we call American history. He’s fascinated by the history of the United States, but it’s a fascination that doesn’t preclude understanding of or excuse things that need to be criticized. His reach and interest are as broad as they is deep.

McCullough – editor, teacher, lecturer, television host – is the author of numerous works of history and biography, including “The Path Between the Seas” (1978); “Mornings on Horseback” (1982); “The Johnstown Flood” (1987); “Brave Companions: Portraits in History” (1992);” Truman” (1993); “John Adams” (2002); “1776” (2005); and “The Wright Brothers” (2015); among several others. He’s won two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and two Francis Parkman Awards.

In other words, he’s an eminence in American historical letters.

He gives speeches, and when he does, it’s worthwhile to listen and ponder. He’s assembled 15 of those speeches, stretching from 1989 to 2016, in “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.” The volume is a gem of understanding, and of American history, the words and insights spoken by one of our pre-eminent American historians.

He’s a master of the telling detail, such as that of Simon Willard’s clock, which sits within a statue in Congress and has been there since 1837. “Its inner workings ticked off the minutes and hours through debate on the Gag Rule, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, tariffs, postal service, the establishment of the Naval Academy, statehood for Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, matters related to immigration, the Gold Rush, Statehood for California, the fateful Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the final hours of John Quincy Adams,” he writes. These were events and actions not only important for the United States but indeed the world.

And we read the story of John Quincy Adams, who returned as a congressman from Massachusetts after he served as our 6th President. Adams, the educated and experienced son of John Adams, would die in Congress, stricken while in the House of Representatives and carried to the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Henry Clay held his hand as he died.

In these speeches, McCullough talks of buildings and commemorations, historical figures known and not-so-known, and events that we’ve heard so often they seem trite but in his hands become living things.

One of the common themes is education – why it’s important and why it needs to be a lifelong pursuit; it’s not a monopoly of the institutional classroom. Here his speeches show a shift, however. From 2005 on, McCullough begins to note what he sees happening in the classroom – that we are not teaching American history as it has been taught or even at all. And citizens, and the country, are both poorer for it.

During a time like now, when divisiveness, rage, and outrage are the political order (or disorder) of the day, “The American Spirit” is a potent reminder of what we''ve had, what we’re risking, and what we might need to do to recover.
24 people found this helpful
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MacGalAZ
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Mixed Reaction
Reviewed in the United States on July 13, 2021
A brilliant author without a doubt. I came away with a real appreciation of John Adams, clearly one of the author’s favorite subjects. The speeches are arranged in chronological order of deliverance, and while the time and places vary, the tone and overriding subjects are... See more
A brilliant author without a doubt. I came away with a real appreciation of John Adams, clearly one of the author’s favorite subjects. The speeches are arranged in chronological order of deliverance, and while the time and places vary, the tone and overriding subjects are consistent — we are all Americans and we are all capable of working together to accomplish ANYTHING we set our minds to as a nation. We are the world’s best and brightest, and humanity’s shining beacon of hope and freedom. We have much to ne proud of as a nation. He us masterful in his expressiveness, but none the less has an underlying historical axe to grind that degraded the overall tenor of these speeches and became troubling as the volume drew to a close. The author’s writing style alone makes this a book worth reading. There is much to be learned from it, but it’s greater value is in reminding us of the pride we should take in our country’s history and how each of us is a part of that grand story which is still unfolding.
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William Lohman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good US history presented
Reviewed in the United States on May 6, 2017
This is a book which should be offered to many young students helping them understand our history and appreciate those who have helped to give us the country we have.
23 people found this helpful
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James O.S.CT
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Flawlessly factual, detailed and entertaining.
Reviewed in the United States on April 30, 2017
David McCullough is a master historian. The speeches in this book, like the storytelling of his last ten books is flawlessly factual, detailed and entertaining. The American Spirit is an excellent read.
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R Scheese
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Spirited, Inspiring & Enjoyable
Reviewed in the United States on July 25, 2017
Just finished another David McCullough classic : The American Spirit. I guess when you are as accomplished as is the author, you are frequently asked to speak at graduations, memorials and Anniversary celebrations. The American Spirit is a collection of selected... See more
Just finished another David McCullough classic : The American Spirit. I guess when you are as accomplished as is the author, you are frequently asked to speak at graduations, memorials and Anniversary celebrations. The American Spirit is a collection of selected McCullough speeches delivered between 1989 and 2016 which highlight America''s unique spirit.

Throughout, McCullough''s passion for our Country, history and the arts, life-long learning and reading in particular are central repeated themes. A very compelling read. It has inspired me and I would highly recommend it to all.

I highlighted so many passages in the book, but one of my favorites appears in a commencement speech to the graduates of Ohio University in 2004:

"When bad news is riding high and despair in fashion, when loud mouths and corruption seem to own center stage, when some keep crying that the country is going to the dogs, remember it’s always been going to the dogs in the eyes of some, and that 90 percent, or more, of the people are good people, generous-hearted, law-abiding, good citizens who get to work on time, do a good job, love their country, pay their taxes, care about their neighbors, care about their children’s education, and believe, rightly, as you do, in the ideals upon which our way of life is founded."
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Top reviews from other countries

spymaster
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One need not be an American to find this inspiring.
Reviewed in India on February 3, 2021
A short but inspiring book from the great David McCullough. It tells us the impossible odds the American revolution and its leaders had to face. What we take as commonplace now were revolutionary ideals during the 1700s. Other things discussed are the importance of...See more
A short but inspiring book from the great David McCullough. It tells us the impossible odds the American revolution and its leaders had to face. What we take as commonplace now were revolutionary ideals during the 1700s. Other things discussed are the importance of education and curiosity.
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L. Jerome Redmond
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Our History through Stories
Reviewed in Canada on May 11, 2017
Outstanding speeches by the author over the years on America. History is our lifeblood in America and David McCullough clearly understands that it is story telling. Must read for all High School, and University students in America.
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Ann
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great book.
Reviewed in Canada on November 3, 2017
Interesting and inspiring.
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