Brave companions : portraits in history

by David G. McCullough

Paper Book, 1992

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Simon & Schuster, c1992.

Description

A collection of portraits of men and women who changed history includes discussions of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederic Remington, Louis Agassiz, Charles and Anne Lindbergh, and others.

User reviews

LibraryThing member RBeffa
This was an enjoyable collection of profiles and essays. The book was published in 1992 and McCullough assembled seventeen articles (primarily from magazines) that he had written from as far back as December 1969. This is a book about extraordinary people and quite a variety of people he covers, some very famous, some not. McCullough writes an excellent introduction to this book.

I am not always fond of McCullough's writing style, a little clunky at times but mostly very readable. He brings a rich enthusiasm to his topics and I learned quite a bit reading this. His first couple chapters on Alexander von Humboldt and Louis Agassiz are almost stunning with their infectious exhiliration. I liked this bit on Humboldt: "Emerson was to call him "one of those wonders of the world, like Aristotle ... who appear from time to time, as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind.""

The profiles are not just of people however. One of my favorites was on The first ocean to ocean railroad, 47 miles across Panama and the tremendous cost in lives to build.

Having just read Conrad Richter's "The Lady," I was surprised when I came to chapter ten. McCullough devotes a chapter to Richter, who he considered a friend. I found some of the topics much more interesting than others and I suspect this will vary among readers. I debated with myself how to rate this, as I think it is a little uneven, but I am very glad to have read it. It has made me want to read more about many of the subjects. 4 - 4 1/2 stars Recommended.
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LibraryThing member santhony
After reading McCollough's Truman, I made it a point to search out and read all of his prior works. Having done so, I was pleased to find this book which is basically a collection of magazine articles and other short efforts collected in book form.

The first four or five stories were magnificent. Articles on Alexander von Humbolt, Louis Agassiz, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederic Remington and Washington Roebling were magnificent. Also outstanding are stories concerning Medora, North Dakota and the Panamanian railroad.

Keeping this work from five star status are several less than stellar essays, primarily one dealing with strip mining in Appalachian Kentucky, a work so slanted against the mining industry (and extractive manufacturing in general) as to be almost unreadable by anyone in manufacturing. I can imagine readers becoming inflamed by McCollough's prose only to be offered the alternative of increasing their power bill by 10% in return for discontinuing the practices he abhors.

Also lacking were essays on photographer David Plowden and Miriam Rothschild. However, 80% of the works were typical McCollough excellence in teaspoon doses, a solid overall four star effort.

Several of the essays touch on subjects that were previously (or subsequently) covered more fully in book length efforts (Brooklyn Bridge and Panama Canal in particular), but having read them did not feel that he was repeating himself. If you're a McCollough fan, a definite must read.
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LibraryThing member parapreacher
Interesting collection of short biographical sketches. Easy way to read some interesting pieces on some well-known and not-so-well-known people.
LibraryThing member CherieDooryard
Like any story collection, this had its highs and lows. But McCullough is so in love with American history, and the people who made it, that he sweeps you along and even when I found and essay less interesting I hung in there, knowing it would pay off somehow. I put this down with a reawakened sense of how much I don't know about my country and a reading list meant to correct it. Worth a read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
[Brave Companions] by [[David McCullough]] is a mixed bag. It's a series of personality portraits--each chapter is about a different topic or person--that McCullough finds interesting or influential. The Chapters don't bear any immediate relationship to one another except a point-of-view and style that is almost sentimental.

With each chapter of the book, his narrative voice, his personality, is more and more present. I could see sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair drinking mint juleps or sweet tea and listening to him speak about these really interesting people he has studied or met, but the book is almost melodramatic. I can see why at least one of his works has been adapted to film (John Adams for HBO). It was too personal in ways to be enjoyable to me throughout as a straight forward history until I realized what his point-of-view was about history.

It's pacing, content and overall style is really more consistent with a conversation or narrative history, than a dry study--the sort of thing that I'm much more familiar and conversant with. One of my friends says McCullough's style is "folksy." That may be a good way of summarizing it. I gained much greater insights about McCullough, but not perhaps, history, in his later chapters. McCullough writes, "I never walk by without thinking of this--and of the historians who dismiss the role of personality in history, the reverberations of a single yes or no." p. 200. History is personal to him. It's something colorful and alive. The problem is that at times, then, the narrative can become much more illustrative of McCullough, than history. The Lonely War of a Good Angry Man and Washington on the Potomac were examples of this to me. How could you write about Washington in the 1980s and not even mention the famous tear down that wall speech and the subject of communism? The entire book is riddled with themes about the human spirit, about individualism and the human struggle for dignity.

Who he finds interesting isn't always who I'd find interesting or praiseworthy, but I find his way of writing and his choices entertaining. My interest is peaked. I'll definitely read his other pieces. His prose are impeccable even if I don't always appreciate his perspective or choice of subject matter.
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
McCullough is one of my favorite historians. This is an interesting collective biography of mostly forgotten figures from American history who McCullough convincingly makes the case are worth remembering.
LibraryThing member MikeRhode
Entertaining mini-bios. There's a couple of clunkers, but I enjoyed this more than I expected to. Being a Little Free Library find makes it a bonus.
LibraryThing member rakerman
From 1991, this is a collection of David McCullough's writings. Many of the pieces form "companions" to books he has written. The only piece that is particularly unusual is the very long "The Lonely War of a Good Angry Man" from 1969, where the author is both reporting on contemporary events and making a very clear position about the impact of strip-mining coal in Kentucky; operating as a journalist rather than an historian.… (more)
LibraryThing member buffalogr
Anthology of people who made history but aren't necessarily well known. Those are the folks that McCullough enjoys. The stories have their highs and lows. I enjoyed the Americans more than some of the others. I skipped over some of the stories, because they seemed to drone on. Theodore Roosevelt and the French Count in Medora was a high; Panama canal construction--not so much. If this was a book, vice an listen, one could more easily skip the parts that don't stimulate. Glad I read it, won't do it again.… (more)
LibraryThing member msaucier818
I love David McCullough. I always want to read more history, biography, and novels after reading his words and seeing his passion for America and the World. I want to see art, listen to music, and just become better educated about areas of life that I am deficient in knowledge.

This book is a collection of essays and speeches that McCullough wrote and gave over the course of many years. There are chapters on people I knew literally nothing about, and others about time periods and figures I am familiar with but learned more about. If you enjoy history and learning about figures that might not be mainstream, this is a great read.… (more)
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
What a pleasure he is to read. I love his writing style. Unsurprisingly, some pieces appeared originally in Smithsonian.

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