Book Review Thursday: Brave Companions


Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough is known for his meticulously researched historical and biographical works.  In Brave Companions McCullough combines essays originally written for magazine publication into a compelling book of short biographies.  Two of the essays were written as a result of research for two books: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 and Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Theodore Roosevelt, as well-known American historical figures, were profiled along with lesser-known or long-forgotten individuals such as Alexander von Humboldt.  Although born into an aristocratic Prussian family in Berlin, he decided to forego a life of privilege and chose instead to embark on an extended exploration of Latin America.  Charles Darwin would later utilize Humboldt’s extensive research and documentation.  In his best-selling book, Personal Narrative ITALICS, Humboldt described the need for a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Of course, that indeed became a reality many years later with the Panama Canal.

In a way this book is a window into the thought processes of McCullough and his storied writing career.  McCullough would often find subjects for his books while researching another subject (that happens to me all the time!).  For instance, he pointed out that while researching The Great Bridge, the story of the German immigrant Roebling family and their stunning achievements in building the Brooklyn Bridge, he studied Henry Ward Beecher to understand the times surrounding the bridge’s construction.  Beecher was a renowned Congregationalist minister and social reformer, the brother of  Harriet Beecher Stowe.

McCullough’s research pursuits have “rarely been dull” since the more he researched the more fascinating it became – kind of like a detective case, as he described it in the book’s introduction.  Reflective of his own work ethic, most of the characters he writes about in this book were actively passionate about their work as well, with courage being the common thread.

David McCullough is a master storyteller with a unique gift of making history compelling and interesting.  One of my favorite quotes by Rudyard Kipling says it best: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”  Fans of McCullough’s work will find this book a compelling read – you might well learn as much from these seventeen essays as you would by reading one of his more voluminous tomes.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

Please consider a small donation to support Digging History. Click the DONATE button below (or the DONATE link at the top of the page for instructions) and you will be directed to a secure payment site where you may make a one-time donation or set up a recurring monthly donation (NOTE: NOT tax deductible).  See the bottom left-hand corner to pay with a credit card only (a PayPal account is not required to donate).  If you prefer to pay by check, please send me an email via the Contact link above.  Thanks for your consideration!

 © Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2016.

Leave a Comment