I generally find David McCullough’s books somewhat intimidating to begin — simply because of their heft. This book, however, which weighs in at less than 300 pages, is a collection of Mr. McCullough’s shorter works — magazine articles, lectures, etc — and is much more accessible than some of his heftier biographies. It paints vivid portraits of a wide variety of people — some famous, others rather obscure, but all fascinating. It was just enough to whet my appetite to learn more about these people. Over the course of reading this book, I jotted down the titles of 22 other books I’d like to read.
The section I found most interesting was entitled “Pioneers.” It included an article about the building of the Panama Railroad — yes, railroad. As in, before the canal. Forty-seven and a half miles of track, and 170 bridges of more than 12 feet in length. Next was an article about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I had no idea how interesting pneumatic caissons were. This was followed by a lovely vignette about the man who discovered and helped to preserve the thousands of intricate hand-drawn plans for the Brooklyn Bridge. The section closed with an intriguing look at the aviation pioneers of the 1920s, many of whom were also prolific writers. I’d read and loved many of the works of pioneer aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, but was inspired to look up some of the others.
There’s something for everyone in this collection: science, photography, architecture, history, exploration, ecology. All written in David McCullough’s spare, ringing style, these portraits of people and places will spark the imagination and make you want to read more.