The Johnstown Flood
By David McCullough
(Simon & Schuster, Paperback, 9780671207144, 302pp.)
Publication Date: January 1987
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At the end of the nineteenth century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation's burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.
Graced by David McCullough's remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, "The Johnstown Flood" is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.
His books have been praised for their scholarship, their understanding of American life, their "vibrant prose," and insight into individual character. Mr. McCullough's most recent book, "1776", the number one "New York Times" national bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, has been called, "brilliant...powerful," "a classic." There are three million copies in print, while Mr. McCullough's previous work, "John Adams", remains one of the most critically acclaimed and widely read American biographies of all time. It is presently in its sixty-third printing.
"John Adams", a seven-part mini-series on HBO begins March 16. Produced by Tom Hanks, it stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.
In the words of the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Yale, "As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character."
Mr. McCullough's other books include "The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, " and "Truman". His work has been published in ten languages and, in all, nearly 9,000,000 copies are in print. As may be said of few writers, none of his books has ever been out of print.
David McCullough is as well twice winner of the prestigious Francis Parkman Prize, and for his work overall he has been honored by the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and the National Humanities Medal. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received more than forty honorary degrees.
In a crowded, productive career, he has been an editor, essayist, teacher, lecturer, and familiar presence on public television -- as host of "Smithsonian World, The American Experience", and narrator of numerous documentaries including "The Civil War". His is also the narrator's voice in the movie "Seabiscuit".
A gifted speaker, Mr. McCullough has lectured in all parts of the country and abroad, as well as at the White House. He is also one of the few private citizens to speak before a joint session of Congress.
Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. McCullough was educated there and at Yale, where he was graduated with honors in English literature. He is an avid reader, traveler, and has enjoyed a lifelong interest in art and architecture. He is as well a devoted painter. Mr. McCullough and his wife Rosalee Barnes McCullough have five children and eighteen grandchildren.
His current project is a book about Americans in Paris, from the 1830's to 1930's.