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Famed historian David McCullough dead at 89

David McCullough, best-selling author and one of the most prominent historians of his age, died Sunday at his home outside of Boston. He was 89.

McCullough’s death was confirmed by his daughter Dorie Lawson, according to the New York Times. No specific cause was given.

McCullough won Pulitzer Prizes for two presidential biographies, “Truman” (1992) and “John Adams” (2001). McCullough received not only critical acclaim — his books were also widely read by the general public. Both “Truman” and “John Adams” topped the New York Times’ best-seller list.

“I think of writing history as an art form,” McCullough said in an interview for “Painting with Words,” a 2008 documentary about him on HBO. “And I’m striving to write a book that might — might — qualify as literature. I don’t want it just to be readable. I don’t want it just to be interesting. I want it to be something that moves the reader. Moves me.”

McCullough, a Pittsburgh native, published his first popular history book, “The Johnstown Flood” in 1968. The book detailed the 1889 western Pennsylvania disaster. McCullough recalled that at the time, he could find nothing definitive written about the flood that occurred not far from his hometown. “So, at some point, I asked myself if the book I wished I could read about what happened at Johnstown did not exist, why not write it myself?” he said.

McCullough published a total of 13 historical books. He was known for his deep research –“John Adams” took him seven years, while he spent 10 on “Truman.”

McCullough’s work also translated to the screen. “Truman” was turned into an HBO film starring Gary Sinise, and “John Adams” provided the foundation for an HBO mini-series with Paul Giamatti. McCullough also appeared various times on camera. In 1990, he narrated the award-winning Ken Burns series “The Civil War.” And he offered historical context as the narrator in the 2003 Hollywood film “Seabiscuit.”

His alma mater, Yale, awarded him an honorary degree in 1998. “As an historian, he paints with words,” the citation read. “Giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character.”

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