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Showing 1-10 of 349 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 401 reviews
on March 28, 2016
"Portraits in History" is the subtitle of this collection of essays, biographical studies, and speeches "produced over a period of nearly twenty years." They are "about subjects as dissimilar as Alexander von Humboldt and Conrad Richter" and "written for such different occasions as college commencement ... and the ceremonies celebrating the bicentennial of the United States Congress." The seventeen chapters are loosely grouped into five sections. Each section, each chapter, each entry varies in length and approach, some are in-depth studies, some are dialogues, interviews or sketches, some of very personal recollections or even general bemoaning of lack of general knowledge - not being familiar with Antietam/Sharpsburg but having walked the Vietnam Memorial. The few times McCullough slips, it is jarring - maybe he does it on purpose? For example, when describing Washington, the long walks in the morning, he talks about the climate - "I like the climate, the slow shift of the seasons here. ...Summers are murder ..." I kept notes of all the books I have to rediscover or locate - enough to keep me very busy for a while. The subjects of McCullough's portraits come to life as "The Unexpected Mrs. Stowe," author of Uncle Tom's Cabin did - and I am now wondering about the relationship with her husband's first wife. And then the history of founder of Radcliffe or the plans of the Brooklyn Bridge ... It is a wonderful collection.
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on December 21, 2015
Loved it. Felt like every chapter focused on someone or something that I SHOULD know about. A healthy and delicious stew.
Only one problem: The date of original publication should have been included with the title of each chapter - instead of tucked away elsewhere in the book. Once I found the publication listing, I wrote the date at the beginning of each chapter. Makes a HUGE difference in the context of each piece.
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on February 29, 2016
If you want to learn something about lesser known historical figures this is the book for you. As one would expect from McCullough the writing is excellent. I guarantee it will induce you to learn more about the people he profiles, e.g., Beryl Markham, a woman who had the guts and courage of a junkyard dog. Read her fantastic memoir, West with the Night, certainly one of the best books I have ever read. McCullough also includes an speech which he gave to a college graduating class that should be required reading for every literate person. Highly recommended.
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on April 30, 2014
If David McCullough’s books are mountains, BRAVE COMPANIONS is his rock collection. A compilation of seventeen articles, we’re introduced to history-makers from 1980s England to the days of Jefferson. For a man who made his mark with books so weighty they could be used as architectural cornerstones, writing short pieces would seem confining. And, ultimately, the book’s quality is mixed.

The historical profiles are very good. One gets a sense that McCullough feels a duty to expose history’s underappreciated figures. Alexander von Humboldt, Frederic Remington, Louis Agassiz - all burned brightly in their day and age, but their impacts on the 21th Century are easy to overlook. The author feelingly shows how these men and women embodied their era. It’s everything that we love in historical biography.

A problem arises when the author focuses on living figures. Profiling a contemporary becomes journalism, and it’s not McCullough’s strong suit. His interview with photographer David Plowden is well-written, but mediocre. Same with Miriam Rothschild, a flamboyant heiress pursuing her eclectic interests with tireless fervor.

Some of the articles are useful appendices to earlier McCullough works. We’re provided more insight into the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, for example. “The Treasure from the Carpentry Shop” is an intriguing postscript to the making of the Brooklyn Bridge - a reminder that history is tangible and valuable even if some artifacts are lost to dust and mothballs.

The book’s strongest component is the more free-form essays that conclude the collection. My favorite, “Washington on the Potomac,” will ignite an appreciation for the nation’s capital.

Altogether, this is a book specifically designed for fans of David McCullough, more of a B-side to the main albums we love so much, but still worth throwing on the turntable.
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on July 18, 2017
This is a book of "soft" historical events in the past. For instance did you know Harriet Beacher Stowe wrote a book a year? Or, the background of TeddyRoosevelt's days in the Badlands?. How about the human cost in building the Panama Railroad?

These are only a few of the stories about the background of our human history. The Arthur has adroutly presented these stories which have been told in this book. It is an enjoyable read!
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on September 30, 2016
So many mostly unknown people whose lives have shaped the world and world history are told in this fascinating book with a chapter dedicated to each individual. It is a favorite of mine that I will go back and reread some of my favorite chapters. David McCullough is a wonderful and talented storyteller who weaves a powerful story and yet informs with history, culture and insights at every page. I loved this book.
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on April 27, 2007
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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on July 19, 2017
David McCullough is an excellent author, storyteller, and one of my favorites. His wordsmanship is one-of-a-kind. His stories of these Brave Companions are absolutely fascinating and written in such a masterful way. My highest recommendation for Brave Companions.
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on November 21, 2015
I love David McCullough's books! I not only appreciate his attention to details that would otherwise go unnoticed, but also his enthusiasm for his subjects which shines through every page. I enjoyed learning about individuals I had never heard about before. Each chapter is relatively short which I find particularly nice because it allows me to read a complete chapter if I only have an hour or less to read at that point. Again, well done, David McCullough!
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on March 11, 2017
A wonderfully written book about some very amazing people....Hard to put down....
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