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David McCullough awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom
Pulitzer prize winning author and West Tisbury resident David McCullough is one of 10 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award. The White House announced the award Dec. 7.
Mr. McCullough won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for "Truman," his bestselling biography, published by Simon and Schuster.
In a telephone interview from Maine where he was visiting his daughter, Mr. McCullough told The Times that he was surprised and honored to be among the recipients. He said he was particularly pleased that word of the announcement had appeared in newspapers on Friday, which was also his mother's birthday.
Speaking with the scholarly grace and ease that characterizes him in person and in his more public roles, Mr. McCullough said that the honor was not his alone but belonged to the many people - editors, librarians, researchers and others - who had helped him along the way and taken an interest in his work.
"I think it is also a recognition of the importance of American history. Needless to say, there are scores of other people who might have received the award instead of me," said Mr. McCullough, who won a second Pulitzer for his 2001 biography, "John Adams," also published by Simon and Schuster.
Mr. McCullough, whose West Tisbury home is on Music Street, said the award also emphasizes the importance of the presidency, an institution that has been the focus of his writing and scholarship. In addition to his biographies of Truman and Adams, Mr. McCullough also wrote "Mornings on Horseback," a highly regarded biography of Theodore Roosevelt and winner of the National Book Award.
Mr. McCullough said he has met President Bush and knows that Mr. Bush has read at least one of his books. "The only one I talked to him about, and I talked to him soon after he was elected, was 'John Adams.'"
In his day, Adams was the object of strong criticism and public condemnation. Mr. McCullough said that it takes a special sort of president to withstand the type of criticism Adams and others have faced doing such a difficult job.
"I've spent a great deal of time with three presidents and I've known six of them in my own life, and the more you know about the job, the more you know about the risks, pitfalls, responsibilities, and stresses of the job, the more you tend to want to give them some slack," he said. "It is an impossible job. No one, no one is qualified."
Although he is careful not to comment on current politics, when asked if he thinks Mr. Bush gets sufficient slack, Mr. McCullough said, "No, I don't."
Mr. McCullough said he does not comment on present day political figures. "I feel very strongly that is somebody else's job, not mine, but I think it takes about 50 years for the dust to settle and for us to be able to see these individuals in the context of what follows, as well as what has preceded, and what happened during their time in office."
He would say to both the critics and the admirers of President Bush, "Wait a while. Wait a while before you put him down or up. The things that were said about Harry Truman in his time are just withering. And presidents have to have an awful thick skin. And I hugely admire that in a person. I do not think I could do it, I don't think I could take it, so when I see someone who can, my hat goes off to them."