Historical Authors - McCullough vs Shaara

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Kirk Gunn, Jun 1, 2005.

  1. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    With the recent popularity of McCullough's "1776", I was wondering if anyone had any comparison's to Shaara's works ?

    I just read Shaara's "Rise to Rebellion" and am now reading "Glorious Cause" which are about the same time period (1770 to 1781).

    Very educational novels and well worth a read by those interested in US Revolutionary history. Shaara paints a very objective picture that is not overly pro-US or anti-UK (unlike most US history books).
     
  2. Jon Bell

    Jon Bell Stunt Coordinator

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    I'll weigh in to get the conversation started, but I haven't read much of either author. I read Killer Angels by Shaara and enjoyed it a lot. I'm reading John Adams right now and I like it a lot too, but it is much more dense reading. The difference between the two is that Killer Angels was more entertaining, but both books are interesting. I didn't know about 1776 until I saw this thread, but from the Amazon description, it sounds like I would like that one too.

    I just realized that there are two Shaara's-- is Jeffrey the son of Michael?
     
  3. chris_m_white

    chris_m_white Stunt Coordinator

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    McCullough writes historical non-fiction, while Shaara (Michael and Jeffrey) write historical fiction. That's the biggest difference. McCullough writes in a narrative fashion, but if he speculates as to what his subjects are thinking are feeling, he mentions it as speculation. Shaara on the other hand, writes it as if it really happened. Thus, it's fiction because there's no documented source.

    That being said, I've read several of Jeff Shaara's books and think they are well researched. I feel like I come away knowing a little more about the historical period.

    I guess it just depends on what style you prefer.
     
  4. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the feedback, I'll have to give McCullough a try. The one review I read stated that McCullough's books are typically focused on one character, where Shaara's tend to encompass all major players (even if he does show some "creative license"). Appears Shaara's books are overall more informational while McCullough's give you more insight to the individual.

    The introduction to Shaara's books do disclaim he summarizes speeches and written docs to be understandable to a current-day reader. As Chris mentions, he also speculates on their thoughts, though he does use memoirs and other research to base his conjecture on...
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Well, some of McCullough's books focus on one character because they are what are known as "biographies". [​IMG] His (supberb} John Adams is one example (although, like most books about Adams, it is almost as much a biography of Abagail as of her husband.) His award-winning Truman another.

    1776 is McCullough writing as a popular historian, and he covers the events of a year, not an individual's life, so the scope will be broader. (I haven't picked it up yet, so don't know exactly how which events and personalities he covers, although I'm reasonably sure what the chapters set in late June and early July focus on. [​IMG])

    The Path Between the Seas (about the building of the Panama canal) and The Johnstown Flood are similarly histories of events. Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge is almost a hybrid work, because the story of the bridge is so much the story of its principle creator, Washington Roebling. So it is almost as much biography as history.

    Again, the crucial differnce between the two is that Shaara writes historical fiction, whereas McCullough writes history and biography, and the two are simply utterly different animals. An historian can say, "There are differing accounts of what happened at the meeting" and then present all of them, or "Nobody is sure why Adams may that decision. Some say it was a political calculation, others that he genuinely believed it was the right thing to do." A novelist needs to depict that meeting, so he has to choose which version is "real" for his novel, and if he's writing a book in which John Adams is the protaganist, he must decide whether Adams was acting out of conviction or political calculation - because when you're writing a character from the "inside" you need to know that sort of thing.

    So an historical novel is always the author's version of history, not only because he or she must pick and choose among conflicting theories about people and events, but because the material must be organized according to the usual rules of drama, with a dramatic arc of rising tension. Composite characters may be used to simplify the story-telling and make things clear to the reader, and invented characters will inevitably also appear. (In the stage musical 1776 "John Adams" is really a combination of the real John Adams and his cousin Sam. Most of the colonial delegations are depicted as being smaller than they really were, to keep the size of the cast and the number of characters the audience had to keep track of manageable. Similar things happen in prose historical fiction.)

    The thing to remember is that historical fiction is fiction first, and historical second. It is never history. That's why I was surprised to find this thread was comparing the Shaara's books to David McCullough. I thought this might be about the Shaara's American historical novels in comparison to Colleen McCullough's fantastic series of books set in Ancient Rome. I haven't read any of the Shaara's novels (despite being interested in both the Revolutionary period and the civil war) but I have read all of McCullough's Masters of Rome novels, and can recommend them without reservation. Rather than the Fall of the Empire she depicts the Fall of the Republic, from the political upheavals of the age of Marius and Sulla through the triumph of Octavian.

    BTW, David McCullough is not only a terrific writer, he is a popular narrator of historical documentaries and is probably best known in that career as the voice of several Ken Burns films including the landmark The Civil War.

    Regards,

    Joe
     

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