Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review - Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough

History is so important. So many people and their contributions have been

Brave Companions: Portraits in History is a collection of short, historical writings by David McCullough. It's available as an eBook, audiobook, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good

Journey to the Top of the World. This tells the story of an early scientist and his journey thru South America. His name and contributions are mostly unknown today, and yet at the time he was one of the greatest living scientists making some of the most remarkable discoveries. This section is heavily science focused, but still interesting.

The American Adventure of Louis Agassiz. This is another mostly unknown scientist and educator today who was a major name in his day. He was a bit essentric, which makes his story a little more interesting.

Glory Days in Medora. This is the story of the creation of the myth of the Old West. It was a bit sad and melancholy but still fascinating.

Remington. This is the story of a western artist. I found it interesting, because I'm an artist and the author focused on the method and progression. But to a nonartist this will probably be seen as boring.

Steam Road to El Dorado. This is the story of the Panama Railroad. If you've read McCullough's Panama Canal book, then it's nearly the same story only shorter. But it is still interesting and worth the read.

The Builders. This was probably the most interesting the essays. It tells the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and it is a fascinating story filled with drama, twists, and unbelievable events.

The Treasure from the Carpentry Shop. This is the story of the discovery of the plans for the Brooklyn Bridge and the unbelievable treasure of craftsmanship they were. The story itself is pretty mediocre, but it makes an excellent coda to the story of the Bridge itself, and for that I enjoyed it.

Long-Distance Vision. This tells the story of the writings of the early aviators of the 20th Century and makes several interesting observations, such as how no other group had similar literary aspirations or accomplishments. The author postulates that the factors which drove these individuals to fly during the experimental days of aviation are the same factors that causes one to write. I had heard of these pilots, but I had never heard of any of their books, but I plan to check them out.

Extraordinary Times. This was a really interesting look at the history of the world from 1936 to the present focusing on the political events while ignoring the cultural and technological changes. Despite the glaring omissions and prejudices for the best known events, he makes many excellent observations that I found insightful.

The Bad

The Unexpected Mrs. Stowe. This tells the story of the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The name of the book and basic plot is well known, although the author and details of the writing are less so. I found this chapter so boring I actually hit skip halfway thru.

Cross the Blue Mountain.
 This is the meanderings of an author I've never heard of and have no intention of reading after hearing his story.

The Lonely War of a Good Angry Man. This is a rant against strip mining. Instead of presenting a logical case with facts, it really is little more than an angry rant of an angry man.

Miriam Rothschild. I have heard of this person, but the story was more strange than interesting. I was glad when it finally ended.

South of Kankakee: A Day with David Plowden. I love photography, and I found the ideas interesting, but the way it was told could have been so much better executed.

Washington on the Potomac. I learned a lot of interesting history from this, but it was sure a painful trip to get to it. It could have been more interestingly told.

Recommended Itinerary. The point this chapter made was excellent and one ever American needs to be aware of. I just wish it wasn't so painful to get thru.

Simon Willard's Clock. Like the last chapter, this one made excellent points. But again, I wish it hadn't been so painful to get thru.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the writing had been stronger. This was not up to David McCullough's usual standard, and I was very disappointed.


Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough is a mixed bag of essays and speeches he's written over many years. Most featured people I had never heard of, and a few I can see why. But others made significant contributions and should be better known. Some of the essays were very concise and fascinating while others meandered to uninteresting places. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 eReaders.



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