May 21, 2002


Walter Lord, Narrative Historian, Dies at 84 (ALBIN KREBS, 5/20/02, NY Times)
Walter Lord, the narrative historian whose books ó most notably "A Night to Remember," a riveting account of the sinking of the Titanic ó were characterized by intensive research and exhaustive interviews, died on Sunday at his Manhattan apartment. He was 84.

The cause was Parkinson's Disease. [...]

His usual approach to what he called living history was to combine historical research with journalistic methods, including "you are there" insights gathered in
interviews with dozens of survivors and witnesses to the events he chronicled.

Mr. Lord's writing technique, said Stanley Walker, reviewing "A Night to Remember" in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, was based on "a kind of literary pointillism, the arrangement of contrasting bits of fact and emotion in such a fashion that a vividly real impression of an event is conveyed to the reader."

David McCullough credits Mr. Lord as an inspiration for his own flourishing career as a writer of popular histories and biographies on such varied topics as the the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal and, most recently, John Adams.

"He really knew how to do research," Mr. McCullough said yesterday from his home in Massachusetts, "and how not to use all the research he found. He was very good at knowing what to leave out, using what he knew to give the right atmosphere, without trawling it on.

"His `A Night to Remember' was the first nonfiction book that I ever read that left me spellbound, and I was in high school at the time," he said. "Later, when I came to New York and was trying to become an author, I took `A Night to Remember' and studied it and tried to understand its architecture."

Although not a precise model for his own work, Mr. McCullough said that the essence of Mr. Lord's book enhanced his own first effort, "The Johnstown Flood" (Simon & Schuster, 1968), which, like the "A Night to Remember" was "a story about human mistakes and the compounding of false steps that brings on the disaster."

Published in 1955 and the first of several of his Book-of-the-Month Club selections, the wildly successful "Night to Remember" made Mr. Lord's reputation as a writer who could bring drama, terror, and suspense to his historical narratives. A successful television adaptation appeared in 1956 narrated by Claude Rains and in 1958 the book was the basis for a popular British-made film of the same name directed by Roy Baker and starring Kenneth More and David McCallum. [...]

In 1994 The Society of American Historians awarded Mr. Lord the Francis Parkman Prize for Special Achievement, in recognition of his lifetime dedication to
American history.

When his publicity house sent me the 60th anniversary edition of Day of Infamy to review last year, I was shocked to realize he was still alive. Like every red-blooded American boy, his books were a staple of my youth : A Night to Remember; Dawn's Early Light; The Good Years; etc. We wish him a bon voyage. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2002 1:54 PM
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