"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
''I have no imagination,'' Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison once said. ''I can't write about a battlefield until I've been over it, nor about sea warfare unless I've taken part in it.''
Perhaps this modest admission by one of America's foremost historians best explains the admiral's innovative approach to his subject matter.
In the tradition of American historian Francis Parkman and Thucydides of ancient Greece, the admiral, who won seven battle stars in World War II, believed the only way to write history was to live it. Morison's research carried him around the globe - to the paradaisical West Indies, the stormy Straits of Magellan, and to war-strafed Normandy and Okinawa during World War II. Under sail, he retraced the stormy routes taken by Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and other New World explorers.
During his career, Morison wrote 48 books, two of which (his biography of Columbus, ''Admiral of the Ocean Sea'' and ''John Paul Jones'') were awarded Pulitzer Prizes.
He was a scholar and a sailor, a man who lived in the same elegant Beacon Hill town house all of his life yet traveled to some of the most remote and primitive parts of the globe. It was not unusual to see the admiral sporting riding breeches in the morning and a top hat and tails at the opera in the evening.
Even during his lifetime, the Boston-born man of letters was regarded in monumental terms - referred to as ''admiral,'' ''professor'' or ''doctor.'' He was a professor at Harvard University for nearly half a century, during which time he produced an average of one book a year. In 1954, after he and his wife returned from a summer in Mount Desert Island, Maine, his wife remarked to some friends, ''Yes, we had an easy summer of it. All Sam did was write the ninth volume of his naval history, a short history on Christopher Columbus, and a third book about the Peabody Museum in Salem.'' In an effort to vindicate himself, Morison replied, ''I really did very little; Columbus and Peabody were short works, 50,000 words each. The newspaper people rattle off 50,000 words in a week.''
Here he is in the library of his home on Mount Desert Island in Maine in 1972.
Read the 1976 NYT obit (pdf) of the historian described as "our Yankee Admiral of the Ocean Sea."