In Memoriam: Forrest McDonald, 1927-2016

22MCDONALD-obit-master675Publishers are only as good as the authors they publish. Having the opportunity and honor of publishing–multiple times–Forrest McDonald, who died on the 19th of January, 2016, at the venerable age of 89, was a noteworthy feather in the cap of the University Press of Kansas. To be sure, publishing Forrest has enhanced our reputation in the world of scholarly publishers, but his life demands more than any insular recognition of what he accomplished in the six of his twenty books that he published with our publishing house.

Few if any historians of the early national period have read as widely and deeply as Forrest, who as a novice scholar lived in his car to enable his prodigious reading of the papers of the founding fathers located hither, thither, and yon. Drawing on this bedrock of knowledge for which he had an uncanny recall, the youthful Forrest overturned the accepted interpretations of senior scholars like Charles Beard. His subsequent lengthy career followed the same path, always adhering to his commitment to finding the truth.

Over a thirty-year period, 1974-2004, six McDonald books appeared over the University Press of Kansas imprint. His first two, on the presidencies of Washington (1974) and Jefferson (1976), imparted significant momentum to the launching of our now widely recognized American Presidency Series. His next, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the American Constitution (1985) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the all-time bestselling scholarly book published by us. Forrest’s next successful book to appear on our list was The American Presidency: An Intellectual History (1994), which added considerable heft to our emphasis on the chief executive’s office. Forrest then turned his interest to States Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio (2000). His final book, Recovering the Past: A Historian’s Memoir (2004), which he co-wrote with his wife Ellen, merits a careful reading by anyone interested in the demands of historiography. As one of Forrest’s publishers, we fully agree with those of his academic colleagues who think of him as a “giant.”

Outside of teaching, scholarship, and bookmaking, this “giant” was full of life. In his seventies he could still summon the disappointment of his injury-shortened baseball career, luxuriate in his wife Ellen’s classical piano, and commingle with the backyard deer on his farm unclothed, the same state of undress in which he told Brian Lamb on PBS’s Booknotes that a visitor would find him if he were writing one of his books.

Forrest, R.I.P., and our deepest appreciation.

–Written by Fred Woodward, University Press of Kansas, Director Emeritus