John A. Garraty: Historian and Trailblazing Biographer, Dies at 87

Historians in the News

Prof. John A. Garraty, a historian who wrestled into print the gargantuan reference work American National Biography, which in 24 volumes and 20 million words tells the story of the United States through the life histories of thousands of its citizens, died last Wednesday at his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y. He was 87.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

The author of dozens of books, Professor Garraty trained his eye in particular on the place in the American landscape where individual biography and wider social history meet. At his death, he was Gouverneur Morris emeritus professor of history at Columbia University, where he had taught since 1959.

Professor Garraty was perhaps best known as the general editor of American National Biography, whose 23,040 pages chronicle the lives of 17,450 people who shaped the United States in ways large and small, from Alexander A. Aarons (1890-1943), a theatrical producer, to Vladimir Kosma Zworykin (1889-1982), a “scientist and television pioneer.”

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