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Jeffrey Flannery, who heads Reference and Reading Services at the Library of Congress' manuscript division, has known Hill for years.
"Any archivist gets some deep satisfaction to see the collections used," Flannery says. "And Mike is a vital cog in that. You help him as he does his work, and a couple of years later, there's a book using our materials."
Hill spent a recent afternoon at the manuscript division, looking through a bound Washburne journal perched on a foam rubber easel. But he has traveled with McCullough from Paris and Maine to the Truman library in Independence, Mo. He visited England to help Michael Korda research a biography of T.E. Lawrence. Philbrick was glad to have Hill along for "The Last Stand," about the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
"I wanted to retrace Custer's steps, 300 miles over sparsely populated terrain," Philbrick says. "We were out there on the terrain and got stuck in the mud in the place where Sitting Bull was killed. We've had all sorts of adventures and having him there was an immense help."
Like a beloved supporting actor, Hill need only worry about keeping up with his commitments. McCullough has him lined up for a second book on Americans in Paris, this time moving ahead to the 20th century and the impact of air travel.
He's helping Philbrick on a Revolutionary War book, Korda on a biography of Robert E. Lee and former Mondale chief of staff Richard Moe on a study of Franklin Roosevelt.
Hill is even attempting another book of his own, about World War I poet Alan Seeger, best known for "I Have a Rendezvous With Death."
"I'm drawn to his story," he says of Seeger, the uncle of musician Pete Seeger. "There have been some small, but not particularly good bios of him long ago. There is new archival material on him. And the centennial of World War I is coming up in a few years.
Hill adds: "It will take me a long time to do it."