This morning brings the inaugural installment of a monthly piece I’ll be writing for the Washington Independent Review of Books. The subjects will be what I’m reading, writing, or thinking about. This morning’s effort puzzles over the bafflingly inflated reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t get it. . . .
The conservative-inspired “Impeach Obama” campaign will wax and wane over the next two political years, a weird residue of the benighted effort to impeach President Bill Clinton fifteen years ago. Even though the Impeach Clinton effort failed somewhat ignominiously, it has empowered true believers of the Left and Right to think of impeachment as an ordinary tool of American politics.
Thus, as the administration of President George W. Bush limped through its final days, liberal Democrats in Congress introduced resolutions to investigate his impeachment, or to flat-out impeach him. By 2008, liberal gadfly Dennis Kucinich of Ohio worked to force a vote in the House of Representatives on his claims that Bush’s foreign invasions based on false efforts (“he lied us into war” in Iraq) warranted his removal from office.
As the World War I centennial continues to gear up, and as I slouch to the end of my novel on the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, I have stumbled upon the most remarkable French memoir of the war — Poilu. (Thanks to Andy Dayton for recommending it.)
The sequel to my historical novel, The Lincoln Deception, is set at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Accordingly, I’ve been doing some considerable reading about World War I and the peace treaty that proved to be “The Peace to End All Peace,” as some have it. Recent forays into two American novels about The Great War have proved fascinating and surprising.
In Three Soldiers (1921), John Dos Passos drew on his own extensive experience of the war. In 1917-18, he drove an ambulance in Northern Italy and then in Paris. His novel is unreservedly antiwar and steeped in a matter-of-fact social realism combined with the occasional romantic over-writing of a young man. (Dos Passos was 25 when the book was published.)
[This piece first appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books]
Historical fiction is flourishing, and its advantages are many. For readers, it combines the familiar with the unknown, as novelists imagine the motivations and thoughts of historical figures. For writers, it provides grounding. Certain characters are already known and even defined. Better yet, the real world produces the most improbable characters. What fiction writer would dare create a character so complex and powerful as Abraham Lincoln? Yet historical fiction comes in many flavors. Here, for starters, are nine:
Looking back over the year just ended, I am struck by the proliferation of door-stopper books. This phenomenon — which afflicted both fiction and non-fiction — emerged in many of the most celebrated books which logged impressive sales numbers. To cite just a few:
Audible.com has finally listed the audiobook version of The Lincoln Deception, narrated by L.J. Ganser. I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, and listen to them all the time in the car, even on very short trips to the market or the gym.
Right now I’m near the end of the audio version of Bernard Cornwell’s 1356, a chronicle of 14th-century slaughter at the Battle of Poitiers which I am enjoying immensely. I think Cornwell is quite wonderful — the Sharpe series, in particular, is a fantastic depiction of Napoleonic times — but a good reader adds to the distinctiveness of characters and the depth of dialogue. Jack Hawkins, who reads 1356, is very good.
Death plays a big role in most history books, and definitely in biographies. The death of a central feature often concludes a book. Even if the book’s story ends before the main characters shuffle off this mortal coil, readers want to know how it all ended for the people they have spent several hours reading about, which usually leads to an epilogue.
For someone writing a book about James Madison (that’s me), yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard has powerful echoes. While the new national capital was being hacked out of forest and swamp in the 1790s, Congress arranged to buy land for a naval support facility. Soon the navy yard at Washington City was the center of America’s small but tough fleet of armed frigates and smaller warships.
(For a great history of the early Navy, check out Ian Toll’s Six Frigates.)
Today marks the launch of a new biography of Congressman John Bingham of Cadiz, Ohio, American Founding Son, by Gerard Magliocca of University of Indiana School of Law. It’s great to have this fresh and excellent examination of Bingham, a key force in helping to shape the America that emerged from the Civil War:
- Bingham is the source of the largest single expansion in the rights of citizens since the Constitution was ratified: the commitment to “equal protection of the laws” and “due process of law” embodied in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Without those provisions, the federal government might never have had the power to support the civil rights movement over the last sixty years.