Category Archives: US History

The Freshest Advices

Item: In this column on September 24 I noted that a very rare original copy of the US Constitution was coming up for auction at Sotheby’s and that it would likely sell for $20 million. Those estimates were wrong by half. As GHS President Dr. Todd Groce noted in the AJC, the document sold for an astounding and record-setting $43.2 million. GHS owns a draft copy of the Constitution, one of only 12 in existence, that is annotated and signed by Georgia delegate Abraham Baldwin. The copy at auction was bought by hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, who will lend the document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, for public exhibition. The museum, founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, opened in 2011. And in case you were wondering, Bill Gates set the previous auction record for a book or manuscript in 1994 when he purchased the Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s for $30.8 million.

Item: As you no doubt heard, the Georgia Bulldogs—thanks to their undefeated regular season—have made the College Football Playoff for the second time, despite losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship in Atlanta on December 4. Yes, we all hoped this might be the year we finally beat Nick Satan and his Crimson Tide, but there’s no denying that Bama’s had Georgia’s number for a while now—seven straight losses since the last Georgia win in the series 14 years ago in 2007.

Who can blame Dog fans for thinking this was the year? Bama had looked positively human against all its SEC foes, scraping out wins over Arkansas, LSU, and Florida, taking four overtimes to beat Auburn (on the same field where Georgia crushed the Tigers), while actually losing to Texas A&M. In the week leading up to the game, the press in typical fashion dished out what Bama coach Nick Saban calls “rat poison”—hyping Georgia’s defense, yammering about Bama’s porous offensive line, even the threat that Georgia’s Jordan Davis might eat Bama QB Bryce Young like a Varsity chili dog. None of that happened. Georgia’s defense received a good-ol-fashioned butt whipping, Young looked like the Heisman Trophy winner he is, and overall Bama played like the New England Patriots.

One could legitimately ask, where had this Bama team been all season long? Which is the real Crimson Tide: the one that played with razor-thin margins all season, or the Super Bowl champs who dominated in Atlanta? Looming over it all is this: should Georgia get by Michigan in the Orange Bowl, and Bama beats Cincinnati in the Cotton, the two teams will meet yet again for a national championship. Could Bama really do that to us again? Surely, they can’t channel the Patriots twice in one season. Can they? All I can say is, no one of sane mind should ever underestimate Satan and the Tide. The question of the year: how much misery can Georgia fans be expected to endure in one single season? I don’t know about you, but maybe this is the year to record the game and sign up for that New Year’s Eve pinochle tournament down at the Mason’s lodge.

Item: December is upon us, and at some point this month you’re bound to hear Andy Williams’s classic Christmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Williams recorded the song, written in triple time, on September 10, 1963, and released it on his Christmas album that October. It has become a seasonal staple and has been enormously popular since its first release 58 years ago, appearing in commercials, movies, and TV shows, including in the trailer for the new Disney/Marvel series Hawkeye. But here’s the interesting part to me–the song was co-written by George Wyle, who also co-wrote the theme song to Gilligan’s Island. How’d you like to have those royalty checks? By the way, Wyle’s grandson, Aaron Levy, plays in Norah Jones’s band. Now you know.

Item: December means Dickens, and this year I’m reading the first book he ever published, Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People. Pre-dating Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, Sketches is a collection of short essays that Boz (Dickens’s nickname) published in various newspapers and magazines between 1833 and 1836, when he was ages 21 to 24. I’m reading the Oxford Illustrated Dickens edition with illustrations by George Cruikshank, first published in February and August 1836. It’s still astonishing to me that anyone could write with this level of maturity and insight into the human condition at the equivalent age of a freshly minted college graduate. Though it lacks the appeal of a full-fledged Dickens novel, there are still some vintage Dickensian character sketches here. You can see him limbering up, stretching himself for the great novels to come.

Item:  Speaking of Dickens, as the Season is upon us, if you’ve not seen the 1984 film version of A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott, check it out. It’s the best of all the theatrical versions of the Dickens classic, from the location setting in Shrewsbury to the perfect casting, right down to Old Fezziwig. Frank Finlay’s Marley is the best you’ll ever see, though Edward Woodward’s (of The Equalizer fame) Ghost of Christmas Present is a strong runner-up. David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Roger Rees as Scrooge’s nephew, and Angela Pleasence as the Ghost of Christmas Past top off a stellar cast. And for good measure, director Clive Donner worked on the 1951 rendition, Scrooge. Now you know that too.

Item: Speaking of A Christmas Carol, fans of audio books who want to experience the original 1843 novella in a new way should check out the versions read by Simon Prebble (whose father, historian John Prebble, authored the famous Fire and Sword Trilogy of Scottish history) and the version narrated by Dr. Frank-n-Furter himself, Tim Curry.

Item: Speaking of Old Fezziwig—and this will be the last Dickens reference in this post—if you’re a fan of great seasonal Christmas brews, you’ll be happy to hear that Sam Adams has brought back in its holiday pack both Holiday Porter (“inspired by the famous drink of London’s Victorian era luggage porters. Brewed with generous portions of Caramel, Munich and Chocolate malt, this hearty porter finishes with traditional English Fuggles and East Kent Goldings”) and—joy to the world—Old Fezziwig Ale (“Like the character that inspired it, this beer is festive and worthy of a celebration all its own. Bursting with spices of the season, its full body accompanies a deep malt character, with notes of sweet toffee and rich, dark caramel”). Old Fezziwig was missing from last year’s holiday pack, turning festive ale lovers everywhere into small-hearted grumpy grinches who refused to bang their slew-slunkers. And no, I’m not getting paid to write this, nor is Sam Adams a sponsor of this blog, but I and they should be.

Hoist a glass and enjoy the holidays. See you in 2022.

The Freshest Advices

Item: After every election, those displeased with the outcome often threaten to “move to Canada” or to secede or otherwise withdraw from American life. I thought about that when I recently began re-reading Edmund Morgan’s classic The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. I first read this book as an undergraduate in Phinizy Spalding’s Colonial American history class at UGA, and at that time I didn’t understand at least half of it. As I’ve mentioned before, I am now periodically re-reading some of the classics from grad school in order to do justice to books that got short shrift then. Morgan’s book was first published by Little, Brown, & Company in 1958 and is part of the “Library of American Biography” series.

The Puritans got their name, of course, because of their desire to purify the Anglican Church in England, and like many reformers on a mission, they could be a rather single-minded, driven, uncompromising bunch. This increasingly put them on a collision course with King James I and his son Charles I, as their demands for reform became increasingly outspoken. John Winthrop and many of his fellow Puritans could see the writing on the wall, and instead of remaining and taking part in what eventually became the English Revolution, they formed the Massachusetts Bay Company and in 1630 separated themselves from the home country by 3,000 miles.

The dilemma in the book’s title is the story of what happens when a Godly community decides to live in the world without being of the world—and the tension between the freedom of the individual and the responsibility that government has for maintaining order (reminiscent of our current controversy over vaccine mandates). Should the discontented leave and follow their own vision somewhere else, or stay and either come to terms with the status quo or tear down the system? Winthrop and his band of Puritans left to start anew, but he ended up with his own share of malcontents to deal with like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. Uncompromising purity or pragmatic compromise? Winthrop didn’t figure it out, and neither have we almost 400 years later.

Item: If you’re a fan of ZZ Top and haven’t seen it, check out the 2019 documentary “ZZ Top: That Little ‘Ol Band From Texas,” on Netflix. It’s a fascinating look at how a Texas rock band rooted in the blues transitioned to become instantly recognizable cultural icons—with the help of those MTV videos—after the release of Eliminator in 1983. The beards, the cars, and the music are all here in this retrospective nominated for a Grammy for Best Music Film. Despite the death of bassist Dusty Hill in July of this year, ZZ Top is still Bad, and Nationwide.

Item: Lots of good new history and biography being published this holiday season. In no particular order, here are some of the books I’m looking forward to reading:

Fernando Cervantes, Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest (Viking, 2021)

Gordon S. Wood, Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution (Oxford, 2021)

Peter Ackroyd, Innovation: The History of England, Volume 6 (St. Martin’s, 2021)

Jay Cost, James Madison: America’s First Politician (Basic Books, 2021)

Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (Viking, 2021)

Adrian Tinniswood, Noble Ambitions: The Fall and Rise of the English Country House after World War II (Basic Books, 2021)

James M. Banner, Jr., The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History is Revisionist History (Yale, 2021)

Volker Ullrich, Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich (Liveright, 2021)

Ronald Hutton, The Making of Oliver Cromwell (Yale, 2021)

Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (Basic Books, 2020)

Andrew Roberts, The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III (Viking, 2021)

Item: I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and have listened to several good ones this fall. Being the season of darker days, I always like to hear a good rendition of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Three that I would recommend are those read by Martin Jarvis (great production, reminiscent of the old radio dramas), Anthony Heald (no frills, just great narration), and Tom Mison (if you enjoy a British accent).

For those working hard to grow old gracefully, you’ll enjoy listening to Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving, and Other Tips and Truths About Aging, narrated by Rob Petrie himself. Van Dyke wrote this book when he was 89; he’s about to celebrate his 96th birthday and is still going strong, winner of five Emmys, a Tony, a Grammy, and recent Kennedy Center honoree.  

Dumas Malone’s 6-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson and His Time, was a joy to read, and equally brilliant is Anna Fields’ narration of all 6 volumes. Fields was the pseudonym for Kate Fleming, an award-winning actress, artist, singer, audiobook narrator and producer who died tragically in a flash flood at her Seattle, Washington, home in 2006 at age 41. Her production of this classic biography is a lasting legacy for one of the best audio narrators of all time.

Item: Long-suffering readers of this blog know I love scary stories at this time of year. I recently read The Casebook of Carnacki by William Hope Hodgson. Carnacki is a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes, created at the turn of the 20th century at the same time that many writers were trying to cash in on the consulting detective craze set off by Arthur Conan Doyle. Whereas Holmes never ventured into the realm of ghosts and goblins (with the notable exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles), Carnacki specializes in tracking down things that go bump in the night. Sometimes the hauntings have supernatural origins and sometimes not, but they all create an appropriate mood and are great fun. This series of stories was first published between 1910 and 1912 in Edwardian-era magazines before being pulled together for book publication under this title in 1913. They all follow the same formula: Carnacki has four friends over for dinner, after which they retire to the library for brandy and cigars while Carnacki tells the story of his various adventures, with titles like “The Thing Invisible,” “The Gateway of the Monster,” “The House Among the Laurels,” and “The Whistling Room.” Hodgson only wrote nine of these stories before his death at the Ypres salient in World War I on April 19, 1918, at the too-young age of 40. Happily, the Carnacki stories are back in print as part of the “Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural” series published by Wordsworth Editions. Check it out.

Till next time—and Happy Thanksgiving.

The Freshest Advices

Item: Back in 2008 I subscribed to the Easton Press list of the “100 Greatest Books Ever Written,” and every month for 8 years and 4 months a handsome, leather-bound volume turned up in my mailbox. I should note here that these are not in fact the greatest books ever written. They’re the 100 books that someone at Easton Press thinks are the greatest ever written; many of them wouldn’t pass muster for being “great,” and needless to say the list is very western- and male-centric.  You will not find on this list Ssu-Ma Ch’ien’s Records of the Grand Historian, The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, or Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji. For that matter, you won’t find Montaigne’s Essays or Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, nor Boswell’s Life of Johnson or The Education of Henry Adams. But you will receive Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, which may be one of the most important books ever written, but it is not, stylistically, a great book. Be that as it may, I dutifully read the first 90 or so on the list as they randomly arrived (they aren’t ranked) before getting distracted with the last 10. I’m finally making my way through those and am currently reading The Republic by Plato. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s certainly one of the foundational texts in western literature, and I would agree with Clifton Fadiman’s assertion that it is an ambitious and rather difficult book. He suggests that those following the Lifetime Reading Plan start with Plato’s other works, beginning with the Apology, the Crito, the Protagoras, the Symposium, then the Phaedo. I’ll continue on with the Republic and learn as much as I can, listening to the dialogue between the fascinating Socrates and his many interlocutors. Even if I absorb only half of what is going on in this book, that’s saying something. More later.

Item: I just finished A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Viking, 2016). It’s the fictional account of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced in 1921 by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, and he spends the next 30+ years there without (hardly) leaving. Doesn’t sound like much of an opportunity for a plot, does it? Just as in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1944 film Lifeboat, however, confining all the action to a small area places tremendous demands on the author and his characters, and the book succeeds and satisfies on many different levels. Highly recommended.

Item: The Atlanta Falcons are two games into the latest NFL season with new coach Arthur Smith and everything seems familiar—and not in a good way. It’s still hard to believe that this team was in the Super Bowl just 5 years ago. Even with a new coach and general manager, they still seem headed in the wrong direction. There are three equally bad teams coming up on the schedule—the New York Giants, the Washington Football Team, and the J-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets—with a combined record right now of 1-5. We’ll find out a lot about the home team over that span, though you may want to avert your eyes.

Item: The Georgia Bulldogs, on the other hand, look mighty good after three games, the first of which was a beat-down of perennial powerhouse Clemson. It’s still hard to know how good or bad Clemson is, however, coming off a slim and unconvincing win over Georgia Tech. That’s the problem with college football—there’s no pre-season, and when you win your first game over a good opponent, you don’t know whether your team is really great or if the good opponent ain’t all that good after all. Georgia will find out quickly, however, if its defense is as great as it seems, with games coming up on the road against Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee, and home matchups against surprisingly good Arkansas and Kentucky. Don’t avert your eyes on this one.

Item: Here in this space back on April 1 I was excited for the start of the Major League Baseball season. The Bravos haven’t disappointed, poised at this juncture to win another National League East title, with 11 games left and a 3-game lead in the loss column (the only place that matters) over the Phillies. After stalling in third place for most of the first half, it’s been a lot of fun to watch the Braves catch and pass the Phils and hated Mets over the past three months, even if they don’t go far in the playoffs. It’s also been great fun to watch the much-vaunted Mets crash and burn again too. Did I mention I hate the Mets? The postseason begins Tuesday, October 5.

Item: Sothebys’s will auction a rare copy of the final printed version of the US Constitution this November, and it’s expected to fetch upwards of  $20 million. It’s one of only 11 in existence, and the only one in private hands, the others being in institutions. The owner bought it in 1988 for $165,000—not a bad investment. You will recall that GHS owns a draft copy of the printed Constitution with Georgia delegate Abraham Baldwin’s hand-written edits. It’s one of only 12 in existence.  

Item: Look out for a short book review essay in the Fall 2021 issue of the Georgia Historical Quarterly by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), and, most recently, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017).

Item: Not surprisingly, the Rolling Stones did not take my advice and call it quits after the death of Charlie Watts, thank goodness. They launch their long-delayed No Filter tour of the US this Sunday, September 26, in St. Louis, and if history is any guide, they’ll sound amazing. They always do. Let’s hope they can dodge both the Delta variant and the Grim Reaper for just a while longer.

Item: In the July 23, 2021 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, in a review of Reid Byers’ book, The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom (Oak Knoll, 2021), A.N. Wilson quotes Leigh Hunt, the English essayist, critic, and poet on the difference between a library and a study: “I entrench myself in my books equally against sorrow and the weather. I like a great library next to my study; but for the study itself, give me a small snug place, almost entirely walled with books. I dislike a grand library to study in. Capital places to go to, but not to sit in. We like a small study, where we are almost in contact with our books.” A small snug place almost entirely walled with books would describe the room in which I’m sitting, and from where I often recorded Dispatches from Off the Deaton path, including this one on libraries. It made me wonder exactly how many books I have crammed into this space, so yesterday I counted: 1,672, plus or minus a few. But there’s always room for more.

Till next time.

Podcast S4 E10: We Salute You, and Farewell

This week Stan remembers the birth and death of two iconic musicians from the 20th century, and the recent deaths of five historians whose work over the past 60 years helped redefine several eras of American history.

Podcast S4E9: Elvis, Napoleon, and the Bakersfield Sound

This week Stan revisits the death of the King, the birth of the phonograph, Buck Owens, the Aztec empire, Alfred Hitchcock, Napoleon, Margaret Mitchell, and one of the darkest episodes in Georgia history. He also remembers Rosalyn Carter’s birthday, a hero from Iwo Jima, and shares new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf.