Tag Archives: Pulitzer Prize

Review of “FDR: A Biography” by Ted Morgan

“FDR: A Biography” is French-American biographer, historian and journalist Ted Morgan’s 1985 biography of the 32nd president. Morgan was born Comte St. Charles Armand Gabriel de Gramont but changed his name (to an anagram of “de Gramont”) after becoming an American citizen in 1977. Morgan won a 1961 Pulitzer Prize in journalism and his 1982 […]

http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2016/04/07/review-of-fdr-a-biography-by-ted-morgan/

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Let’s Celebrate Presidents’ Day with FDR!

Not since Abraham Lincoln have I been this excited about the next president on my journey through the best presidential biographies. Two years ago, twelve biographies of Lincoln consumed four months of my life with everything that 9,500 pages of gripping narrative could offer. Now I’m on to an even more audacious task: reading 18 […]

http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2016/02/12/lets-celebrate-presidents-day-with-fdr/

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Go With the Tide…..

Annette Gordon-Reed tries to explain… the suicide of James Hemings by excusing the biggest fault in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, lack of evidence, “he had his own private world…that we simply cannot retrieve.”   Perhaps this admirable level of restraint should be exercised in all her work? She has no problem discounting this inherent weakness when explaining every sinister motive and lustful desire found in Thomas Jefferson.  The irony is palpable and disturbing.  Here, Gordon-Reed is an authority; she knows exactly what was going through Jefferson’s mind as he allegedly exploited his slave, Sally Hemings.  No corroboration from fellow scholars is offered when she speculates on their relationship, Gordon-Reed’s confidence is apparent…we dare not question the writer who according to the MacArthur Foundation, ” has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.”

The disputed authority

History writers are taught to avoid… “squishy” words and phrases.  If you are not sure, or cannot prove it, leave it out.  Weak historical writing deals in speculation, unsubstantiated opinions, and baseless generalities.  Gordon-Reed’s study of the Hemings family is rife with these amateurish tricks.

  • Many, Most, average, conducive, highly, nearly, majority– imprecise words disguising a lack of statistical data
  • Common ground, conducive to, seems to indicate,  obvious deduction, tends to support, highly conducive–  masking generalities and unsubstantiated opinions of the writer, these phrases insinuate expertise where it is lacking.
  • There is no reason, no reasonable person, logic dictates, one can only conclude, it is reasonable to assume–   a subtle, yet effective way at dissuading dissent.  The writer is basically saying they are the only reasonable voice.

A study filled with generalities, opinion, and conjecture… wins every major non-fiction award in 2009?  The tide of “new” Jefferson scholarship is ceaseless and can even sweep away the Pulitzer Committee.  Somewhere, Dumas Malone is smiling, for we have most definitely blazed a crooked path since his Pulitzer victory for Jefferson scholarship in 1975.

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Reputations and Awards

Eric Foner’s 2011 Pulitzer came… as a surprise to few people.  Foner is one of America’s leading historians, specializing in Reconstruction era America, writing a new study of Lincoln and slavery- the accolades were well deserved.  Disciplined and scholarly work by writers at the top of their craft is rare and should be honored accordingly.  A closer look at the recent Pulitzer winners for history reads more like a random drawing of unlikely contestants, rather than worthy recipients.

Good timing? –  Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World   by Liaquat Ahamed   capitalizes (har har)  on the financial crisis of 2008 to win the top history writing prize.  Economists, financiers, and bankers loved the book- Ben Bernanke recommended it to a Congressional Committee, but was it the best history writing of 2010 ?

Awarded for merit or…..?

Posthumous debate? –  Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention   by Manning Marable  was at the center of significant controversy while being considered for the various book awards.  Published Malcolm X scholars criticized its methodology and findings , some going as far as to call the book’s mistakes “egregious.”   Marable’s untimely death in April 2011 seemed to calm the waters and the book received the Pulitzer the following year.

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What’s on Your Bookshelf?

A look at the last ten Pulitzer Prize… winners for history should yield at least a few modern classics- the top award for historical writing does bring a writer prestige and a monetary reward.  A closer examination of the last ten awards reveals little in the way of mass appeal to readers.

2012: Malcolm X; A Life of Reinvention   by the late Manning Marable

2011: The Fiery Trial; Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery    by Eric Foner

2010: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World     by Liaquat Ahamed
2009: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family     by Annette Gordon-Reed
2008: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe
2007: The Race Beat      by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff
2006: Polio: An American Story      by David M. Oshinsky
2005: Washington’s Crossing      by David Hackett Fischer
2004: A Nation Under Our Feet      by Steven Hahn
2003: An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943      by Rick Atkinson
2002: The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America      by Louis Menand

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Go With the Tide…..

Annette Gordon-Reed tries to explain… the suicide of James Hemings by excusing the biggest fault in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, lack of evidence, “he had his own private world…that we simply cannot retrieve.”   Perhaps this admirable level of restraint should be exercised in all her work? She has no problem discounting this inherent weakness when explaining every sinister motive and lustful desire found in Thomas Jefferson.  Here, Gordon-Reed is an authority; she knows exactly what was going through Jefferson’s mind as he allegedly exploited his slave, Sally Hemings.  No corroboration from fellow scholars is offered when she speculates on their relationship, Gordon-Reed’s confidence is apparent…we dare not question the writer who according to the MacArthur Foundation, ” has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.”

The disputed authority

History writers are taught to avoid… “squishy” words and phrases.  If you are not sure, or cannot prove it, leave it out.  Weak historical writing deals in speculation, unsubstantiated opinions, and baseless generalities.  Gordon-Reed’s study of the Hemings family is rife with these amateurish tricks.

  • Many, Most, average, conducive, highly, nearly, majority– imprecise words disguising a lack of statistical data
  • Common ground, conducive to, seems to indicate,  obvious deduction, tends to support, highly conducive–  masking generalities and unsubstantiated opinions of the writer, these phrases insinuate expertise where it is lacking.
  • There is no reason, no reasonable person, logic dictates, one can only conclude, it is reasonable to assume–   a subtle, yet effective way at dissuading dissent.  The writer is basically saying they are the only reasonable voice.

A study filled with generalities, opinion, and conjecture… wins every major non-fiction award in 2009?  The tide of “new” Jefferson scholarship is ceaseless and can even sweep away the Pulitzer Committee.  Somewhere, Dumas Malone is smiling, for we have most definitely blazed a crooked path since his Pulitzer victory for Jefferson scholarship in 1975.

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Reputations and Awards

Eric Foner’s 2011 Pulitzer came… as a surprise to few people.  Foner is one of America’s leading historians, specializing in Reconstruction era America, writing a new study of Lincoln and slavery- the accolades were well deserved.  Disciplined and scholarly work by writers at the top of their craft is rare and should be honored accordingly.  A closer look at the recent Pulitzer winners for history reads more like a random drawing of unlikely contestants, rather than worthy recipients.

Good timing? –  Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World   by Liaquat Ahamed   capitalizes (har har)  on the financial crisis of 2008 to win the top history writing prize.  Economists, financiers, and bankers loved the book- Ben Bernanke recommended it to a Congressional Committee, but was it the best history writing of 2010 ?

Awarded for merit or…..?

Posthumous debate? –  Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention   by Manning Marable  was at the center of significant controversy while being considered for the various book awards.  Published Malcolm X scholars criticized its methodology and findings , some going as far as to call the book’s mistakes “egregious.”   Marable’s untimely death in April 2011 seemed to calm the waters and the book received the Pulitzer the following year.

 

 

 

 

 

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