Saturday, March 27, 2010

yet another hero

Lately, I've been reading more history and biography than fiction. Not only is truth stranger than fiction, real life trumps fiction every time! And the past is so much more fascinating than the present, at least for this history-loving chick:)

I seem to be unable to get over my infatuation with the Founding Fathers. If you haven't seen the HBO miniseries John Adams, please run to your nearest video store and rent it. The musical score is incredible and the movie itself astonishingly clean. There was just a tarring and feathering incident, and then one romantic interlude between John and his peppery wife, Abigail, that had us hitting the fast forward button. Oh, and a couple of minutes showing a very geriatric Benjamin Franklin taking a bubble bath with an equally geriatric French countess. He was quite the ladies man, you know!

Don't let John's unheroic looks fool you. Beneath that balding pate and those heavy features was one of the most amazing intellects of the 18th-century. He was a man of principle and honor and courage. And guess what? He died on the 4th of July, fifty years later. I like to think the Lord rewarded him for a life well lived.

Contrast John with Thomas Jefferson whose personal life would have made prime time television today. He died deeply in debt and his beautiful home, Monticello, passed out of his family. I'm not a Jefferson-basher by any means. He had some very fine qualities. But I'm puzzled and disturbed by his relationship with the mulatto Sally Hemmings even two hundred or so years later. And why his wife made him promise, on her deathbed, to never remarry. I'm also troubled that so many of our founding fathers clung to slavery while crying "liberty" so loudly. Amazingly enough, Jefferson died on the same 4th of July as John Adams, which just goes to show that the Lord doesn't play favorites, I suppose.

I'm not a big movie watcher but thought I'd mention John Adams here. Have you seen any well-made historical movies? Or read any biographies of historical figures? I'd love to know!

Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it. -Oscar Wilde


  1. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the John Adams miniseries. What an amazing couple he and Abigail were. They sacrificed so much for the sake of our country. This well-crafted look at one of our founding fathers and his wife gave me a greater appreciation for the legacy they've left us.

  2. So well said, Keli! It does my heart good to know you all enjoyed it as much as we did. The movie corrected some of my misconceptions about that time period. They truly sacrificed everything and left us an amazing legacy. Thanks so much for your comments. They always add so much here.

  3. I'm headed over to Netflix right now to put John Adams on my list---Thanks for the recommendation!

    When I was in elementary school I always checked out the Childhood of Famous Americans biographies from the library and I've read about Abigail many times. I always stuck to girl "heros" so I don't know much about John. Looking forward to finding out.

    By the way, those same red cloth-bound biographies are still in the elementary school library and I bet they haven't been checked out since 1984! I'm going to see if the librarian will remember me when it's time for those books to "retire"!

    Not a true story, but George and I are enjoying watching the BBC miniseries "Bleak House". Love period movies and books!

  4. Mary, You've brought back some great memories by mentioning that biography series! Though you're younger than I am, I can even remember standing in front of the very shelf that contained the series (the library no longer exists except in my head!). It is one of my favorite memories. I think I read the Dolly Madison over and over. Maybe the others, too. I was stuck on history, even at age 8!

    I sure hope you like John Adams. Laura Linney as Abigail is just super in this role. Take care to have some Kleenex handy. I don't usually cry over movies but this one made me feel like a fountain:)

  5. I love biographies of historical persons, in any format. I have put off seeing John Adams, though and now I musn't delay! I really enjoyed The Crossing with Jeff Daniels as George Washington. It was very realistic and it brought that part of history to life. I recently saw PBS's Dolly Madison which was very interesting.

    It's hard to find well made movies of histories heros. I've watched some old classics including Madame Curie with Greer Garson which in inspiring.

    A more recent movie/series was Into the West which is very well done and the DVD bonus features are excellent. It is very historically accurate. Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, was wonderful. I learned about a piece of history that I never knew and highly recommend this movie! I also enjoy movies about Biblical characters and Christians like Peter Marshall. I'm still waiting for someone to write a movie on the life of Michael Faraday and of George MacDonald, two of my heros.

    I enjoy movies like Miss Potter and Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind 'Little Women' and other films and features on authors, and that includes Julie and Julia. I'd love to see a film done on the life of L.M. Montgomery.

    I'm a PBS & History Channel junkie and love learning about real people and their interesting lives. As writers, we can never make up anything so fascinating, and if we try it is only inspired from the wonder-filled lives of real people.

  6. I haven't seen this miniseries yet but I know I need to! I just saw a new bio on Abigail at the book store and thought about getting it, but it was $30 :P
    I watched the History Channel bio of John...I LOVE those ;) My husband and I just finished the epic Ken Burns documentary "Lewis and Clark" and it was so majestic and inspiring and YES, stranger than fiction! Sacajewea's story soared above them all--- a 16 year old captive who just gave birth...leading a band of mean across thousands of miles with her baby on her back...then when she finally makes it back to her homeland the chief sitting before her during her interpretations turns out to be her brother! Amazing!~

    My husband and I love to watch these random documentaries through netflix instant play on his xbox. Does your son have one? Its so worth setting up netflix on it! I have no idea how to use the thing for games, but I love to watch movies on it ;)

  7. I did enjoy the John Adams miniseries, and have reserved the soundtrack at my library. But I have to say I've fallen in love with a new NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are? Celebrities trace their family history, uncovering mysteries, answering questions that have always haunted the family. So many wonderful stories, going all the way back to the 1600s in some cases. I highly recommend it. And I had a most surreal experience in watching one episode, as before my disbelieving eyes one of the celebrity's lineage crossed paths with my own. I won't say whose, because I just might blog about it. You can see the shows so far, four of them, on So far they've shown Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Kudrow, Emmitt Smith, and last night's ep was Matthew Broderick.

  8. Well, just for you, Laura, I reserved John Adams at my public library. I'm #49 so it will be a while!

    I have to confess to not reading much in the way of autiobiographies though like Mary I used to read them a lot as a child...and only the girl stories! LOL. My favourite was Louisa May Alcott. I wonder why they haven't done a movie about her life? Or have they? I'd love to watch that.

    I loved The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke playing Helen Keller. That's such a classic and so powerful.

    I don't know if The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a real autobiography but it is a great miniseries that you can still get at the library. It's about an African American woman born into slavery and follows her life through to the civil rights movement.

    Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years is a FANTASTIC book -- biography about two African American women who were interviewed for the book when they were turning 100. They were born in the late 1800's -- can you imagine all they lived through??? Sadie was nearly lynched! Anyway Bessie and Sadie never married, kept house together and dispense the most sound and outrageous advice to anyone who will listen. A TV movie was based on the book, also called "Having Our Say", but I liked the book better.

    That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I tend to get my history learnin' in the pages of a great historical romance. :-)

  9. I actually checked out that Martha Washington book from the library and read it. There was a lot of stuff I definitely did not know in that book. I know when I was younger I read a lot of biographies but not that many since then.

  10. I loved the John Adams miniseries too. I've long been fascinated by him and Abigail. One of my fondest childhood memories is reading a biography of her when I was in fourth grade. I am another one who read the Childhood of Famous Americans series when I was in elementary school. I can still see them in the library in mind. I remember reading the ones on Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Sitting Bull, and Sacajawea multiple times.

    Strangely enough as much as I'm into history, I'm not a big fan of biographies. It's been years since I've read one. I did look on amazon over the weekend, and it looks like there's a new one on Henry Clay coming out in May. Actually I found several history books I want to read.

    I understand what you mean about the issue of the founding fathers and slavery. One of the classes I took in college was about slavery. It was an absolutely fascinating class.

  11. Hey, Kav, Love that you get your history fix from historical romance. That sure beats an old textbook any day:)

    I remember seeing Jane Pittman years ago and found it ver moving. Also, the miniseries Roots. And I hope everyone sees the Patty Duke version of Helen Keller. It is really a powerful movie and one that's not really dated over time.

    The book about the Delany sisters sounds great. I am going over to Amazon shortly and will check it out. To save $ I've been doing a lot of interlibrary loans. Sadly, our library is closed all of this week due to budget issues, and will shut down again in the fall. I hope your doors are wide open up there!

    I'm with you about Louisa May Alcott. Am wondering why they haven't made a movie there? Maybe her life was authorially dull?! Hmmm. Might be worth investigating...

  12. Michelle, I wish I'd taken more history in college. When I think back to all the courses offered while I was mired in Shakespeare and 18thc. lit, I want to shudder! The slavery one you mentioned sounds so interesting. It's such a complex issue. I'm still trying to get a fix on how Jefferson and Washington dealt with it, etc.

    Am wondering if you've ever been to Henry Clay's home, Ashland, in Lex.? Or my favorite - White Hall? Please let me know if you read that book and like it. My mom gave me one written about the Clay family by a Clay today but I still haven't gotten around to it.

    I am so impressed you remembered the name of the historical series some of us remember from elementary!

  13. Lori, I'm glad you mentioned the genealogy show - the little clip I saw was so well done and absolutely fascinating! I need to fight for the remote on Friday nights now, I guess. WDYTYA sounds so much more enlightening than pro-wrestling!

    I hope you enjoy the John Adams soundtrack. Very moving. But I'm in weepy mode this week so that may account for some of its appeal for me:)

  14. Carla, You've said something so important that was echoed over on Books&Such site this morning - that history is so much more interesting than fiction and is the source of our ideas as novelists, etc.

    I'm so glad you mentioned The Crossing as I've never heard of that one before and will have to locate. I really enjoyed Into the West, particularly the native American angle. And Amazing Grace about Wilberforce was truly amazing! The soundtrack, once again, is very good, too.

    I have to say LM Montgomery is one of my all time favorite authors, if not my favorite. If you ever have time check out her personal diaries/letters (3 volumes, I think and now out of print but available via libraries). Sadly, her life did not mirror her art. She had so much personal tragedy/heartache. But then maybe that's what made the Ann books come to life? If you've not read The Blue Castle, please do! You'll fall in love with her writing even more. I was going to do a giveaway of TBC here but the book has just skyrocketed in price even for reprints. I have one worn copy of my own. It's one of the few books I've read more than once.

    I'd love to see Julia&Julia as I've heard great things. If you want a fun, popcorn night kind of movie, try Nim's Island. It's about a writer and it's great. I laughed about the compulsive, hand-sanatizing author as I am one! They nailed the crazy side of an author perfectly.

    Thanks to everyone for the great feedback as I just knew you readers here would be a great source!.

  15. Heather, Oh my, another Abigail book! I will have to be on the lookout at Costco, etc. I am so glad you mentioned the Ken Burns doc. His Civil War one is awesome, too. I nearly fell out of my chair when Sacajawea encounters her brother! That was so moving and beautiful to me, especially in light of her captivity and estrangement from her family, etc.
    Only the Lord could have arranged that!

    No xbox here but it sure sounds tempting! So glad there are so many ways for us to get our hands on history:)

  16. Adge, So glad you found the book and read it. I learned so much and like Martha even more. She was so down to earth. I go through periods where I read a lot of fiction and then switch back to history/biography. There is so much to offer in all areas. I think what Kav said is really true - that even historical fiction has a lot to offer. Bless you today!

  17. I second the recommendation for The Crossing. It was quite good.

  18. Yay! Another vote for The Crossing. Am off to Amazon now...

  19. Hi Laura -

    Thanks for the tip about the John Adams miniseries. I love American History, especially the early years.

    Susan :)

  20. I'm afraid I've been to neither Ashland, nor to White Hall. Which is a shame considering how close I live to one of them. Maybe I should try to correct that this summer.

    The series of books we all remember from elementary, it's available in paperback now. If there's a Barnes and Noble nearby, check in the juvenile section. That's where I found them several years ago.

    There's a Ken Burns documentary on Jefferson that is really good too. You might enjoy it.

  21. I'll have to see if I can find that series.... looks good.

    I really liked the movie "Amazing Grace" that came out a couple of years ago. It touched me and I still remember how I felt watching it.

    I think I mentioned this on one of my past posts about the book titled "Under God" written by Toby Mac. I think you would enjoy it if you haven't already read it. A ton of history and tidbits about our founding fathers and the beginning of this country. It chronicles God's hand in the US all the way up to fairly recent times.

    Do you have plans for your Spring Break? Travels or stay at home?
    Do the boys enjoy their time off?
    Have a wonderful week. It's supossed to rain all week down here. In fact we have had rain and strong wind for the last 2 days!

  22. Susan, I think you'd really like John Adams since you're an early American history fan, too. One of the most remarkable aspects of the movie was how authentic each man looked for his role. The producers must have spent a great deal of time studying their physical characteristics, paintings of them, busts, etc. Beware - I was absolutely smitten with Thomas Jefferson:)

  23. Michelle, Thanks for the Ken Burns/ Jefferson tip. Jefferson is my man of the hour right now and I have several books coming from the library, etc. The fact that he was a very fine violinist doesn't hurt:)

    Of the 2 Clay residences, White Hall is my favorite because of its pastoral setting, for lack of a better word. But growing up, I spent a lot of time at Ashland having picnics on the grounds with my mom and brother. Recently I was back there in the little formal garden and got scolded by the gardener for touching the gardenias and magnolias! Apparantly the oil from our hands ruins the blooms:)

    So glad to know those little bios are still in print! A nice excuse to go over to Barnes&Noble soon.

  24. Hi Lisa, I remember your post on Toby Mac so well and I'm glad you reminded me here of what it deals with. Bet I'd love the book! My boys love his music. Don't laugh but we are still trying to figure out what color he is!

    Wyatt's spring break is next week. We are staying home though I'd love to take a day trip somewhere. Am not sure the weather will cooperate like you said as it's been blowing here, too, and pouring rain. We had a couple of power blips yesterday which sent me scrambling to turn off my computer.

    I may be heading down to your neck of the woods for a women's retreat in a couple of weeks - Canby, OR, anyway. I had such fun last year down there. Maybe it had something to do with the fudge-dipped twinkies I found in town...

  25. Sorry, I laughed about your Toby Mac comment. He is white but he was in a group with Michael TAte(he is black).
    Tate is also a co-author of the Under God book.

    oh, fudge-dipped twinkies. that can't be a good thing!!
    enjoy your rainy week.

  26. Lisa, LOL! Thanks for clearing that up! I will tell the boys:) I am going to look for that book!

  27. I know they aren't biography or historical remakes of real people, but what really got me into history as a little girl was the American Girl series. I loved traveling with Felicity and Kirsten, Samantha and Molly through their childhoods. And I always flipped to the history sections in the back of the books first to read about the real facts of the time period.
    How fun! I also reserved the John Adams series from my library. Thanks for the suggestions, Laura! Have a fantastic day:)

  28. Kristen, I've heard great things about the American Girl series. Love their dolls! Especially the 18thc. ones:) Glad you found John Adams at the library - hope you don't have to wait as long as Kav! I think she's #49 or so to reserve. Bless you today.

  29. I have two of the original American Girl dolls! Kirsten and Felicity ;) Felicity is the Revolutionary War doll. I LOVED them (er, love!) and they without a doubt fostered my great love for history. I still have them and all their clothes packed nearly in a 3 year old likes to play with them but I'm trying to save them for when she can really appreciate them. The christmas I got the first one was such a treasure to me :)

  30. Heather, Since the American Girl catalog is like candy, I can only imagine what the actual dolls are like! Felicity is the perfect name for the colonial one.

    One day they will be real collectors items (they kind of are right now). Glad you are saving yours and letting little Miss A enjoy them. You are a very loving mom!