I watched The Civil War this weekend. I wasn't planning on it, but it was on and I hadn't seen it in a few years. I watch it every few years but often forget how good it is.
Frankly, I hated history in school. I now know I hated the way it was taught, not history itself. I swear I never would have made it to a degree without Schoolhouse Rock to guide my way. I continue to fall miserably short on what I should know about world events, but I do my best to continue my education on my own by traveling, reading and obsessing over PBS shows whenever possible. Even with all that, I'm still no expert on war. I don't know battles, routes or maneuvers but even I know, when I hear "Shiloh", to think "Uh, oh".
I'm a big documentary fan and The Civil War has got to be at the top of my list of favorite documentaries. It had more of an impact on me than I realized. Earlier this year, while in a small pub in Dublin's Temple Bar, a friend and I were eating and chatting up the Irish fiddle and guitar players in the corner. They would play some then chat then play some more then chat. After about an hour they started playing a tune that immediately brought tears to my eyes. I, frankly, was surprised by my reaction and didn't understand for a moment or so. I then recognized the tune as being Ashokan Farewell from The Civil War. It's bad enough to unexpectedly hear that song but to hear it away from home is an especially sad thing. I even wrote Florentine Films a letter telling them of my surprising experience and they wrote a nice letter of thanks back. (Yes, I'm a documentary film maker groupie.)
Here is a list of things that have helped cultivate my love of history:
Favorite childhood historic book:
The Little House Series- Probably the most influential on this list. My dad read the entire series to me when I was a kid. To this day, whenever I fly out of LA, I look down and think "Damn, people must have really wanted to be here." I then think "Damn, I would have been a terrible pioneer; a great suffragette, but a lame pioneer."
Favorite book I was forced to read in college and have loved ever more:
All the President's Men - This is the book that confirmed I liked history. Who could make this stuff up? Also, one of my favorite movies.
Favorite post-college history book:
Washington Goes to War by David Brinkley. This is a goody, folks. Give it a try.
The Churchill Museum/The Cabinet War Rooms. This was the by far the biggest surprise from my trip earlier this year. I'd heard the Cabinet War Rooms had been recently refurbished and opened to the public (woo hoo!) and had to go. This one is a pain in the butt to find. When we finally stumbled through the doors, after a lengthy search for the place, I commented to the security guard "Sheesh, this place it hard to find...but I guess that was the point, huh?" (Stupid American strikes again.) This place is incredible.
Favorite television series based on an American war:
Favorite made-for-television film on war:
Band of Brothers. I was ready to join the USO after this one.
Abraham Lincoln exhibit at The Huntington Library. Its been years since I saw this exhibit but I've never forgotten it. It featured many of Lincoln's personal items, such as the gloves he wore the night he was killed. It had letters, speeches, flags and tons of photos. It featured a wall of portraits of Lincoln taken each year of his presidency. If you want to see how much a man can age in four years just take a look at Lincoln's portraits.
Favorite book of historic fiction:
The Other Boleyn Girl - I loved this one so much that I went all the way to England just to see The Tower of London . I'd been there when I was right out of college but had no historic frame of reference to work from. It was so much better the second time around. Henry VIII is another obsession of mine.
"Favorite" American disaster:
The Donner Party. I don't remember the first time I heard about this but I've been fascinated ever since. I read The Donner Party Chronicles earlier in the year and recommend it. I know the Titanic diaster is a popular choice but, dammit, those folks have got nothing on these sad saps.
Favorite up-and-coming historic talking head:
Sarah Vowell. Step aside Doris Kearns Goodwin, I love your stuff but this lady can research AND make us laugh! I read Assassination Vacation and loved it. Anyone who can dream up the nick name "Jinxy McDeath" is a friend of mine. You'll have to read it to find out who she's referring to.
Most anticipated documentaries:
The War and National Parks
Favorite Presidential quote:
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." - Abraham Lincoln
Someone might want to mention this quote to our current Republican President. (Oops! That's called editorializing and it's frowned upon. Just ask Fox "News"... oops! There I go again!)
I'd like to visit Washington D.C. next. I absoultely must go to The Smithsonian and all of the monuments. I've never been and it's a damn shame.
Oh, and don't even get me started on The Salem Witch trials.
I'm currently reading The Fall of Baghdad. It's shaping up to be a favorite as well.
As you have probably gathered, I have the attention span of a gnat, which is why this list is a bit scattered.
Now, lets hear some of your faves.