Cultural Revolutions

Shelby Foote, R.I.P.

Shelby Foote, one of the giants of Southern literature, passed away on June 27 at his home in Memphis at the age of 88.  An unapologetic Mississippian, Foote never finished college but had much more valuable experiences—he grew up with another world-class Southern writer, Walker Percy, and, as a young man, played tennis on William Faulkner’s court.

Foote began and ended his writing career as a novelist, but two decades of his productive middle years were spent composing the three volumes of The Civil War: A Narrative, on which his fame will rest.

It is a bit ironic that, in his later years, Foote achieved a measure of celebrity (with which he was reportedly uncomfortable) by his appearance on the notorious federally subsidized Ken Burns Civil War television “documentary.”  Foote’s knowledge and charm, together with the intrinsic appeal of the real Civil War material presented, were all that redeemed  Burns’ slanted, self-indulgent p.c.-fest.  Burns, in accord with his usual operating mode, filmed Foote for several days and then cut and pasted pieces as he pleased to fit into his preconceived script.  Foote made clear later that he was not aware of Burns’ interpretations when he participated in the program and that he did not share them.  (The leftist African-American historian Barbara Fields once told me, in conversation on Gene and Betsey...

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