Changemakers: 2019 National Book Festival

Changemakers: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Shari Werb: Good morning. I’m Shari Werb, director of the
Center for Learning, Literacy, and Engagement at the
Library of Congress. One of the major programs
of this new center at the Library is oversight
of the National Book Festival, whose overall theme this
year is change makers. This is why I’m especially
excited to introduce our new panel
devoted to change makers, the focus of much of the
programming at the Library of Congress this year. We are currently
celebrating change makers at our Thomas Jefferson Building
with an exhibition called “Shall Not Be Denied,
Women Fight for the Vote,” in recognition of the 100th
anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. And this December, we will mount
an exhibit devoted to the life and influence of one of our great civil
rights icons, Rosa Parks. I invite you to visit
the Library to see these exhibitions. You can also view
our exhibitions and examine the Rosa Parks
Collection online at loc.gov, where we offer millions of
free educational resources. The subjects of the books on
this panel may, at first glance, seem to have little in common, but they have one
essential trait that all successful
leaders share. They made change,
significant changes that are still being felt today. Frederick Douglass,
Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, Alice Waters, and Winston Churchill
changed the world forever, and our lives are
enriched by what they did. I am pleased to introduce our
change-maker panel authors. Andrea Barnet is the
author of “Visionary Women, How Rachel Carson, Jane
Jacobs, Jane Goodell — Goodall, and Alice Waters
Changed Our World,” a finalist for the PEN/Bograd Weld Award. She is also the author
of “All-Night Party, The Women of Bohemian
Greenwich Village and Harlem, 1913 to 1930,” which was
a nonfiction finalist for the 2004 Lambda
Literary Awards. Andrea Barnet was a
regular contributor to “The New York Times
Book Review” for 25 years, and her work has appeared
in “Smithsonian Magazine,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Elle,”
and many other publications. David W. Blight is the
class of 1954 professor of American history and director
of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of
Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at
Yale University. He is the author or
editor of dozens of books, including “American
Oracle, the Civil War in the Civil Rights Era,” and
“Race and Reunion, the Civil War in American Memory,” as
well as annotated editions of Frederick Douglass’
first two autobiographies. David Blight has devoted
himself to Douglass during much of his professional life, and has been awarded
the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass
Prize, among others. His new book is “Frederick
Douglass, Prophet of Freedom,” winner of this year’s
Pulitzer Prize in History. Andrew Roberts — that’s
worth — definitely. [ Applause ] Andrew Roberts is the
bestselling author of “The Storm of War, a New History of the
Second World War,” “Masters and Commanders, How Four
Titans Won the War in the West, 1941 to 1945,” and
“Napoleon, a Life,” winner of “The L.A. Times”
Book Prize for Biography. Andrew Roberts has
won many other honors, including the Wolfson
History Prize, and the British Army
Military Book Award. Andrew Roberts frequently writes
for “The Wall Street Journal,” and is the Roger and Martha
Mertz Visiting Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution
at Stanford University. His new book is “Churchill,
Walking with Destiny.” Finally, our panel will be
moderated by historian Kai Bird, who co-wrote the
Pulitzer Prize-winning “American Prometheus,
the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” Since 2017, he has been
the executive director and distinguished lecturer
of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the City
University of New York. He is currently working
on a biography of Jimmy Carter during
the White House years. His most recent book was
“The Good Spy, the Life and Death of Robert Ames.” Please welcome Andrea
Barnet, David W. Blight, Andrew Roberts, and Kai Bird. [ Applause ]>>Kai Bird: So, good morning. Can everyone hear? I’m sufficiently mic’d up? My name is Kai, Kai Bird,
and this panel is sponsored by the Leon Levy
Center for Biography, which is a very unusual thing. Our whole thing is to
defend and promote the art and craft of biography. I’ve spent the last few
decades doing only biography. I’m obsessed with it,
so I’m glad to see so many fans here of biography. But I want to say
to those Americans who are not here something
important, something heartfelt, perhaps something
a bit provocative. I want to say that if you
are not reading biography, you are not trying to
understand your world. Now, I know this is — I don’t
mean to downplay the importance of novels, or poetry,
or other nonfiction, but biography is
really the foundation for understanding our world. Now, I’m not saying that if you
do read biography, you’re going to understand the
world [laughter]. You may, in fact, come away
more confused than ever about the complexity
of the human being, and our history, and our world. But it is — the effort to
read biography is what counts. And if you know any biographers, you know that they are
obsessed with another life. You can’t write a biography
without this obsession. We have with us today three
really eminent biographers, and their subjects
span two centuries. One life explains America
in the 19th century, and our nation’s original sin. Another life chronicles two
world wars in the 20th century, and our third biographer
tackles the lives of four women whose lives
explain the cultural transformations that
took place in the 1960s. Near the — I want
to remind everyone — near the end of this 75-minute
session, around noon, we’ll stop and start to take
questions from the audience. So please think of
your questions. And afterwards, I
believe at 1:30 each of the authors will
be signing books. We’re here to discuss
more than one great life, but the word “great” has been so
greatly debased in recent years, I’m not sure that it
has any real meaning. So let’s just say that we’re
dealing with men and women who led large lives
on history’s stage, and each in their own
way were game-changers. So I’m going to ask each of
our authors to begin with five, to seven, to 10 minutes to
talk about their subjects, but please begin by
explaining why each of you chose your figures, and tell us how long
you have been laboring to write these biographies. Andrew, do you want to start? No, you’re going
to be mic’d up now.>>Andrew Roberts: Okay.>>Kai Bird: Where’s our mike? He can go to the lectern? Oh, okay [laughter].>>Andrew Roberts: Ladies and
gentlemen, it’s a great honor to be invited to
address you today, and thank you very
much, indeed, Kai. I wonder — first of
all, extraordinary to see so many people. I once spoke at the Seven
Oaks Literary Festival in Kent in England, where
fewer people turned up than there were
oaks [laughter]. And you ask about where
the obsession comes from. Of course, I don’t really think
I am obsessed, owing to the fact that I’m English, and the
best we get is extreme enthusiasm [laughter]. But when there’s a subject
like Winston Churchill, I, some years ago, saw a rather
nerve-wracking survey, which said that 20% of
British teenagers — it was a huge survey,
5000 teenagers they asked, and not young teenagers, either,
quite old ones, 18, 19 — said that they thought that Winston Churchill
was a fictional character. Whereas 47% of them that Sherlock Holmes was
a real person [laughter], and 53% thought that
Eleanor Rigby was [laughter]. So one is, in a sense,
attempting to fight against this nerve-wracking
ignorance about the person who I believe to be the greatest
Englishman who ever lived. I’d like to take you back to
Friday, the 10th of May, 1940, the day on which Winston
Churchill became Prime Minister, and on that morning,
at dawn that day, Adolf Hitler invaded Luxembourg,
and Belgium, and Holland — shortly afterwards, of course,
was also to invade France.. And Churchill said of that
day in his war memoirs, “I felt as if I were
walking with destiny, and that all my past life
had been but a preparation for this hour, and
for this trial.” And what I’ve tried to do in my
book is to — is to unpack that, to investigate the
extent to which the jobs that Churchill had — First Lord
of the Admiralty, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home
Secretary, and so on — had prepared him for his
great hour and trial of 1940. What I also tried to do is
to look at the beginning part of that sentence, the bit
about walking with destiny, because I think it’s
just absolutely key to understanding Winston
Churchill that one appreciates that he had a driving
sense of personal destiny. One that, at the age of 16, he
vouchsafed to his best friend at school — Harrow School,
where he said that — Winston Churchill, by the way, was almost completely
self-educated, because he had to be, because he went
to Harrow [laughter]. And he said to his best friend,
“There will be great upheavals and terrible struggles
in our lives, and I shall be called upon to
save London and save England.” And he believed this when
he was 16, and all the way through his life, especially
through his close brushes with death, he — this
was underlined for him. So you have this
sense of destiny. I’ve subtitled my book
“Walking With Destiny,” not, as a friend told me, because
all Americans are interested in destiny, and all
Englishmen are interested in walking [laughter], but because I believe it is
absolutely central to his life. And when one sees the
things that he did, and the extraordinary attributes
that he had, including many, many blunders and failures — he made mistake after
mistake in his life. But unlike many politicians, he
learned from every one of them, and as a result, he was able,
ultimately, to not only, as he predicted for himself
as a 16-year-old schoolboy — not only save London
and England, but also civilization itself. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]>>Kai Bird: So I think we’re — instead of having you
come to the podium, I’ve been instructed
your mike is now live, and so, Andrea, you’re –>>Andrea Barnet: Can
you — can you hear me?>>Kai Bird: — you’re up next.>>Andrea Barnet:
Can you hear me?>>Yeah.>>Andrea Barnet: Okay. Hi. Thank you all
for being here. I realize we’re competing
with Ruth Bader Ginsberg, which is really a tough
act to follow, or to — so one of the things that people
ask me is, “Why did you decide to write a biography
about four women who didn’t know each other,
who were in different fields, who are arguably in
different generations? And how could you think about
writing a group biography?” And the genesis of
this book really grew out of a conversation I
was having with a friend, and I realized there were four
great women, each of whom, in interestingly similar
and adjacent ways, had changed the way we think
about a swath of the world. Rachel Carson, who wrote
“Silent Spring” in 1962, completely changing
the way we think about chemicals,
and the environment. Jane Jacobs, who, in 1961,
wrote a book called “The Death and Life of Great American
Cities,” and also stood up against Robert Moses
and saved Greenwich Village from urban renewal, which
was a whole new idea, changing the way we think about
cities, and old buildings, and old neighborhoods. Jane Goodall, who in 1960,
discovered chimps using tools, changing the way we think
about animals, and our kinship, and how close we are to them. And Alice Waters, who, in 1965,
on a semester abroad in France, fell in love with French
— with everything French, but particularly French cooking,
and came back to Berkeley, California, and five years
later, started Chez Panisse, which was the first
local, fresh, organic-serving restaurant, kicking off the sustainable
food movement. So I thought that
was interesting, and then I started looking into
— I started reading their work. And I realized all had been
uncredentialed outsiders. Two of them, Goodall and Jacobs, hadn’t even graduated
from college. All had been green
thinkers before any of us had incorporated
the idea of green or eco into our collective
vocabularies. None were ivory-tower theorists. They had waded into their fields
in their respective fields, gotten their hands literally
and figuratively dirty, and, against all odds, they
had spoken truth to power. In Carson’s case, the
pesticide industry; in Jacobs, the whole juggernaut of
urban renewal; in Goodall’s, all the people who didn’t — who
thought animals were mechanical as machines; and
Alice Waters, big ag. And they’d prevailed, even though they had been
mocked, and marginalized. They stood their ground. All had brought a
fresh perspective to their respective
fields, and finally, all had had their breakthrough
moments in the ’60s. This really interested me,
because it was 1962 that “Silent Spring” came out,
1961 that “Death and Life of Great American Cities,” 1960
that Goodall was in Africa, and 1954 when Alice
Waters was in France. So I thought, oh, well, the
’60s must be my fifth character. But as I started reading, I
realized it wasn’t the ’60s. It was really the 1950s, the
priorities and goals of the ’50s that all of these women
were pushing back against. One of the things,
as I started reading about the ’50s —
and I agree with Kai. What happens when you’re
studying people lives is you begin to see that you have
to understand the culture that formed them,
and shaped them. The ’50s was a decade of
conformity and Cold War fears, so it was a very
schizophrenic age. On the one hand, the economy was
booming, and we were enthralled with our own power and wealth. And on the other hand, we were
terrified of nuclear Armageddon. William Levitt had
taken forwards the idea of mass production and
started making houses. McDonald’s had followed suit, and was making assembly-line
food. The bomb had won the
war, and so, chemists and physicists were king. All of which is to say the
future seemed to belong to our technological know-how, particularly science-based
technology. Insect pests would be
eradicated with pesticides. Farmland would be
made more efficient with synthetic fertilizers. Animals would be fattened
with pharmaceuticals. Food would be engineered in
labs, and there was a great push to essentially industrialize
nature. And one of the things
about these four women — because they were outsiders, and
because they weren’t trained, they didn’t know what the — they didn’t agree with this
direction in the culture. And they looked at the world
very differently, and so, they saw different things. So one of the things as I was
writing this book I was trying to figure out is, what was
it about the culture in 1962, in a time when women
couldn’t get credit cards without a male co-signer, when
a woman couldn’t be in a lot of states on jury duty, when there were still
Head and Master laws? What was it about these
women that carried such — their work carried such
power, and why at that moment? And so, I started really
reading all of their work. And Jane Jacobs — one of the
things she says is, “I don’t” — most of us begin with a
kind of confirmation bias. We think we know what we think,
and then we go into the world, and we collect information that
kind of supports our ideas. And Jacobs said, “I
don’t know what I think. I go into the world, and I
start looking for patterns. And once I begin to see
patterns, then I begin to generalize, and
know what I think.” So I tried to do that as
I was writing the book, is to look at their lives, and
start to see sort of parallels. One parallel — and I
love to tell this story — is they were all incredible
communicators, very, very eloquent, and
they understood that people will only
protect what they love, and that winning — that changing minds
meant winning hearts. So their writing was very
accessible, and was filled with personal anecdote, which
is very much considered a no-no. Jane — the story I like to
tell is, Jane Goodall, who, to this day, is traveling
300 days a year — she’s on the road. She’s got a lot of handlers. One morning, she was told by her
handlers, “Jane, you have to go. You have to be in this room,
and you have to speak to a group of L.A. police department,
the top brass.” And she sort of thought,
oh, my God. What am I going to
say to these people? So she walked into the room,
and there were about 50 men, all kind of staring down at
their laps, thinking, you know, why do we have to listen
to this primatologist? And she said, “Well, if I
was a female chimpanzee, and I were to walk into a
room full of alpha males, such as yourselves, I would be
a damn fool if I didn’t begin with an act of submission,
which would be to show my genitals [laughter].” At which point, she had
everyone’s attention [laughter]. So all of these women
were incredibly savvy about getting people’s
attentions. Jane Jacobs, who was fighting
urban renewal, at one point — the way — when a
neighborhood — at the time, the idea was
that cities were going down the tubes, and that the
only way to save them was to knock down huge
swaths of neighborhoods, and put up high-rise
housing towers, a lot of times very
anonymous super-blocks of monotonous towers. And Jacobs’ neighborhood
had been targeted. It was the West Village, and
so, she organized a group of neighbors, about
200 neighbors. And she bought sunglasses, and
when a building’s condemned, there’s an X that’s
put on its door. So on the sunglasses,
she made taped X’s, so all of these people
showed up at City Hall with these sunglasses
with taped X’s. Well, of course, the
press picked it up. The photographs went viral, and
this was before the internet. And so, suddenly, this David and Goliath battle was
national news, not — no longer a local fight. So that was one of the
things I discovered, the great communicators. The other thing was that —
am I running out of time? That all of them were looking
at the world in a holistic way. At the time, the way the
— most of the world was — people who were studying
things were specialists, and they were operating
by ideology. And they were counting
and categorizing. These women were
mapping relationships, which was a real paradigm shift. And I often say this
book is really a book about a shift in consciousness. Most people think — study history in
terms of great events, but I think really what
moves the needle is changes in consciousness. And all of these women
were catalysts for that. They started sweeping
social movements. And maybe I’ll leave
it there for now. [ Applause ]>>Kai Bird: David,
you’re up next.>>David W. Blight:
Okay, thank you. Thank you to my amazing
colleagues, Kai, Andrew, Andrea. It’s great to appear with them,
and thank you all for coming. I’ve — for 10 or 11 months,
I’ve been doing book festivals and talks all over, but I’ve
never seen a festival audience like this. So thank you. [ Applause ] In fact, it’s been so heartening
to learn that there are a lot of Americans who
want to read books. Thank God. There’s still zillions
that don’t, but that’s another
matter [laughter]. I don’t really — I
mean, I’ve come to think that Frederick Douglass, in some
ways, chose me, or, you know, drew me in as much as
I’ve ever chosen him, because it’s been
so long [laughter]. I can’t remember — I —
I never learned anything about Frederick Douglass
in high school. That was in the 1960s
— that I’m aware of. It was in college. I took a — I took the
first-ever black history course taught at Michigan State
University, and either in 1968 or ’69, taught by Les
Rout [assumed spelling], who was a Brazilian. But because he was black
American, they said, “Les, teach this,” so he did. And I think I encountered
Douglass there, but it was in graduate school,
really, when I was just sort of casting around to
figure out what to work on. I wanted to work on
abolitionism, and the coming of the Civil War, and I wanted
to work on black abolitionists. And therefore, one lands
on Frederick Douglass, because he left, by far, the
most sources and material. Why one chooses to stay
with Douglass for so long — and I wrote a lot of
other books along the way, although Douglass was some
little piece of most of them. It is because we
do get obsessed. There’s no question. But then, the question is,
what do you get obsessed with? And in Douglass’s case,
as many of you surely know from reading him,
it’s the words. Douglass was a word-master. He became, with time —
he certainly didn’t — you know, nobody’s born
a genius with words. It took him time. He was a terrible speller. He had to learn how to put
all those metaphors together that kept flying in his mind. But the only real power
Frederick Douglass ever had, and to the extent he
changed the world, and is one of these
change-makers, if that’s what we’re
talking about today, is that he did it with language. And that is never
easy to pin down. How do you pin on the wall the
moment when he changed the world with language, or the next
moment, or the next moment? Or did he? I remember once watching
Toni Morrison do a reading, and afterward, in the Q&A,
people keep — kept asking her, “What is it you want
your books to do? What is it you want
your books to do?” And she got frustrated at
one point, and she said, “I don’t know how a
book changes the world.” You know, and all these
young people in the audience who were adoring Toni Morrison
didn’t want to hear that, but that was so honest. She said, “I want the
slaves to have a memorial.” I thought that was
a great answer. She didn’t know exactly
how a book changes a world, or language changes the world. Douglass — and I’ll just
say one or two other things. Douglass, of course, draws us, not just because his voice
became such an oracle, not just because he is,
I think, the prose poet of American democracy
in the 19th century. But he had more to say, both
from an embittered, rage-filled, angry voice of a former slave
trying to explain slavery, and even later, as a
patriot of American creeds, a radical patriot
of America’s creeds. He had more to say about this
deepest American dilemma, this pivot of our
history, slavery, coming of the Civil War, the
fighting of that Armageddon, the destruction of the
first republic, the creation of the second republic, the
remaking of the United States in the three Constitutional
Amendments of Reconstruction. And then, lives long
enough to see its betrayal. He had more to say
about all that. He wrote millions of words, but one of the difficulties
anybody working on Douglass faces — I’d be curious how all
of us think about this. If you work on an autobiographer
who wrote 1200 pages of autobiography, he is imposing
himself on you on every page, and in some ways, the
great autobiographies of Douglass are both the
source and the problem. Your subject is always there
in your way, blocking you, guiding you, telling you
what he wants you to know, and not telling you
a great deal more. So the autobiographies were
both my source and my subject, my joy and my problem. I’d also just say
one other thing. I have been drawn to his
language and his words in part because he was so deeply
steeped in two great traditions. One is the natural rights
tradition, the enlightened, secular tradition out of which
the United States is formed, and born, and still,
despite ourselves, surviving. He was a tremendous proponent
of the natural rights tradition. He loved the first principles of
the Declaration of Independence. It was the practices that
were the problem, but then, he’s deeply steeped as well
in the other great tradition in 19th century America,
which is the Bible. This man could not really
craft a speech into his old age without some use of
the Hebrew prophets. He learned his storytelling
in the cadences of the King James Bible, and
in the stories from Exodus through Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekiel, Amos. He was an Old Testament-style
storyteller. There’s an endless
fascination in that, and I made that a
central theme of the book. Douglass is one of
those people who — you know, whatever we think
of this American story, he truly did go from nowhere
and nothing to somewhere. He’s born out in the eastern
shore on a long horseshoe bend in the Tuckahoe River in
1818, before steamboats are on the rivers, before the
telegraph, before the railroad, and before the rotary press — all elements of modernity
that he would exploit, and that would transform
his life. But he’s going to live
all the way to 1895, and electric light bulbs, and
internal combustion engines, and even the phonograph,
although so far as we know, he was never recorded,
which is a shame. But in that epic
trajectory that he lives, he lives this great
transformation of the country from slavery to freedom,
and then its near-betrayal, and never stopped commenting
on what it all meant. So there’s a certain
irresistible draw of that life, if you can deal with living
with it for a very long time. [ Applause ]>>Kai Bird: So we’re dealing
with many iconic figures. So let’s try to get right to
it and de — I mean humanize, not de [laughter] — humanize
them, demythologize them. So what are their human flaws? Tell us about a point when
you, as the biographer, muttered to yourself,
“Oh, my God, how could you do
this [laughter]?” Andrew, do you have a moment
with Churchill where he –>>Andrew Roberts: Many
of them [laughter], yes. And again and again, it was
— as I mentioned earlier, he did make blunder
after blunder. He got women’s suffrage wrong. He got the gold standard wrong. He got the abdication crisis,
the black-and-tans in Ireland — lots of things horribly wrong. But as I say, he learned
from each of those. The thing he got most wrong was
the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, where — it was a
brilliant idea. The idea was to try
to get the Royal Navy from the eastern Mediterranean
through the Straits of the Dardanelles, and then
anchor it off Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, and
thereby take the Ottoman Empire out of the First World War. If it had come off,
it would’ve been one of the great strategic coups
in the history of warfare. But through the implementation
of it, it didn’t come off, and we lost six ships
on the first day, the 18th of March, 1915. And then, he doubled-down on
it, on the defeat, and insisted on a huge amphibious assault
on the Gallipoli peninsula on the western side
of the straits. And ultimately, over
the next eight months, that led to the killing or
wounding of 147,000 people, and he stuck with that campaign. And each time — when I was
writing it, I was thinking, this is the point where he had
to just wash his hands of it and say, “No, the men
must be evacuated. This is not going to work.” And each time, for eight months,
he argued to the war council that it was going to —
they needed one more push, and it would all be all right. And they’d be able to
capture the peninsula, and win the campaign. And you wanted to shout
at him [laughter].>>Kai Bird: So I want to follow up on that, on Churchill
quickly. You claim in the book that
witnesses could only attest to him being truly
drunk on one occasion.>>Andrew Roberts: During
the Second World War.>>Kai Bird: During
the Second World –>>Andrew Roberts: Yes.>>Kai Bird: — okay [laughter]. But your descriptions
of his daily consumption of alcohol are colorful.>>Andrew Roberts:
He would’ve — he would’ve drunk any of us
under the table, absolutely, but he was not an alcoholic. He did drink an enormous amount, but he had an iron
constitution for alcohol. He was capable of a
rhinocerine drinking, and one of his friends,
C. P. Scott, said that Winston Churchill
couldn’t have been an alcoholic, because no alcoholic could’ve
drunk that much [laughter]. There’s a — can I just
tell very quickly a story of his drinking? Where he — after he retired,
he used to invite people, pretty much anyone who asked, to
come to his house at Chartwell in Kent — lovely manor house, where he would show
them his study, and take them around
his library. And then, at about 6:00,
he’d offer them a drunk in the drawing room,
and he did this to two American Mormons
[laughter]. And one of the Mormons said
to him, “Strong drink rageth and stingeth like a serpent.” And Churchill replied, “I’ve
long been looking for a drink like that [laughter].”>>Kai Bird: Okay. Andrea?>>Andrea Barnet: Well –>>Kai Bird: Humanize
your figures for us.>>Andrea Barnet: — I can honestly say that
I didn’t find huge flaws. One of the ways in which I
humanize Rachel Carson — I didn’t — I knew
about “Silent Spring.” I knew — and it started
the environmental movement. I had no idea that
she was, first of all, born desperately poor. She was supporting her
entire family during college, after college, five
people in her family, and as she started
writing “Silent Spring,” she was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t tell anyone. She was pathologically private,
and she was very afraid, even then, that — she knew the
chemical companies were going to put up resistance. And she was afraid if
anyone knew she had cancer, they would say, “Oh, the only
reason this woman is interested in the association between
pesticides and cancer is because she’s dying of cancer.” And in fact, the Secretary
of Agriculture said, “I don’t understand
why a spinster with no children should be
concerned about genetics.” So, I mean — so
she was — she — during the whole
time she was writing, she was battling
this in silence. At one point, she
testified before Congress about pesticides,
and she was bald from chemotherapy,
so she had a wig. She could barely walk. She hobbled. She told people it
was arthritis, and she literally testified
for an hour and a half, and then went home
and immediately had to go to the hospital. So she had this sort of
superhuman stoicism and courage, which was an extraordinary sort
of through-line in her story. Because she really didn’t
want anyone to know. And then, on the theme
of drinking — the one — I think the other two also —
I didn’t find so many flaws, but Alice Waters, because
she was a sensualist, and because what first attracted
her to good food was the beauty of it, and the good taste — it
was the ’60s, so there was a lot of sex, drugs, and rock
‘n roll in the kitchen. And there was no attention
to the business side of the restaurant at all. After the first two weeks,
they realized they had no money to pay any of the staff,
and they said, “You know, anyone who can do without
pay, that really — would really appreciate it.” So [laughter] it was — there
was very little discipline, and there was, you know,
a lot of drinking of wine. Something like 30,000 — maybe
I got this number wrong — bottles of wine disappeared
in the first year of the restaurant,
because they would — part of hospitality
was to serve, you know, a glass of wine to
a good customer. And then, of course,
the bottle was open, so why not finish it [laughter]? And so, I would say that
the lack of discipline in the beginning was maybe
her flaw, but it was also part of the charm of Chez Panisse,
which was she really wanted to give people an experience
of plenitude, and pleasure, and sensuality, and really
remind people what good food tasted like. Because at that point, America
had forgotten how to eat.>>David W. Blight: Douglass had
all kinds of flaws [laughter]. As I say in the book, he
was beautifully human. You need to remember
he was forged in the crucible of slavery. He found it very difficult
to trust people, anybody. Later in life, it
got a bit easier. He did not make friendships
very well, especially with men, especially with black men. He was hypersensitive
to slights. Now, that may not seem
like a terrible human flaw, but when you rise to the top,
and you’re on the pedestal — you’re the black
spokesman of America. And now, you have all — especially by the time of the
war, and the post-war years, many of the next generation
of black leaders — all of them are about
20 years younger — have college educations,
were not born in slavery. And here’s this former slave, this fugitive slave whom
everybody says is the greatest, you know, black person in
America, the greatest this, and the greatest that,
the greatest orator. And the next generation
of black leaders just want to knock him off the pedestal. That’s what we do,
right, to our elders. Douglass got into terrible
fights with his rivals, personal fights in the press
here in Washington, D.C. He and John Mercer Langston went
at it in brutal ways at times, attacking each other’s
family, attacking the flaws of their family members. On women’s rights — Douglass
was, in every way possible for a 19th-century American
man, a women’s rights man. The only male speaker at the
Seneca Falls Convention, 1848, one of the — one of the male
signers of the Declaration of Sentiments — always
a women’s suffrage man, even women’s economic rights. But when he got into the
fight with Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton over
the 15th Amendment in 1869, 1870, he took a lot of brutal
criticism from Anthony, and Stanton, and some others. He handled most of it with
grace, but not always, and some of it was
deeply personal. They used the N-word on him. On the other hand, he was
capable of saying things like, “Yes, but women have
their husbands to vote their interests
for them [laughter].” Right when you think — you
know, you know, come on, Fred. You’re so modern [laughter]. You’re not so modern [laughter]. There are all kinds of elements
of his extended family life that show how deeply
human this man was. Two marriages, one to
Anna Murray of 44 years, a very difficult marriage, but
a marriage, and a relationship, and a woman I try to
develop in this book as much as anyone ever has, despite the
fact she remained illiterate all of her life. That was a very difficult
relationship, and he did not always
handle that well. There were relationships
with two European women, Julia Griffiths from
England and Ottilie Assing from Germany — teaser. I’ll leave it there [laughter]. Q&A, and you can always
spend 20 weekends reading the book [laughter]. And I’d also say, at
the end of the day, he sometimes struggled
to be a good father. He loved his children, but
they were, in some ways, always walking contradictions
of so much of what he stood for. And it became a deeply
human, deeply troubled set of relationships with his
three surviving adult sons and his one surviving
adult daughter, and the difficulties they had
making livings, making a life. He was always out preaching
self-reliance on the platform to African-Americans, and then, back home the next day
writing checks to his kids. And I have the account
books that show this. So the sensitivities
over that — sometimes, his letters to them
are full of love and caring, and sometimes full of a
parent’s disappointments, and chastisements, and, God, you
can see his humanity in that. And sometimes, he simply
was just the absent father. This man probably
traveled more miles than any other American
of the 19th century. The only competitor is probably
Mark Twain, but Twain cheated. He went to Asia [laughter]. So he was not home through a lot
of the childhood of his kids. They adored him, but it
was a very difficult thing, being his sons and his daughter.>>Kai Bird: So part of the
difficulty, the challenge of being a biographer
is to deal and write about what you don’t know,
what you can’t pin down. So, David, talk a
bit about the mystery of who Frederick’s father was.>>David W. Blight: Yes, I
— you put your finger on it. The hardest thing for me throughout this
is knowing what you know, and then what you cannot
find, those elusive elements. And I’m dealing with a
19th-century person here, and that autobiographer
who said almost nothing about his family life
or his two marriages in his 1200 pages
of autobiography. You got to get that other ways. He said a good deal about
his father, or, you know, his mystery father in the first
autobiography, a little less in the second, and a
little less in the third. He always knew his father
was white, probably one of his two owners,
but to his dying day, he could never figure it out. And he tried very, very
hard, including going to Thomas Auld’s
deathbed, or near-deathbed, in the late 1870s, and simply
asked him, “Are you my father?” And he didn’t get
a yes, which is one of the reasons I don’t
think it was Thomas Auld, but we haven’t proven that yet,
although there is an effort to do DNA testing and try to pull off a Jefferson
about Douglass. I’m just glad we didn’t do
it before my book was out, because if he didn’t know, I
didn’t want to know [laughter]. I wanted to keep this in
historical time [laughter]. His mother, he really
didn’t know. He had some image of her, but he
had to invent an image of her. He’s an orphan, and the
hardest part for me — and I’ll pass the question
on to my colleagues. The hardest part for me is
somehow getting to Anna, his wife of 44 years
who followed him out of Baltimore,
out of slavery. Oh, she was born free. There’s not a shred of
paper that Anna ever wrote. You have to get at Anna
through the reminiscences of the children, through letters
other people wrote about her, through her presence
in his life. And I’ve been asked many
times — I love this question, and I wonder how my colleagues
have thought about this one. Every biographer wants — well, you’re dealing
with some living people, so that’s another matter. But if your subject is dead,
you always want to bring that subject — my dream
is, I get to have Douglass in a seminar room,
about, like, four hours, no bathroom breaks [laughter]. The doors are locked,
and I get to have at him. I’m going to ask him
— I’ve got a list of 25 questions that’ll get me through just the
first two hours. Of course, he won’t
answer any of them. Number one is, “Mr. Douglass,
Anna — discuss [laughter].” And then it goes on from there. “Mr. Douglass, what did you
really think of Abraham Lincoln? And out of all those
eulogies you wrote — you wrote three different
kinds of eulogies. Mr. Douglass, talk about hatred. Talk about your hatred
of slavery. It’s all over your work. Please, talk about hatred.” And I got a long — “Mr. Douglass, talk
about that breakup with William Lloyd Garrison. That was huge for
you, wasn’t it?” He’s going to deflect
all of these, of course, and every time Imagine
him in the seminar room, he just goes away [laughter]. But it’s a long list. We all have them. They’re all the things
he didn’t tell us about. I want to ask about those.>>Kai Bird: So, Andrea,
what is your mystery problem with any of your women?>>Andrea Barnet: One
mystery problem is that Rachel Carson never seemed to have a partner,
never married. At the very end of
her life, she was — seemed to be very much in
love with another woman, who was married, and they had
— they wrote very expressive, emotive letters to each other. And she destroyed —
they had a whole sort of secret system where, if
the letter was too explicit, they were going to
destroy the letter. And they called those — and they had a little
code word for that. They called them apples. So half of the letters — I know
a lot about this relationship through the letters
from her friend Dorothy, but I don’t know — I’ve
read very few letters that Rachel wrote to Dorothy,
because she destroyed them. So I think she was
probably a lesbian, but she couldn’t own that. She was very proper, and very,
as I say, shy and reticent. And that wouldn’t have been —
she’d be mortified that I’m here on a stage in front of you
all talking about this. So I don’t know whether it
was really a platonic love, or whether it was carnal. It was definitely the great
love of her life, and she seemed to have a serial — a series of women she was always
very, very close to. Plus, she lived with her
mother her whole life. Her mother took care
of, you know, the shopping and the cooking. So that, I’d love to
be able to ask her, even though she would
never tell us. And I also — Jane
Goodall had a many, many — in fact, when I first wrote
her section, I had 15 pages on her many beaus, because
she was very beautiful, and she was pursued
by all sorts of men. And she had all these code names
for them, and when I gave it to my husband to read, he said,
“This is a little off-balance. You’ve got, you know, 20
pages on her romantic life.” And so I cut that, but
she did marry two times, and both of those
marriages broke up. And I think it was
because she was such a larger-than-life
character, and she had such a huge
international profile. And she was a celebrity,
and I think it was very hard for any man to live
in the shadow of Jane Goodall, and of a woman. So those are things
— maybe if she — you know, I had her alone in
a room, I would ask her — I don’t even know whether
I would’ve written that, because that wasn’t really
the point of my biography. I was very much trying
to look at the genesis of the characters, and the
genesis of their ideas. So I — you know, I tried to — each one, there’s a certain
amount of personal life, but I didn’t get
into that level — I didn’t drill down into
their personal lives. But I would’ve wondered
about that.>>Kai Bird: So,
Andrew, is there anything in your almost 1000-page
book on Churchill that you couldn’t figure out, that still remains a
mystery about Winston?>>Andrew Roberts:
Well, I very much agree that it would be wonderful to be
able to interview one’s subject, and I came very close
to it last May. After I gave [laughter] — after
I gave a speech at a book talk in Miami, and a lady came
up to me afterwards and said that she was the reincarnation
of Winston [laughter]. And — and as soon
as I double-checked that she wasn’t armed
[laughter], I — I asked her a few questions,
questions I’ve been longing to ask Winston Churchill
[laughter]. But unfortunately, I’m not
sure she was telling the truth [laughter]. The one — there are two
questions I’d love to ask. First is about his
sense of destiny. Where did it come from? What was the — you know, am
I right in the sort of guesses that I make in the book
about it, that it’s to do with his relationship with
his father, and his mother, and his upbringing, his
teaching, and things like that? The other great question
I’ve always wanted to ask, which I thought would be
impossible to be answered, were what were his private
views about the glacial speed with which the Roosevelt
administration moved towards bellicosity in the
Second World War? He wasn’t able to
tell Parliament. He wasn’t able to
tell the press. He wasn’t able to even tell
his entourage what he genuinely thought about how slow it was
for the greatest democracy in the world to step into this
struggle, which he always saw as a great Manichean struggle
between good and evil. And then, just before
I was about to sit down and write my book, Her
Majesty the Queen allowed me to use her father’s diaries. And in those diaries —
Churchill met the king every — King George the VI every
Tuesday of the Second World War, and they served themselves
from the sideboard because they couldn’t
have anyone else present. Because the king was
trusted by Churchill with all of the great secrets of
the Second World War — the nuclear secret, the
ultra decrypts, and so on. And he wrote everything
down, and again and again, Winston Churchill,
using the king rather like prime ministers always do,
as their shrinks [laughter], telling them things they
can’t tell anyone else. And again and again,
Churchill expressed his extreme frustration with the Roosevelt
administration for being so slow into the Second World War. So the thing that I’d always
wanted to ask him, at last, just before I penned this
book, I was able to ask him.>>Kai Bird: That brings me — I want to keep on
Churchill for a moment. Andrew, one of your
reviewers, Robert McCrum, writing in “The Guardian,”
had this to say, somewhat grudgingly, I think.>>Andrew Roberts: Yep, that
sounds right [laughter].>>Kai Bird: “One [laughter] — one surprising and
unexpected insight from this exhilarating life is
that all the qualities we loathe in Trump — his intolerance,
lying, vulgarity, chauvinism, narcissism, and prejudice — are fleetingly evident within
Churchill, but tempered and civilized by
intelligence, wit, gravitas, and generosity of spirit.” So my question is, is this
comparison unfair or apt?>>Andrew Roberts: I think
one thing that Robert misses out in the great list there is that Winston Churchill
would’ve been extremely good at tweeting [laughter]. He would. He would. An awful lot of Churchill’s
best gags can fit into 280 characters or fewer. There’s a marvelous moment
in the House of Commons when the Labor MP shouted “rot”
at him, and Churchill replied, “I thank the honorable
member for telling us what’s in his mind [laughter].”>>Andrea Barnet: That’s good.>>Kai Bird: So is there
anything in the intimate, private lives of your subjects
that you, as biographers, would consider out of bounds? You decided not to go
into the marriages –>>Andrea Barnet: Right.>>Kai Bird: — marriages
too much of Goodall. David, I know in your
account of Frederick, you dance around the issue, and
I think sort of tell your reader that you have concluded that there was a
relationship with Assing.>>David W. Blight: Yes.>>Kai Bird: But
it’s hard to know.>>David W. Blight:
It’s impossible to know.>>Kai Bird: So how do we
deal with these difficult, intimate things in the shadows?>>David W. Blight:
Well, number one, you try to stay behind
your evidence as best you can,
and then to use it. I would say no, there is nothing
I would’ve stepped around, or did step around. I said exactly what I thought in
the end about his relationship with Julia Griffiths,
an Englishwoman who became the dearest of
friends, a crucial friend in his life, his co-editor,
his fundraiser, his confidante. She’d also read Robert Burns’
poems with him late at night, and even told us a couple
titles of the poems, so — and then, a 22-year relationship with a German woman
named Ottilie Assing. Unfortunately, 99-1/2%
of everything we know about that came only
from Assing. Nothing he wrote
to her survives, and he wrote to her often. I do believe that one was
a sexual relationship. I can’t prove it. There are reasons
I believe that, although I don’t think the
intimacy was the most important thing about it. She provided him an
intellectual connection and an intellectual outlet that he otherwise did
not have in his life. It is the intimacies with his
children that in some ways are so revealing about the nature
of his life, their life, and the nature of
this phenomenal African-American family. They became what I call in the
book the black first family, the way they were treated
here in Washington. After he moves to Washington
in 1872, the press — and there were lots of
newspapers in those days. There were three or four black
newspapers alone in D.C., five, six white papers. Everything his family
did, good, bad, ugly, and otherwise, was in the press. And I reveal everything I find
about that, and I found a lot. So there’s nothing I would’ve
stepped around if I found it, not in this subject, anyway. Maybe that’s because
it’s in the 19th century, but I had no fear — I hadn’t — with Douglass, I never had
any fear that I was going to tear the great man
somehow down off the wall. There’s too much —
here’s that word, but there’s too much greatness. There’s too much gravitas in
this life, and the more I found about his flaws, and about the
complications of his humanity, the more interesting he became.>>Kai Bird: So we’re
running out of time, and I know we want
to get to Q&A. But that brings me to a larger
question about biography in general, which is that
in the academy these days, in the universities, biography
is — has a certain reputation. And I’ve learned that no — very rarely are professors these
days encouraging their Ph.D. students to tackle a biography.>>David W. Blight: Until their
second, third, or fourth book.>>Kai Bird: Yes. It would be okay if
you’re tenured [laughter].>>David W. Blight: Right.>>Kai Bird: But
you’re not allowed to take a biographical
subject as your thesis.>>David W. Blight: Right.>>Kai Bird: And
biography is sort of considered among some
historians, and, I don’t know, maybe among the general
public, as second-tier. It’s not — it doesn’t have
the gravitas of real history. It’s bad history because
it’s focused so much on the individual,
and yet, you know, some of our greatest
biographers and historians, like Robert Caro, have
written these wonderful, long, large books like yours, and — that teach us so
much about history. So how do you respond
to the academy, and in defense of biography? Andrew?>>Andrew Roberts: I’m always
delighted that the academy is so sneering and superior about
biography, because it means that good writers can write
biographies instead [laughter]. [ Applause ]>>Andrea Barnet: Because
mine was a group biography, I was very interested in
writing it as much like a novel as possible, to make
people really care about these characters. So I didn’t care about
it being encyclopedic. And so, in some ways, mine
wasn’t a traditional biography. I was really interested
in making them come alive on the page, so that
people knew them as more than, you
know, taglines. And I think that there are too
many biographies that drone on about every single day
of a character’s life, and that’s not really — there’s
an encyclopedic biography of Carson that was 800 pages. And it’s really impressive,
in terms of its research, but there’s a lot about the
chemistry of various pesticides. And only a specialist
really would care about that, and it
bogs you down. So I was really trying to
kind of cut all of that out. So I don’t know. I think that there’s — there are all kinds of
ways to write biography.>>Kai Bird: So, David, you’re the only person
here from the academy.>>David W. Blight: Right.>>Kai Bird: How do you respond?>>David W. Blight:
I have two responses. One is that some academic
historians are very good writers [laughter], and some of
them are my best friends. There’s a reason, of course, biography is not considered what
a graduate student should do, and that’s because of the
social history revolution of the past 50 years. Social history, the study
of forces in history, of groups of people, of ordinary
people, of class, race, gender, et cetera, et cetera —
academics love their trends. We love our themes, our new
methods, our new languages. I, frankly, hate all the
new trendy languages. Good writing is good writing. It doesn’t have to have
the right buzzwords in it. Everything isn’t a
space [laughter]. Street is a street. It’s not space [laughter]. Just because you cross a
border doesn’t mean you’re a transnational historian
now [laughter], although there is
transnational history. So — but, look, my book’s 800
pages, too, but it’s a story. It’s a story. There’s even some
emplotment in it, I think, although it wasn’t
very conscious. We’re storytellers,
at the end of the day, but you can also write
great social history and still tell a story. And some of the greatest of our modern American
historians have changed the world with their social history, but have also written
biographies. The great Edmund Morgan couldn’t
resist writing a biography of Ben Franklin. C. Vann Woodward wrote a
biography of Tom Watson, and I could go on and on. Many of our greatest historians
have worked in all kinds of fields, but they’ve all
done at least one biography.>>Kai Bird: Okay, on
that note, let’s open it up to the audience, and
have a few questions. How are we going to do this? I guess there are
microphones in the aisle. Please.>>I have a question
for Professor Blight. So I live just a couple
blocks east of Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, where it’s sort of like the original
Lincoln Memorial. There’s a small statue
that’s a little –>>David W. Blight:
It’s not small.>>– well, it’s smaller
than the Lincoln –>>David W. Blight: Well, yeah. Everything’s smaller than
the Lincoln Memorial.>>– yeah. So Frederick Douglass dedicated
it in the 1870s, and, like, there were lots of
important people there. And he gave this interesting
speech about Lincoln, and it was pretty nuanced. And, like, you mentioned, like,
what do you actually think of Abraham Lincoln, and I feel
like it was a little revealing. Like, he — it wasn’t
all flattering. Like, he was talking to a white
audience, and he said, like, “You are Abraham Lincoln’s
children, and we’re, at best, his stepchildren.” And so, I’m curious,
after Lincoln died, if Douglass’s public views
on him changed, and –>>David W. Blight: Yes.>>– could explain that.>>David W. Blight: Oh, I don’t
know if you’ve read my book yet, but the first 11 pages narrate
the story of that speech. I start the book with the parade
to the unveiling of that statue. So now you at least got to
read chapter one [laughter]. That’s the second-greatest
speech of Douglass’s life. The first is the
Fourth of July speech. That speech dedicated
the Freedman’s Memorial, as it’s called, up in Lincoln
Park, is a work of genius. In the first half of
it — I’ll be quick. In the first half of it,
he lays out this idea — my white fellow Americans —
he racializes this whole story, which wasn’t his fondest habit. My fellow white Americans, you
are Abraham Lincoln’s children, and I and my people,
only his stepchildren. And he makes it a refrain,
uses it three times. “He was the white man’s
president, “he says, but then there’s a
break in the middle where he then uses a second
refrain, where he says, “But under his rule, and in
due time, Lincoln’s caution and Lincoln’s pace is
how we became free. Under his rule, and
in due time” — the second half of the
speech is a tribute to a pragmatist president,
and he does both of those in the same 20-minute speech. It’s an absolutely
brilliant piece, and he didn’t have
just a white audience. That was a huge black
parade that day, but no African-American ever had that audience again
until Barack Obama. Because he had the president,
the Supreme Court, the cabinet, and members of Congress
in front of him. Grant was president. Grant unveiled the statue, and I
looked in vain in Grant’s papers for some little remark of what
Grant thought of that speech. Grant must’ve gone back to
the office and taken a nap, because he never wrote a
word about it [laughter]. It was so disappointing. I want to know what
Grant thought.>>Kai Bird: Yes, sir?>>Hello. You talked
about these trends. We’re living in one now
where this trend is big data. We just hear all this “big
data,” and yet you’re talking about people who’ve dealt in
areas of science, and had access to that kind of information. But the way they
moved the needle was through their stories. So my question is, are we
still producing those kinds of storytellers today?>>David W. Blight: Hope so.>>Kai Bird: Here are
three storytellers.>>David W. Blight: Not enough, but book festivals are
about storytellers. You read because of the stories. I mean, the — you can read
for many different reasons. You can read for
the information. That’s –>>Andrea Barnet: Yeah.>>David W. Blight: — you
can read your trade journal for that, or, you know –>>Andrea Barnet: But I do think
one remembers ideas through — if they’re attached to stories. And it’s the most —
because it personalizes it, and it humanizes it,
puts a human face on, a lot of times, very
abstract ideas. So I think you’re right, and I
think we need more storytellers. It’s an argument for
biography, really.>>Andrew Roberts: In my
field, there are still plenty of very good storytellers. By my field, I’m now talking
about military history. I’m chairman of the
Military History Prize, the Lehrman Institute
Military History Prize, and we have 100 really good
military history books put forward — narrative,
comprehensive, and impressively written. And I think, actually,
in that sphere, at least, things are very healthy.>>David W. Blight: —
and look at the popularity of Netflix television series. We’re all addicted to something. It’s because they’re stories.>>Thank you.>>Kai Bird: Yes?>>Thank you. With e-mails, and texts,
and Twitter, and Facebook, I fear that the art of
writing letters is fading away, and I wonder what you
all would say will be — whether that would —
will be a large challenge for future biographers.>>Andrea Barnet: I can say
I really worry about that. All of my subjects wrote a
lot of letters, which I used. They also wrote journals,
almost daily journals, and so there was
this huge paper trail that I could use to
find their voices. And I don’t think
anyone is saving e-mails, and even if they were,
the systems keep changing. They — you can’t — you
don’t really have any way to save them. And I think biography
particularly will suffer.>>Andrew Roberts: I agree. I think one thing that’s
tremendously important is whether or not people are
still keeping diaries. If they are, then
there’s a hope. Certainly, Churchill
was surrounded by people who were ordered
not to keep a diary, and all of them did [laughter]. And thank God they
did, because otherwise, it would’ve made our job an
awful lot more difficult.>>David W. Blight: Are
e-mails involved now in you telling the Jimmy Carter? Oh, and you’re doing
only the presidency.>>Kai Bird: Well, I’m dealing
with the whole life with Jimmy.>>David W. Blight: Oh, okay.>>Andrea Barnet: Are
you using e-mails?>>Kai Bird: E-mail didn’t
exist during his presidency and before, so –>>Andrea Barnet: Yeah.>>David W. Blight:
I mean, his aides, afterwards, and all that –>>Andrew Roberts: How fax
paper disappears as well –>>Kai Bird: — right.>>Andrew Roberts: — there’s
huge amounts of fax paper in archives that you look at,
and you can hardly read them.>>Andrea Barnet: That’s
really, really true. Completely fades –>>Andrew Roberts:
Now, but then –>>Andrea Barnet: — right.>>Kai Bird: But e-mail —
you know, I’m encouraging — I tell everyone,
“You should print out all your e-mails
[laughter].” You think that’s a joke.>>David W. Blight: — I
don’t have time to read them.>>Kai Bird: And
donate them to your — to some appropriate archive. But of course, this
is a huge task. I don’t know. The presidential — I’m doing
a presidential biography now, and it’s very different than
any of my other biographies, because there’s so
much material.>>David W. Blight: Yeah.>>Andrea Barnet: Yeah.>>Kai Bird: You’re drowning. I mean, the Ronald Reagan
Library has eight million pages of classified materials. The Carter Library
has two million pages, because he came much earlier, a smaller government,
and only one term. But still, two million
pages — you can’t possibly, as the biographer,
absorb it all. So it’s a question of
too much information, but it is a serious problem if
you’re dealing with biographies of the unknown, which are
actually becoming quite popular, biographies of the common man. You need those kind of
materials, letters and diaries. So it is going to
be a big problem. Yes, sir? Two minutes.>>My question’s inspired by
the theme of change-makers, and I’ll direct it first
to Professor Blight, because yours is the only book
that I’ve managed to read yet. But I think all could answer. It’s — again, your
book was published, 200th anniversary of his birth. This February will be the
125th anniversary of his death. If Frederick Douglass
was alive today — and you mentioned he lived long
enough to see betrayal of many of the things that
he championed — what would Frederick Douglass
most focus on changing in America today,
if he was alive?>>David W. Blight: Racism. Racism. He’d be — I’ve been
asked — you know, used to be, historians can say, “We don’t
deal with counter-factuals,” but I’ve learned this year
you can’t say that anymore, because everyone wants
to know how do we deal with what we’re living through. He’d be appalled at the nature of white supremacy
and racism today. He’d — he’d be — and he’d be
telling us to keep a long view. I think he’d also —
forgive — well, don’t — you don’t have to forgive
me for anything [laughter]. I think he’d also —
he might even appeal to the current Republican
Party to try to resurrect at least some small piece of
the original Republican Party. [ Applause ] Just for starters [laughter].>>Kai Bird: All right,
one last question.>>I’d like to thank all of the
panelists today, and moderators. This was a very insightful
conversation. Thank you so much. So this question is
directed to Mr. Roberts, and Ms. Barnet talked about how
she wanted to write the ’60s as kind of a fifth character
within her amazing novelization and biographies of
four incredible women. So as you know, Mr. Roberts, Winston Churchill
passed away in the ’60s. He oversaw a lot
of different change when he was prime
minister in the ’50s of a very changing England
with a very changing — and a very much changing
conservative party. How do you — do you see
Winston Churchill’s death at the ripe age of — I believe
96 — he lived a very long time.>>Andrew Roberts: Ninety. Ninety.>>Ninety. That’s incredible. Do you see his death and
his kind of, you know, overall arc into, you know,
retirement as kind of a sunset of a previous generation
of British leaders, or do you see it more
as a — kind of a — you know, in the context
of the ’60s, a new rebirth of intellectual thinking,
with so much change and so much dynamic
personalities in the ’60s?>>Andrew Roberts:
Well, you’re very right that it is extraordinary
that he lived to be 90, considering how many times he
very nearly died in his life, and the fact that he smoked
160,000 cigars [laughter]. But no, I very much do see his
death as the end of an era. There we go.>>Kai Bird: Okay, I guess
I have to wrap it up here. Thank you so much
for attending this. This is a victory for biography.

local_offerevent_note November 7, 2019

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