>> this is not an attempt to rewrite history, it's not an attempt to fashion a legacy, it is an attempt to be a part of the historical narrative. >> also supreme court justices. >> every single justice on the court has a passion and a love for the constitution and our country that's equal to mine. then you know that if you accept that as an operating truth, which it is, you understand that you can disagree. >> and nobel prize winners. >> that, for me, what's interesting is negotiation of a moral position. do no harm. love somebody. and respect yourself and do some work you respect. all of that is reduced, simplified notions. the philosophers have spent
their lifetime trying to imagine what it is like to live a moral life, what morality is, what existence is, what responsibility is. >> we visited book fairs and festivals around the country. >> and booktv is live at the annual l.a. times festival of book withs on the campus of ucla in los angeles. >> there's our signature programming, "in depth" each month -- >> and if you say to a child almost anywhere in this country, i've been to schools all over this country, more than 600, once upon a time, the child will stop and pause and listen. now you were the cash the check, you better have something to say after that, but that phrase is still magical. >> and every week, "after words." >> my father's job had been to be press attache. i was born in prague, and then we moved back to belgrade and
then my father was recalled in 1938, and he was in czechoslovakia when the nazis marched in. >> since 1998, booktv has shown over 40,000 hours of programming, and it's the only national television network devoted exclusively to nonfiction books every weekend. throughout the fall we're marking 15 years of booktv on c-span2. here are a few programs to watch this weekend on booktv. the program first aired on september 12th, 1998 and kicked off the first weekend of booktv. >> she was born a year after her parents and grandparents arrived here. they were sharecroppers who came
out of northampton county, north carolina. a section just north of the roanoke river, the north bank. they had been on the bishop and powell plantation at least since they were e emancipated as slavs in 1863, and they left that area because the depression had forced down prices for the major cash crops, peanuts and cotton. and the person that they were working for on the plantation lost the plantation because of the depression. so they ended up migrating to washington looking for work and a better life. >> watch a reair of that "book notes with mr. dash. at 8:15 on sunday, a collection of syria and middle east issues. visit booktv.org for a complete television schedule.
booktv continues now with brenda wineapple. she presents a history of the united states in the mid 19th century. the author recounts the ever-changing american landscape during this time from its growing borders to the debates over slavery, the civil war and reconstruction. this is about an hour. [applause] >> thanks, nick. thanks to all of you for coming tonight. thanks to the great people at harpercollins who came to give some support and for making such a beautiful book, as you can see. it is really quite lovely. i'm talking just about the physicality. you can judge about the inside on your own. but as nick said very cogently, this book covers a 30-year span of american history in the middle of the 19th century when nothing much happened. [laughter] there was just, oh, i don't know, the women's movement and
the country divided in two, and there were spiritualists and spirit rappers and p.t. barnum, all part of the same cultural moment. and then, of course, just in case you were getting bored, there was a war, a dreadful war where 750,000 people were killed. and that's probably, that's probably a figure that is not finished being revised upward. and, of course, there was the period of reconstruction that occurred in the south and at the same time there was the settlement of the west augerred by the gold rush back in 1848 and completed with the slow and painful and very disturbing removal of the indians from that particular part of the country, just a few things.
that i concerned myself with for the last years. and it's a strange and complex moment or series of moments in american history as i just suggested populated by a very unusual group of people that you wouldn't think of necessarily occupying the same historical time, never mind place. and i can give you some of their names. there's, of course, ulysses s. grant and abraham lincoln who always threatens to take over every book that he's part of, understandably enough. [laughter] susan b. anthony and frederick douglass, charles sumner, william lloyd garrison, harriet jacobs, harriet beecher stowe to name just two heir yepts. emerson was still alive and writing long after this period. longfellow, you have emily
dickenson, william tecumseh sherman, two people i'd love to have seen meet one another. [laughter] as well as victoria woodhaul who was the first woman who wan -- who ran for president in the united states. and there's a man whose name i won't even bother you with, the man who invented the word scientology which is rather strange and interesting and unusual and, of course -- or maybe not of course -- nathan bedford forest. i could spend the whole time allotted here just listing names, but not to worry, i'm not going to do that. i'm going to give you a little bit of background how i got into this book, some of the things that were important to me in the writing of it, and then i'm going read very briefly and be very delighted to take and answer your questions if i possibly can. so to go back to the book itself, i did name some names,
now i want you to think for a moment about the tremendous innovations, particularly technological but not exclusively technological innovations, during this particular period. think, for example, the first that comes to mind is, of course, photography. we have many of us who live in new york have probably gone to see the met's show of civil war photography and also civil war painting. but it's interesting to think that the civil war was documented in this country from beginning to end by photographers which is shocking really. and off when i've -- often when i've thought about why it is that the revolutionary war, which is in a sense also brother against brother, country against country, why that war hasn't captured the imagination the way the civil war has. in addition to obvious reasons like let's get rid of slavery once in a while, the reason is, i think, that there wasn't
photography at that particular time. so we don't know what people looked like. we can't really see them strewn maybe for good reason or for better on the battlefield. so there's photography, there's also the time of the railroads. railroads started just a little bit before this particular period and became so instrumental in the war effort because, after all, they moved so many men and so much munitions during the period of the war and, to a certain extent, you can imagine why it was that the south was at a disadvantage or became at a disadvantage, because there were fewer and became fewer lines in the south than there were in the north. and, of course, that's really very important because by 1869 after the war, four years after the war, the transcontinental railroad was finished, and that took even more settlers from the
east to the west and presumably back again, although i'm not so sure ant -- about that. but none the less, that too was very important in this period. it was important for, as i mentioned before, the native americans who lived in those areas where settlers were going. think, too, the development of a brand new american religion which is really so interesting and really becomes dominant and important in this particular period. and when i mention thed the list of names, i could have put brigham young in that list as well as everyone else. imagine him meeting emily dickenson. [laughter] and mormonism actually began in new york state, as many of you obviously probably know, right in upstate new york in a place called the burntover district because of the series of
revivals, religious revivals that had been sweeping through that particular part of the country and then went west and farther west. so that's part of this period, too. and, of course, should go and can't go without saying is the anti-slavery movement which was gathering more and more momentum in the years after 1848, particularly after the mexican-american war ended in 1848 when the united states became a much bigger country, and the disposition -- sorry about that -- the disposition of the land that was acquired from mexico was a matter of some concern. shall it be free be or shall it be slave? and that was a dialogue that became so acrimonious, a debate that became so furious that, of course, it spiraled into what we
think of as the civil war, a war between the states or as southerners sometimes called it, the war of northern aggression. think, too, of women's rights which i mentioned before. early anti-slavery advocates were, of course, very much involved in the women's movement and were women themselves. but after war we have a very complicated historical moment when black men are given the vote but not white or black women. leaving black women doubly disend franchised. and -- disenfranchised. and what was interesting about the passage of enfranchisement amendments is that enemies of both blacks and women liked to pit blacks and women, black men and all women against one
another which was, of course, something that seemed to me to happen yet again in 2008 during the primary for president and may be still happening, absolutely. and then thinking of that, think of the change in laws. and i'm not just thinking of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, but i'm thinking of a nefarious and rather fugitive slave law that allowed southern planters, slave owners to travel north to places like massachusetts and nab men and women, black men and women, slave -- former slaves or free and bring them back south. and it was so horrible, that particular law, that it began to be a kind of resistance movement against it. and, of course, many like -- [inaudible] flocked around what thoreau had
called in 1849 civil disto bead yens. of course; that's -- disobedience. of course, that's before the fugitive slave act, but nonetheless, civil disobedience became a very important way to push back against the government as it stood at the time. but it was also a way of taking the law -- i'll talk more about this in a minute -- into one's own hands which culminated, of course, in the raid of john brown and his associates in harper's ferry. which, to some people, really began the war. and in that particular case, it also involved people who were then -- which was interesting to me to find this term was used in that period of time -- people who were then guerrillas and who also took matters, law into their own hands and very often you would see these in the kansas plains where people from
missouri would go into kansas and make sure people couldn't, kansans couldn't vote against the slavery, couldn't vote against a free constitution. this was a time, in other words, this was a time of great change, tremendous amount of change; technological change in terms of the law, change this terms of people's attitudes toward one another and a belief that precedes this period but certainly culminates in this period, a belief that you could change everything, you could change anything. you could change your poetry, you could change your prose. i mentioned emily dickenson. she is, of course, the most fresh, the freshest voice in american literature or even today. you think of herman melville changing the shape of the novel. he changed it so much, in fact, in 1850 when moby dick was published, he torpedoed his career and became -- he went
from being a bestseller right to obscurity. but he believed you could change even nathaniel hawthorne believed in change for a little bit but didn't like what the change was going to bring. but he himself had gone to the utopian community brook farm. so it's a time of tremendous expectation, huge expectation and great failure as well. it was a time of boisterousness, of expansiveness, of hopefulness and greed. oh, let's not forget good old american greed which is very much part of this period, and one of the things, one of the many things i learned while doing this book is that the gilded age didn't start in the 1870s. ly's so neat and consecutive -- history's so neat and consecutive. it's a their tef nightmare, as i'll speak to you about. so as i suggested, i came to this book in a way from two
earlier books. one, i'd written a biography of hawthorne as nick mentioned, and to me, hawthorne was a very elusive 19th century figure because he seemed, it seemed as though he belonged in the 17th century. and yet one, a couple of things about him were so out of keeping with our stereotype of hawthorne. for example, he met abraham lincoln. i mean, they didn't spend very long together. lincoln had more important things to do than meet a delegation from massachusetts who was presenting him with a whip. [laughter] something that hawthorne found very amusing, needless to say, in his grim sort of way. but he talked, he said -- he later wrote, hawthorne was the homeliest man -- hawthorne. sorry, hawthorne's the handsomest man, lincoln was the homeliest man he'd ever seen, and he was wearing shabby slippers when he met the delegation from massachusetts. but nonetheless, he liked him
for his wise and kind look. this is hawthorne's damning with faint praise, it seems to me, because you mustn't forget that one of his dearest, closest friends was franklin pierce, and you may have forgotten that. he was a southern sympathizer which is really all you need to know for the purposes of this talk to think of hawthorne being friends with franklin pierce and, of course, that's what i used to like to say would be as if j.d. salinger were friends with, i don't know, george bush. [laughter] the example's gotten a little dated. dickenson, i wrote a book about dickenson, her relationship to a man named thomas went worth higgins. you have the reclusive poet par excellence who never crosses her
father's house or ground for anybody or anything enter into a 25,24, 25-year friendship with a man named thomas lost to us now except, of course, for me. lost to us now but known in his own time, payments in his own time -- famous many his own time as a fervent abolitionist. and so fervent was he, that he was the leader of the first federally-authorized group of black troops during the civil war long before the massachusetts 54th which was stationed in, of all places, south carolina. so in that particular sense, i was very intrigued by this particular period, wanted to know much more about it, wanted to do it justice and that was my first or one of my first questions to myself is how can i be responsible to the
complications, the pain, the sorrow, the death, the death tolls of the great sense of liberation, the great sense of failed promise? how could i be with responsible to all of those historical events and many of those people who gave everything to mange -- to make the country a better place and who also gave everything to keep the country from being a better place? how can i be responsible to those events and be people and issues and yet tell the story in a different way, a way that actually might say, oh, well, not just another boring book about this particularly -- not boring time, but nonetheless. and so i decided to sort of approach the book as i've said before, as if i we were a visitor from another planet, very far away other planet. and be that i had just dropped down in the 1850s, 1860s,
1870s. i had just come here, and the first thing you'd want to do if you were from another planet is read the newspapers. well, at least that's what i wanted to do. and i thought, well, how would i make sense of a paper, a newspaper from, say, 1850, 1857, 1864 and on and on? in other words, or let me put it in a different way, if you were to come from my other planet and sit down today and read the times, i looked at the times, and i thought, well, i understand everything that's on the front be page, but to give you an example i read, of course, there's a tremendous and terrible violence in egypt going on, and at the same time as i see that headline, i see charges against two traders fault jpmorgan for lack of oversight, and then i see finding poetry on the page and later on the canvas. and you think where am i, you know? what planet is this?
apology in wikileaks trial. and you say, well, what is even that? so what i was wondering about is, um, what sense would i make of these juxtapositions as i literally did read them. and the questions that would come to my mind, for example, would be something like what did the rise of the mormon church have to do with the lincoln/douglas debates? they're both reported at this same time. there must be a connection between them. and i don't know offhand what is connection is between them, but that was my job to find it out and to create a path between these two or among me -- among me events. in this particular case, it seemed to me that connection between them was the issue of popular sovereignty and that was, as i mentioned before, the issue of whether you can vote in a is sort of almost libertarian style, if you can vote whatever you want, in or out of the law.
take, for example, slavery at one extreme, take it another extreme -- and i'm not saying the mormons were necessarily involved in this -- but taken at another extreme, polygamy. oh. we want to vote it in, why not. if we want to vote in the ownership of other people, why not? and then you realize that's what the debate really was about, and the underlying issue was popular sovereignty which also said to me that the issue was ultimately slavery. similarly, what did -- take some of the characters or people i mentioned. forgive me, i call them characters not because i think of them as caricatures, but because i think of them as people who populate a kind of almost like a landscape. [laughter] what did p.t. barnum have to do with abraham lincoln, and what did either of them have to do with walt whitman? well, easy lincoln and whitman because whitman adored lincoln
and wrote a wonderful elegy after lincoln was killed. p.t. barnum, i'm not so sure. oh, of course, i'm sure, whitman the p.t. barnum of poetry, after all. whitman lovers may not agree with me, and i see there's some here -- [laughter] but i don't mean any disrespect. do i contradict myself? of course i contradict myself. i contain multitudes which is exactly what the barnum museum did. other questions, why was there spiritualism before the war? i can understand after the war why you would want to contact the recently departed, there were so many of them, but spiritualism actually started in 1848. probably before, but with i think of it when, again, upstate new york, you hear there are two sisters who hear knocks, and they begin to interpret those knocks. and they can actually tell you
and give you, put you in communication with loved ones you have lost or perhaps not even loved ones, but usually loved ones. and many of them, especially the quakers, especially the quakers who went to fox be sisters, the quakers would find out that there was no slavery in heaven which was -- [laughter] so you see what i mean in that particular context. what i mean is that or -- that i was interested in bringing together various questions or various items, various people, various events and trying to figure out what their relationship had to do with one another. what did reconstruction, if anything -- because there might be answers, or other people may have different answers -- what did reconstruction in the south after the war have to do with settlement of the west and the indian wars? and, lo and behold, you realize the war is over, but the wars are not over.
and that is something to think about as well, because apt maddux does not necessarily signal the end of fighting. many of the military, you think of sherman or sheraton or caster who were soldiers during the war, particularly for the north, they went to the west, and they became part of a army movement out there. so asking these kinds of questions, seeing these juxtapositions, coming in from my other planet and looking at these disconnected events or people suggested to me a different can kind of path -- a different can kind of path. so instead of necessarily rehearsing for you what happened
at bull run, i thought i would think about how is it covered? who covered it? who are the journalists there? how did they get there? how did they get tear dispatches? did they write them at night in the tent and then have somebody ride it to town very quickly? those are the kinds of questions that intrigued me, and that got me to thinking about the journalists who covered the war. not just, as i said, the photographer. or in that particular context, or stepping back from that context, i began to wonder why was it that many of the photographers that we associate with the war like alexander gardener and timothy o'sullivan, two major ones that you see again at a met show or any discussion or you see in any viewing discussion of the civil war, why did they go with west after the war? that's where they went. and they did landscape paintings -- photographs with no people in them generally.
sometimes, but generally often not. so there must be a reason for that, and that struck me as really so interesting. so i wanted to come at those events, people, historical schisms that we're familiar with in an unfamiliar way. another example, lincoln's assassination. we know lincoln was assassinated. i'm not going to tell you otherwise. but what i will tell you that when lincoln was assassinated, there were a group of ger with ril las, speaking of guerrilla ares, from missouri who were headed east, they were headed to washington, and they were coming to kill the president. makes you wonder if one didn't, somebody else might have. the interesting thing is that they were too drunk to get with, i don't think much part than, oh, i don't know where, but they
didn't get very far before they heard the news, and that was the end of that. it was kwan trel and his gang, in case you're interested. very unsavory group of people. and i try not to make too many value judgments. i don't, in other words, want to ignore as i said these kind of angles or different angles, so instead of then talking about the assassination per se, i'm also going to talk to you about or tell you about the conspirators who were executeed as -- because or one of the, or i suppose this is a strange claim to fame, the first woman to be executed in the united states was one of the lincoln conspirators or alleged lincoln conspirator. when several people who were
paof mitar tribunal who called for this execution, they asked the then-president andrew johnson for a stay of execution, and he said -- and i really must quote this to you -- he denied the stay, and he said: not enough women had been hanged in this war. [laughter] so she was, in fact, hanged. or i'll tell you the story about will -- willkie james. he went to florida to start a plantation where he would pay black laborers and create a kind of new brook farm that didn't really work out because of great backlash against the free black in the south. and so i wanted to tell these kinds of stories also partly because i believe that history is embodied and is up embodied -- is often embodied in people at this particular time
who are, as i said, confident, confrontational, eccentric, sometimes fanatic, often fanatic and who may or may not compromise -- that's one of the book's subtitles -- and who intent on redefining the american nation and also doing that i wanted to cleanse myself as much as possible of perceived wisdom. lots of things we do know about. but there are numbers of things that we think we know about, particularly me who always feels that she's been miseducated and in that case one such example would be the person thaddeus stephens who you may have met most recently in the spielberg "lincoln" movie where he was played by tommy lee jones very nicely. he did not seem like the creature out of the d.w.
griffith's "birth of a nation" where he was dreadfully caricatured, but the kind of devilish figure with a clubbed foot which was supposed to be a sign of the devil that i learned about when i studied history. someone recently said to me, well, you know, who taught you history, southerners? it was actually, no -- [laughter] it was actually part of a whole school of students reconstruction called the dunning school, and dunning had been a professor at columbia and a famous book of his published in 1907 and influenced "birth of a nation" and me. [laughter] makes me very old. but thaddeus stevens, one of the interesting things i can summarize for you about thaddeus stevens, when he was sick and dying and knew he was going to die, he had a plot, a cemetery plot that he bought near lancaster, pennsylvania. and when he realized that that
cemetery was not integrated, was segregated, no black men or women allowed in it, he gave up the plot, and he made sure that he was buried elsewhere. and then he had written on his tomb something that bears your attention even though it's a little wordy. he said: i repose in this quiet and secluded spot not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited by charters such as to race, i have chosen it so that it might be able to illustrate in my death the principles which i advocated through a long life; equality of man before his creator. which i find very moving, actually, that he would make those choices, and that he would want that in perpetuity. so in that particular sense, as i said, i'm cleansing myself of certain kinds of prejudices, and i want to expand our sense of this particular period.
so two other choices i briefly want to mention to you. they're both, they both reside in the beginning of the book because if you, you know, many of you are writers, and one of the things one always thinkings about so how to i begin, you know? where do i begin? why do i begin, which is another question i i will not deal with here. [laughter] these are the questions i don't want later. [laughter] in any event, my first thought and the first chapter begins with a filly bust withering expedition to cuba. filibuster at the particular time did not mean people standing up in a house or senate and the senate particularly like wendy davis and talking for a long time. it was a word that described expeditions that went, illegal expeditions that went to places like cuba armed to the teeth and funded by former congressmen and the government. and in this particular series of expeditions and the one i begin
with, the intention was to go to cuba, liberate it from the spanish, annex it to the united states -- sounds a little bit like bay of pigs almost -- annex it to the united states, and best of all, make it a slave state. what was interesting to me about that besides the sheer insanity of this idea that one could, again, take the law into one's own hands, ignore neutrality laws and act and just go and say i'm taking you, bringing you home so that you can wear it like a pin in uncle sam's breast pocket. no, no, that's not really what interested me, although that's pretty interesting. we never think of a book that contains a large middle section about the civil war beginning in cuba. but in a sense it does because it's not just the west that's important,st the south and the extension of the south. and then i thought, well, that's
fine, but why not begin even earlier? because after all, john quincy adams, the last sort of remnant, genetic remnant of the founding fathers -- who was a president himself and who was now in the house of representatives -- in 1848 he died in the house of representatives. he died as he lived, serving his country. and he died after saying no. great. because emily dickenson, of course, said no is the wildest word we have in language. and john quincy adams had said no. he was voting against draping generals from the mexican war in more gold, brass and medals. he wanted no part of that war, the war was over. he knew what was going to happen or he forecast with gloom because he'd been dealing with
the anti-slavery movement for a very long time, and he said no. and i thought that was rather marvelous, because at the end of one era and, of course, it's very much the beginning of another era, an era of resistance and, as i said, of change. an era of ec that ecstasy in all sense of the definition, ecstasy as rapture, as enraptured, ec that city as delirium. so it was a way to begin to understand for me what those nos were going to come to mean and what it meant to try to change the law or to put one's self up against the law or to say no in so many cultural and political ways. and with that and with that
sense is where i want to read you from my remarks -- leave you from my remarks and actually just read you very briefly from the opening of the book which is straight after quincy adams' death. and the present was and the future would also be a time of delirium, failure, greed, violence and refusal. refusal to listen and find or create that hard common ground of compromise, refusal to bend, so great was the fear of breaking, refusal to change and refusal to imagine what it might be like to be someone else. john quincy adams knew how to say no, but that negative could be inflexible, ideological, fanatical, particularly when some considered refusal a better tool than compromise or when compromise itself was so flaccid and unjust to be meaningless. particularly if it evaded matters of human rights and dignity.
in short, america was an ecstatic nation, smitten with itself and prosperity and invention and in love with the land from which it drew its riches, a land grand and fertile, extending from one sea to another and to which its citizens felt entitled. yet there was a problem, a hitch, a blot, a stain. the stain was slavery. that, john quincy adams knew, and because of it he forecast with doom the price the country would have to pay. some of the people and many of the events in this book are so familiar they seem ready made; lincoln and his grief-stricken face, the confederate general george pickett's charge at gettysburg, the elegant and battle-weary robert e. lee meeting the cigar-moaking and oddly gentle you'll cease s. grant. and american life during this time of consolidationing bring into focus other events, other characters; the impounding of the schooner pearl as it tried
to flee washington, d.c. with a boatload of fugitive slaves, the day hungry women ran through the streets of richmond begging for bread during the war. susan apt and elizabeth -- anthony and elizabeth stanton riding on wagons without springs through kansas to secure the ballot for women. exuberant men such as walt whitman and p.t. barnum embracing multitudes, the anguished honesty of herman melville, the the powerful editor horace greeley. the execution of the lincoln conspirators and the head of the anderson prison. and then the impeachment of a president. anna, not emily dickenson, on the stump. chief red cloud at new york's cooper union, the saga of the anti-slavery general rufus saxton fired from the freedman's bureau, and the grandeur and all promise of freedom whether to
the mormons or to men such as clarence king who possessed nature in the wild or thought he had. and there was the war, the terrible war. and all the while the idea of compromise which was being bandied about, debated and often held responsible for the country's failure to face its fatal flaw for its selfishness and shortsightedness and for the reconciliation at the end of reconstruction that opened a new era beyond the scope of this book of jim crow. i don't presume to say what people should or should not have done which is not to suggest i'm without judgment, sorrow or at certain times astonishment. still, by placing perps, events -- persons, events, contradictions and, yes, compromises next to one another, perhaps we can empathize with the choices people may or may
not felt they had given the exigencies within they lived and the very mixed motives we come to understand if we do but through a glass darkly. for in the roaring middle of the 19th century when americans looked within, not without, there was an unassailable intensity and imagination and exuberance and spirited and nutty and frequently cruel or brutal. there was also a seemingly insatiable and almost frenetic quest for freedom expressed in several competing ways for the possession of things, of land and, alas, of persons. and in instances, there was a passion, sometimes self-righteous, sometimes self-abdicating for doing good. even if that good included for its sake and in its name acts of murder. thank you. [applause]
i will take questions, and michael has the so he gets to choose. choose nice ones. >> and i'm interested in clarence king, a man with a very big secret. could you say more about him? >> i could say much more about him and, in fact, he was, he became very interesting to me. the secret to which it alluded here is the fact that clarence king was a very young man. he didn't go to the war but, rather, went west and surveyed the west and became the first chief of the united states surveying expedition, was very well known, a bon vivant.
brilliant man, earthly. a club man -- evidently. a club man, a good man, a man who wanted to be a writer and wrote a very popular and still, i think, very good book called "mount nearing in the sierra nevadas." a man who loved the west and who kept a secret, and the secret was he was the common law husband of a black woman in new york city or in queens, i think. he told her, he gave her an alias. she never knew that -- she never knew that he was clarence king, and his friends who included notables like henry adams, john hay, they never knew that clarence king had secret marriage and several children. so he's interesting. [laughter] the reason why he's in this book is not just because of that, interesting though it is. it is because he brings us to
the west. he loves the west, and he's there as a kind of, he's there as a kind of pioneer after the war who takes it to the west and seems to be enthralled by ruskin and beauty and mountains. is and not only keeps a secret, but actually begins to mine and exploit the west for his and other people's riches. so he's a complex man. brilliant scientist who authored a paper called, i don't think i can pronounce it, in the 1870s, and he was talking about, he was positing a different view of evolution different from darwin's on the one hand and different from agassi's who had one, louie agassi, the scientist, on the other hand. and what he talked about was how catastrophes change the course
of how geology, how the mountains, how all things developed. and and so it was so interesting to me that here he was, a man who evaded the war for somehow and some reason, talking about catastrophe in scientific terms, also still dealing with the war in the 1870s, had been a remarkable success by all standards and yet had this secret life which seemed to me then to give us a sense of really what reconstruction was all about. it was about a westward movement, it was about denial, it was about secrecy, it was about rapacious greed, it was about brilliance really and achievement, and it was ultimately, as henry adams knew, it was about failure. >> thank you. throughout the wars, you know, vietnam we had the gulf of
tonkin incident, with the first iraq war the babies being taken out of the incubators, second one possibly kuwait, side drilling into iraq. and then the weapons of mass destruction. you look at a lot of different groups, and there were different group that is brought us into those wars and their incentives. the groups that you looked at, what were the alliances that you saw that were going to cross boundaries that you might not think of that were pushing towards war and the conflict and shaping the forces of history to come? [laughter] >> well, in one sense -- and it would be very glib of me, what my answer has to be though is everyone was participating in what you're calling the shaping of history or the kind of move toward war. be -- it's very confusing in
ways and humbling to be living now, and as you've mentioned, you know, we're the recipient of many, many wars, and in anyone in here's lifetime. and then looking back and looking at a war like the civil war and wondering how did it happen, why did it happen, who made it happen. and one of the things, and i was talking about in this afternoon, in an interview one of the things you realize is that many people seemed not to know what they were talking about. not that they weren't brilliant. not that they weren't educated in cases. but they didn't know what war moment. they didn't have that experience, they didn't have -- they didn't have that imagination for some reason. so when you talk about who brought the war or what kind of cross-sections of groups, you have people in the south, people in the north.
you have really almost everyone, i would say, except -- the exceptions would be more salient than to go through who were sort of part of it, and the exceptions would have been perhaps strangely enough -- not strange enough, but you'll see why i said strangely, the quakers certainly, because they're pacifists, you know? whether it's somebody like amy and isaac post or john griefleaf whittier, the quakers, william lloyd garrison who also believed very strongly in nonviolence, but thoreau brought his blood up, for sure, i mean, he who wrote "civil disobedience." and the strange person i would put in this brew and some may disagree with me would be somebody like stephen doug last who when he -- stephen douglas who when he realized what was happening in the election of 1860 began to really work very hard to keep the south from
seceding is and actually sat near lincoln at the lincoln ip august ration and, i think, had he lived -- he died shortly after that -- probably would have been a force for something very positive, more positive than the racism he's associated with during the next some years. thanks. >> brenda, how did you figure out what to leave out? [laughter] >> so many times, you know, i felt on the one hand every sentence in the book actually had, i was sure, a shelf of books, you know, written about it. and then when you have someone like lincoln, you realize there's a whole presidential library dedicated to him. so there's a huge amount that i was leaving out all of the time. what i decided to leave out was, i guess, based in sort of two, sort of didn't fall boo two categories. -- into two
categories. one, as i said earlier, i wanted to be responsible to the history that i felt i had been contracted to tell. in other words, i can't leave out certain things. as i mentioned to you, i'm not going to leave out the gettysburg address, for example, because it's such a historical, important moment for language, for the war, for so many things, for lincoln himself. so it had to fall into that category. and and the second category is that it had to help me narrate the story that i wanted to narrate. so it had to have some kind of dramatic movement. it had to move the drama. it had to move the power intive forward, and if it didn't, then it really had to go onto the cutting room floor. and believe me, the floor was littered with people, events, what have you that didn't get in. but those were the kind of, the two kind of litmus tests that i
used. and i was very grateful to my editor who basically never balked at the page number and who didn't say, well, you can't do this, this and this. so i kept in whatever i really thought was germane to the story which was why the book is not 20 pages. [laughter] something like that, you know? the war, the war came, the war was over. [laughter] yes. >> why do you think new york was such a hotbed of religion and spiritualism in that period? >> well, that's a good question. i really -- you know, i've often asked myself, and i'm somewhat familiar with the area where new york was a hotbed. for one thing, anyone who's been to the area in upstate new york
from i suppose syracuse to the left which is to say west, or maybe albany to the left which is to say west, anyone who's familiar with that particular area knows that it's very different from down state, and it, to my mind, always is, seems to me much more like the midwest, what we call the midwest now and then was the west. it seemed like the west in senses. it's agricultural. i think that there was a sense of a tremendous need and the sense, a need for something that wasn't the congregationalism or even the unitarianism of boston, the sort of strait-laced worlds there and that there was a sense also that you could create new things and that you could speak to good directly -- to god directly through various means or in various groups that became open p in that territory because it was somewhat open territory. it was western, what we think of western. that would be my off the cuff kind of answer because,
ultimately, it's a fascinating question, and i don't know anybody who's really dealt with that as, you know, sufficiently. there's two right here. >> in the course of writing the book, did you change any preconceptions that you -- did you exchange -- did you experience a change of opinion about feelings you had concerning this period before you wrote it? >> well, and again this will sound glib, but one change of opinion is i went from mass confusion to a lot less confusion. [laughter] i don't know if that's an opinion, but it always seems like a blob, you know? not to put too elegant a point on it. reconstruction, as i said, was always a mystery to me because i was never comfortable with the way it was handed down to me. so everything there was new. and what changed was it wasn't
that i went from certain knowledge to different knowledge, it was more as be i went from no understanding to what i'm comfortable with as some understanding now of the reasons for the successes and the failures of reconstruction. that was one thing. and that's been very important to me for some reason. i find that very, very satisfying, because i learned things about political pears, and i learned -- parties, and i learned things about what happened in the republican party. and i learned, you know, the issue of carpetbaggersbaggers ad scalliwags and, you know, terrible radicals was not the issue at all of what happened. another thing that i was, there was a happy surprise. i was, i was a bit skeptical, forgive me, about abraham lincoln. i know he's an icon, i just saw somebody's eyebrows raise. [laughter] and because i thought he can't be that good, nobody's that
good. you know? he can't be that brilliant, that eloquent, that sagacious, he can't be those things. and i found out that he was. that he really was. and that was kind of chilling and, again, very humbling. so those would be two of the many, many things. >> thank you. >> one of the things that's so exciting about the book is, as you've pointed out, is reading stories that are familiar to us, and yet you make them fresh, and then read ago lot of stories that haven't -- reading a lot of stories that aren't familiar to us. so the challenge to you as a writer is how do you take something like the gettysburg address, how do you make it fresh for you and for us? and the second part of the question is, what stories did you come across that you were especially excited about that were new to you that you knew had to be in this book that were going to illuminate and expand our understanding of the era and give it different characters or
settings or some other kind of understanding of this period? >> yeah. let me take the matter of the example of the gettysburg address, because that's interesting whatever i am, while i'm doing this particular book, i'm thinking, oh, god, there's gettysburg looming ahead. what the hell am i going to do? ..
counterfactual. it some time, a rhetorical device, keeping readers any time. and the rhetorical device, had there been no gettysburg address we may not. end the appetite for the coming of the address which i don't spend much time on. you can read to everyone on the address but i wanted you to think about how to live inside of time, they don't know this address is coming or the borrower was coming, so had this
not existed then we would not have done that. and it was exciting for me. each event or person was a challenge to how we would then present it to a reader in a fresh kind of way. about the different and new revelations there are so many. you mentioned clarence king who went on to finish 7 sections of the book, i can move westward because i want to get -- i realized i couldn't move westward. i hadn't said the west up. how do i set the west up? i don't want to set it and as a place where we are going to destroy it another people. i want to set it up for what it also