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Shelby Foote Dead at 88

Shelby Foote, noted novelist and historian, was found dead today in his Memphis, TN home. For those of you unfamiliar with Foote, he wrote one of the definitive military accounts of the Civil War (titled, aptly enough, The Civil War: A Narrative) and became a semi-celebrity thanks to his appearance in Ken Burns’s “Civil War” miniseries.

For anyone mildly interested in the man, here is an interesting column in the Charlotte Observer about Foote and his tastes in liquor:

Foote said he preferred Johnny Walker Black label on ice when he was indoors and straight bourbon when outdoors.

We were sitting on a screened porch and he said, “What is it? Indoors or outdoors?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“I know, we’ll drink two toasts.”

And we did.

Foote’s aforementioned three volume series on the Civil War has often been criticised for only barely mentioning politics, slavery, and economics, as well as for flatly admitting in the author’s notes (I believe it’s the author’s notes, I don’t have my copy here) that he has sympathies for (and ancestry with) the southern side. I don’t believe that these faults necessarily take away from the greatness of his work. Rather, they necessitate that the conscientious reader explore other books (such as James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom) in order to fill in historical gaps and compensate for Foote’s southern bias. One shouldn’t read his narrative looking for answers to socio-economic or human rights questions, as he doesn’t even begin to answer them. Instead, what makes his volume absolutely essential are the obsessively detailed battle descriptions, which are to my knowledge superior to those of any other author.

Anyways, enough of this. I think we need a “Things Only Ian Cares About” category. Hit tip to Emily for texting me about this this morning.

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