Thursday, January 26, 2017

History TV

By Jeff Burns

It pains me to say it, but if you love history like the Histocrats love history, you’ve noticed that the History Channel is no more.  There is as much history on the History Channel as there is music on MTV.  On a brighter note, there are now many television viewing options, and the history addict can find his or her fix elsewhere.

Amazon has a couple of great current options.  I just finished the second season of The Man in the High Castle, and found it to be very interesting speculative – What If? – history.  It is set in a world where the Axis powers won World War II and divided America between them.  If you’ve read the book, don’t worry, the series is totally different, and in my opinion, improved.  (That may be the only time I’ve ever said that a movie or show improves on the book.)

Good Girls Revolt is in set in the late 1960s and is based on the true story of female researchers at Newsweek who united to fight against the sexism at Newsweek magazine, which denied them the opportunity to be real reporters, relegating them to uncredited and underpaid roles as researchers who did most of the work while the male reporters took credit for the stories. If you liked Mad Men, you’ll love Good Girls.  It’s a step back into the turbulent 60s, not only addressing women’s rights and the broader sexual revolution, but also civil rights, Vietnam, and the other issues of the day.

My favorite new show is on Netflix. The Crown is the story of Queen Elizabeth II, starting from just before her father’s death and her coronation.  The first series takes the viewer through much of the 1950s. The acting is phenomenal.  John Lithgow plays Winston Churchill and dominates every scene he’s in, but the other actors are no slouches. While the series obviously takes liberties with envisioning private conversations and thoughts that will likely never become public, the history behind the show seems to hold true, and it is a great series.  I’m not much of a binge watcher, but I watched this entire season in a weekend.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Searching for Freedom

By Jeff Burns

I’ve read three enjoyable novels in the past few weeks that have a common theme, the search for freedom and equality, and I highly recommend them.

First is an older Ken Follett title.  I’m a huge fan of Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and Century trilogies, but I wasn’t familiar with A Place Called Freedom.  The novel starts in the miserable and brutal coal mines of Scotland in the mid-17th century, where miners are virtually slaves of the noble landowners.  Through a series of events, miner Mack McAsh is forced to flee the mines and move to London.  More unfortunate events make him an indentured servant, forced to go to the wilds of Virginia, where indentured servants don’t always outlive their indenture contract.  It’s full of action, and like all Follett works, it’s full of fantastic historic detail.

Second is Karen Kondazian’s The Whip.  It is a fictionalized biography of a real-life character of the California Gold Rush era, Charlie Parkhurst, the greatest wagoneer/coachman/teamster of the age, renowned for his abilities to move people and freight when no one else could.  What people didn’t know was that Charlie Parkhurst was actually Charlotte Parkhurst, a female who started dressing and living as a man when she was a girl.  Virtually no one knew her secret until her death. Kondazian takes great liberties with the facts, because little is known about Charlie, but it’s a great story, and it led me to do a little research on my own. Charlie’s real life was as exciting as any novel. For example, she may well have been the first woman to vote in America (while dressed as a man).

Finally, there’s Darktown by Thomas Mullen, a novel optioned by Jamie Foxx to produce into a series. Darktown is a 1940s murder mystery told through the first eight black police officers hired by the Atlanta Police Department in 1948.  Atlanta’s unofficial slogan has long been “the city too busy to hate,” but this novel proves that there was indeed lots and lots of hate and racism. As a Georgian and a metro Atlantan, it is a difficult read, but an important one, and of historical importance.  On top  of all that, it’s an entertaining mystery too.