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Shelby Foote.

Tonight I saw an interview with Shelby Foote
on The News Hour With Jim Lehrer. The interview
was an old one. Foote, the author of The Civil War:
A Narrative,
which I read back in 1992, all three
volumes and over 3000 pages of it, died in
2005. During the interview he was shown at
his desk. It wasn't an impressive desk,
really. In fact my own desk is a lot nicer.
But is was in fact a "working" desk — messy
and layered with papers.

But there was one thing noticeably missing
from the desk — a computer. Instead, the
interview showed Foote giving an example
of how he worked. He took out a piece of
plain white paper. And he took out a very
old-fashioned nibbed pen. He dipped the
pen in the ink and wrote a few lines for
the interviewer as an example of how he
worked. That's how he wrote. Line by line
in ink.

He was among the greatest historians of all
time. Or, more modestly, and as he himself
might have put it, he was an exemplary and
very learned and poetic man who happened for
a while to walk the land of a country that
he loved with great intensity, and who wrote
of it.

And what he taught me about history
was so damn much.


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