Darden Pyron is a professor of history and one of FIU’s founding faculty members
I determined years ago to write a book that even the most prejudiced reviewers would have to take seriously – even to the point of revealing their prejudices and bigotry.
B-I-N-G-O. The left-liberal New York Review of Books gave my Margaret Mitchell biography the lead review and took 2,600 words to explain how wrong wrong wrong it was. Mission accomplished. More fancy-pants Manhattanites at The New Yorker? At least the reviewer there seemed to read the entire Liberace book. Liberace, you ask? The piano player? A book about him? Did I answer those questions a score of times when I took on that project! If nobody asks the question about my current project on the Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, just wait until they see my conclusions. This, in part, is what the academy is about – it is also what tenure is about: to take the time to study things that other folks ignore. It involves looking at something as familiar as a Las Vegas performer, complicate the matter properly, and then offer an answer to your own riddles. The cultivation of ideas lies behind our titles of “doctors of philosophy.” We take things apart and literally “rethink” them back together to make some new form. Sometimes our theories might come in a flash – Newton and his apple, the physicist Niels Bohr watching dancing flames of an open fire. More commonly, we come by our ideas through plodding and hard work and even mind-numbing investigation of data – we fit this evidence with that, trying this combination, then another, before the whole begins to make sense. Making sense of the whole is what the enterprise is all about.