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Atticus Finch: The Biography

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Who was the real Atticus Finch? A prize-winning historian reveals the man behind the legend The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources Who was the real Atticus Finch? A prize-winning historian reveals the man behind the legend The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose that mocked his values, she revised the character in To Kill a Mockingbird to defend her father and to remind the South of its best traditions. A story of family and literature amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, Atticus Finch is essential to understanding Harper Lee, her novels, and her times.


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Who was the real Atticus Finch? A prize-winning historian reveals the man behind the legend The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources Who was the real Atticus Finch? A prize-winning historian reveals the man behind the legend The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose that mocked his values, she revised the character in To Kill a Mockingbird to defend her father and to remind the South of its best traditions. A story of family and literature amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, Atticus Finch is essential to understanding Harper Lee, her novels, and her times.

30 review for Atticus Finch: The Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joseph Crespino, Perseus Books, and Basic Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. The name Atticus Finch was long synonymous with kindness and compassion, showing his children the importance of not judging a book by its cover. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch’s character pushes the limits of 1930s Alabama acceptance and tries to bring justice to the African Ameri First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joseph Crespino, Perseus Books, and Basic Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. The name Atticus Finch was long synonymous with kindness and compassion, showing his children the importance of not judging a book by its cover. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch’s character pushes the limits of 1930s Alabama acceptance and tries to bring justice to the African American population, calling himself a ‘moderate Southerner’. However, those who sought out and read Lee’s second published novel, Go Set a Watchman, are jolted to see Atticus turned into a racist who strongly sides with his Caucasian brothers in putting those of colour in their place. Shock came from this revelation, but there is a story there; two, actually. Joseph Crespino seeks not only to explore the vastly different versions of the two Atticus characters in this piece, but also to give the reader a better understanding of Nelle ‘Harper’ Lee and how she fashioned Atticus out of her own father’s life. The attentive reader will see strong parallels between the elder Lee and Atticus, leaving this book with a better understanding of the metamorphosis made by the latter between the two novels, published over half a century apart. Amasa Coleman ‘A.C.’ Lee was a genuinely affable man who married his sweetheart before the start of the Great War. With two of his children born in the years following his marriage, A.C. started a law practice and had one highly controversial case, where he defended an African American man accused of raping a white woman. With that came the call for lynchings, an event that brought all townsfolk out to watch, even as it disgusted A.C. The Lee family welcomed their third child, Nelle Harper, born significantly later than her next youngest sibling. Nelle would forever forge a close connection to her father, as Crespino elucidates throughout the text, when A.C. became a single involved parent soon thereafter. It was this relationship between A.C. and Nelle that created the strong connection seen in both of Harper Lee’s novels. A.C. left the practice of law and found pleasure in life running a weekly newspaper in Monroeville, in the heart of Alabama. He would present the news to the locals as he saw fit and provided his readers with a large stage on which to offer their grievances through Letters to the Editor. A.C. would also use this stage to compose editorials of his own, helping to shape the community with a well-rounded set of opinions. These opinions did vary from many of those around Alabama, but A.C. would not be deterred. While defending the rights of all, he did understand that there were differences between the races, though did not extol them as vehemently as some in Alabama or around the Southern states. However, as Nelle grew, she soon came to see that the community in which she was living had vastly different views from those of her father, which did force her to question much of what was going on. A.C. did his best to shape his youngest daughter’s ideas, but the world around them was also helpful in providing its own Southern Charm, particularly related to race relations. As A.C. and Nelle watched Alabama become more deeply divided, it turned them both away from the hope for equality and into a realm of realistic division. By the mid- to late-1950s, as Nelle prepared to leave Alabama for the bright lights of New York City, A.C. was firmly rooted in a divisive view of race relations. It was an acceptance of inequality or race differentiation. Crespino explores how A.C. joined groups committed to keeping whites in positions of superiority, but would not engage with KuKlux members, citing that violence was not the answer. Throughout the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, Alabama’s race clashes reached a fevered pitch, which surely influenced A.C. in his waning years. This would provide Nelle much fodder for her writing career, which started in an interesting manner, permitting one A.C. Lee to breathe life into the fictional Atticus Finch. Crespino explores Nelle (hereafter called by her author’s moniker, Harper) and her introduction into the world of writing through the most generous of Christmas gifts. Close friends of hers offered to give her a stipend equivalent to one year’s wages to allow her to write without distraction. Lee used her perch in New York to explore some of the happenings back in Monroeville and penned Go Set a Watchman in short order, which depicted one Jean Louise Finch returning from the North to take in what had become of her children Alabama home. When Harper Lee had the novel sent in for consideration, many found the story and the characters drab or too basic. Rejection letters abounded, but Lee did not let that stop her. Soon there were other short stories, sometimes penned in a brief time, which helped flesh out her key characters. A youthful Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch appeared, somewhat precocious and yet always seeking answers from her knowledgeable father, Atticus. It was only when Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird that she had publishers rushing to put it to print. Crespino notes that these publishers, located in New York City, rushed the printing as it was a book that Northerners could enjoy, with its criticism of Southern treatment of the African American population. Readers who are familiar with the book will know that Lee portrayed Alabama as strongly segregated and deeply divided, with the Finch family almost an island unto themselves. Atticus sought not only to stand alone around so many with strong opinions, but wanted to teach his children the importance of taking a moment to look at all perspectives before making any judgement. When Lee had the book published in 1960, it was a shock to the country (and the world) that such behaviour could be going on in the South, though its reception was not entirely joyous. Crespino explores the cinematic depiction of the book as well, with Gregory Peck as its lead. Peck utilised his own opinions to shape the Atticus character as a hero to his children and a villain to his fellow citizens, though few could expect much else. Atticus Finch in this regard is surely the A.C. Lee that Harper knew as a child, though it only told part of the story. Where things take an interesting turn throughout Crespino’s book is the exploration of Lee’s first novel, the forgotten Watchman. It was only in its publication that readers saw another side of Atticus Finch in his older age. Lee depicts Atticus as more racist and drawn towards the racial class system in America. Crespino argues that this Atticus, who likely alarms many readers in his gruffness, was the A.C. Lee of the mid- to late-50s, after leaving his editorial views behind. Atticus reflects more of the Alabama of the times in this novel, vastly different from the man who sought to defend an African American man accused of rape. While Northern audiences loved Mockingbird, Crespino argues that Harper Lee sought to publish Watchman, which was closer to her own personal views, as a primer for Northerners to see things from the perspective of Southern inhabitants, to offer a dose of the other side. This is likely why it was rejected at first and only published in 2015, even then as an unedited manuscript years after Harper Lee died. There is surely a strong Atticus parallel with the life of A.C. Lee found within its pages, but nowhere near as soft or warm-hearted. Without the ability to defend her position, many soured on Harper Lee as an author and could not understand why she would bastardise her beloved Atticus so much. It is the attentive reader of this biography that sees the metamorphosis over time, as A.C. Lee no longer tried to block out the Alabama influence that permeated his daily life. Perhaps Harper Lee simply sought to present her readers with a complete picture, though there was no bridge or middle-ground on which readers could accept the transition. Left with questions and outrage, many vilified the author from the grave. Atticus Finch, like all other men, was flesh and blood, influenced by his surroundings, as A.C. Lee tended to be. However, without the background understanding of how closely Atticus was to A.C. Lee, few readers will understand or want to hear the justifications. Not only was this a refreshing look at the life of Amasa Coleman Lee, but also a sobering snapshot of Harper Lee and her creation of Atticus Finch. For decades, Finch was seen as the personification of the moderate Southerner, whose views were neither radical nor browbeating. However, with the release of Watchman in 2015, much of the world turned against Finch (and by extension, Harper Lee). Joseph Crespino breathes new life into this debate by writing of the parallels between the fictitious Finch and A.C. Lee, which serves to help the reader better understand the significant change. Crespino relies not only on scores of historical texts and past Harper Lee biographies, but archived interviews to provide the reader with the mindset that Harper Lee had when writing these two novels and to explore the life and times of her father. It is likely difficult to model a fictional character after someone in real life, particularly if the author is close to that person, as the nuances of their character must (for some readers) be adequately substantiated to accept anything but the most loving of depictions on the page. Harper Lee, in all her wisdom, was not able to properly explain the latter depiction of Atticus Finch or show the general public the parallels between him and her own father. Crespino pulls back the curtain to offer that detailed analysis and may, fingers crossed, provide many readers with a better explanation as to why things got so intense when comparing the two pieces. Crespino has opened my eyes to much related to the Lee family, the writing of the two novels, and the influence that Alabama politics had on the metamorphosis of A.C. Lee and Atticus Finch. I will certainly have to revisit both novels and see some of the explanations that are made throughout this biography, especially now that I am armed with new information. I can only hope to have a better understanding and create my own bridge between the novels to justify things, something that Harper Lee never did. One question still simmers in my mind: had Watchman been published in 1957, would the general reaction to the book in the Northern part of America been such that we might never have seen Mockingbird in its print or film versions? And a follow-up: had Mockingbird not been published, how might the understanding of Southern race relations been depicted to the world? Kudos, Mr. Crespino, for making me think so very much about this and other topics of interest. I am eager to find some more of your work and understand the nuances of Southern race relations and the inside knowledge of key American personalities. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Silas House

    Very well researched, beautifully written, and nuanced look at the creation of one of the most beloved literary characters of all time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher --- Who was the real Atticus Finch? The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central in I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher --- Who was the real Atticus Finch? The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation? In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose that mocked his values, she revised the character in To Kill a Mockingbird to defend her father and to remind the South of its best traditions. A story of family and literature amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, Atticus Finch is essential to understanding Harper Lee, her novels, and her times. “To Set a Watchman” just blew away my heart when Atticus was revealed as a racist – I hope that this book would explain that storyline. Through reading about Harper Lee’s father, one can understand how Atticus took that journey. We also learn about Harper herself, in depth, that explains how her two novels came to be. I guess that I wanted to learn more about Atticus in depth: for that, I was disappointed but the fact that I now have so much more understanding and admiration for both of Harper’s novels speaks volumes: I guess that you can teach this old dog new tricks!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Excellent! Excellent! Readable and not boring! This is a must if you love Nelle Harper Lee’s writings. This book touches on a lot including Go Set a Watchman, To Kill a Mockingbird, the making of the movie, Lee’s personal life and racial tensions. This was really good! Come on my southern lit reader friends, pick this one up!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rama

    The Man Behind Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ This is the inspirational story of Atticus Finch, the father of author Harper Lee. Her celebrated work, “To Kill a Mockingbird’ narrates her life while growing up in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama and the racial practices of the rural south. This takes us back to 1936, when she was 10 years old and her father represented black defendants faced with criminal charges. The significant aspect of this story is that the intrigues are narrated w The Man Behind Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ This is the inspirational story of Atticus Finch, the father of author Harper Lee. Her celebrated work, “To Kill a Mockingbird’ narrates her life while growing up in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama and the racial practices of the rural south. This takes us back to 1936, when she was 10 years old and her father represented black defendants faced with criminal charges. The significant aspect of this story is that the intrigues are narrated with unflagging gusto of a ten-year-old girl; It is Lee’s unique style of artistic execution that so gripped the literary world. In this book, Emory University Professor Joseph Crespino revisits the story as the biographer of this acclaimed character and examines Finch’s life. It turns out that Atticus Finch was a product of his time and upbringing. The culture and prejudices in deep south impacted some of his thoughts, but remained steadfast in his beliefs in justice, fatherhood and civic responsibility for his community and country. Harper Lee’s second book “Go Set a Watchman” made sense of her father’s mental processes of his time. And his own consciousness and responsibilities for his daughters. But Gregory Peck’s outstanding performance in exceptionally well screen-written movie stuck in the minds of movie fans. In 2003 the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch, as portrayed in the movie as the greatest hero of American cinema. Readers like me saw the movie first and read Lee’s book later. But what is pivotal is that it stuck in the minds of people that Gregory Peck is the real Atticus Finch, and related Harper Lee’s story with the movie. In April 1963, Gregory Peck won the Academy Award in the Best Actor Category. And in the same month, Dr. Martin Luther King Wrote from Birmingham jail as how good intentioned white people involve themselves in the path of genuine racial dialogue and progress. He later admitted that Harper’s Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird” had a moral force in racial tolerance. President Barrack Obama in his farewell address, reminded us the advice given by Atticus to his daughter Harper Lee that “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.” Much of this book is focused on Atticus Finch, his inner thoughts and roots in rural south. Real-life comparisons with Lee's father, Amasa Coleman Lee (Atticus Finch) exists in the two differing versions in Harper Lee’s two books. Atticus was originally in favor of segregation but became more liberal later in life, changing his views to those of racial tolerance and human understanding. Tay Hohoff, Lee's editor At Lippincott is known to have played a significant role in the character development of the novel and particularly Atticus' liberal transformation. She re-wrote many passages to make it tender and touching in terms of human understanding. Harper Lee was also deeply affected by the well-known “Scottsboro Boys” criminal trial in 1931 when nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 19 were accused in Alabama of raping two white women. The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama; all but 12-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death. The defendants had been denied an impartial jury, fair trial, fair sentencing, and effective counsel. In Lee’s Mocking Bird, Finch takes a turn to his spiritual side. He handled highly controversial cases of defending black men in criminal trial, thus taking a stand against the established conventions. He despised mob-enforced rules, and denial of basic dignity of black population. He was deeply Inspired by his love of his children. Atticus Finch's defense of Tom Robinson has different endings in Lee’s two books. Tom Robinson was acquitted in “Go Set a Watchman” while in “To Kill a Mockingbird” his unjust conviction was shown because of prejudice among local population. This story was highlighted to show that Atticus was a righteous and progressive character. Atticus's patient teaching gives Scout (Harper Lee) a lesson; "get along better with all kinds of folks": she must remember to judge people on their intentions rather than their actions and put herself into the other person's shoes to understand them best. He talks to his daughter like she's an adult rather than a little girl. This part of the story is beautifully filmed in the movie and gives us a strong reason why Gregory Peck remained in the memory of so many fans of Lee’s literary work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    I won this book in a GoodReads Giveaway. The background details of the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman were very interesting. The book is a blend of history, biography, and social commentary which I found fascinating.

  7. 5 out of 5

    McKinsey Crozier

    It has been some time since I have loved a book the way I love this deep, analytical analysis of one of the most well-loved characters in American literature. Crespino answers the questions readers struggled with after the release of Go Set a Watchman, namely: How could a man seen as a moral guide be so tolerant (and even supportive) of a racist system? I finished this book with a greater understanding of Atticus, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee herself--but more importantly, a more nuance It has been some time since I have loved a book the way I love this deep, analytical analysis of one of the most well-loved characters in American literature. Crespino answers the questions readers struggled with after the release of Go Set a Watchman, namely: How could a man seen as a moral guide be so tolerant (and even supportive) of a racist system? I finished this book with a greater understanding of Atticus, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee herself--but more importantly, a more nuanced understanding of racism and how it continues in "good," "moral," and "upstanding" citizens in the south and across the country.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Using previously ignored sources, as well as countless additional resources, Joseph Crespino has produced a beautifully nuanced examination of the man that inspired Harper Lee's iconic Atticus Finch character, her father, A.C. Lee. Understanding Harper Lee's dual view of her father's personality lends itself to an infinitely better understanding of how the character, Atticus Finch, can be reconciled between Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird. Overall, the book is a must-read for those w Using previously ignored sources, as well as countless additional resources, Joseph Crespino has produced a beautifully nuanced examination of the man that inspired Harper Lee's iconic Atticus Finch character, her father, A.C. Lee. Understanding Harper Lee's dual view of her father's personality lends itself to an infinitely better understanding of how the character, Atticus Finch, can be reconciled between Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird. Overall, the book is a must-read for those wanting to gain greater insight into the characters in Harper Lee's novels. I would also recommend this to those wanting more information about the Jim Crow South years, racial tensions, and a look at how the viewpoint of a parent changes as children grow older and develop their own sense of right and wrong. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Perseus Books, for the galley of this book in exchange for an honest review

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    totally translates into trumpet notations--

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    The title is somewhat misleading; this is not a novel about the life of Atticus Finch. Rather, it’s an intriguing and well-thought literary history of this character. It’s also, but only in part, a biography of Harper Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee, a model for Atticus. It’s also a biography of Nelle Harper Lee herself, and her intellectual and literary growth, and her family’s life and times in 1950’s Alabama, and how her two novels developed. This book is vital because of the 2015 publi The title is somewhat misleading; this is not a novel about the life of Atticus Finch. Rather, it’s an intriguing and well-thought literary history of this character. It’s also, but only in part, a biography of Harper Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee, a model for Atticus. It’s also a biography of Nelle Harper Lee herself, and her intellectual and literary growth, and her family’s life and times in 1950’s Alabama, and how her two novels developed. This book is vital because of the 2015 publication of her earlier novel, Go Set a Watchman, written in 1955-57 and left unpublished then, sparked controversy with its depiction of an aging, crotchety, racist Atticus Finch. Given its dissonance with the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, and with the iconic Atticus of the 1962 movie, it needs explaining. This book does it. This book takes pains to examine the background and evolving history of Alabama. We find that A.C., and the Watchman Atticus, identified with the White Citizens’ Councils that organized in the early ‘50’s to resist desegregation, especially after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision. As she wrote her first novel through mid-decade, the Councils originally seemed to be a genteel alternative to the overt racism of the Klan and others. We learn that only after she finished Watchman in early 1957 that the full battle would come to Alabama, the polarization would escalate, the Councils would parallel the Klan and moderate white Southerners like A.C. would drift into irrelevance. Watchman’s limitations as literature aside, its setting was already dating badly, and moving the story to a simpler, remote time, the 1930s Alabama of Mockingbird, would make it more timeless, less morally ambiguous, we find. Watchman’s literary fate is simple enough. Ms. Lee shelved the book, or mined its flashbacks for the childhood story in Mockingbird. (We’re told that she and her childhood friend Truman Capote would use each other as characters, Dill in Mockingbird, Idabel in Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms). Her editors urged her to focus on the second novel, and once it was on the way to the editors in 1959, Capote would ask Ms. Lee to join her on a new literary project about a murder in Kansas, and her literary career would move on. The book examines Mockingbird’s transformation into the movie. Gregory Peck not only identified with Atticus, but we learn that he, and the producers, enlarged the character and subtly changed Atticus further. And, in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Why We Can't Wait, would discuss "the strength of moral force" and cite Atticus Finch by name. From then on, Atticus Finch would become something more than Harper Lee’s creation or father, but would belong to a larger audience, a larger culture. So, to finish the story, Atticus as a character had a long, complicated evolution, deeper than we had known before. The Atticus of Watchman turns out to have been a half-evolved character in a half-formed 1950’s manuscript, and is best left that way. This book’s value is that it deepens an iconic American character, and tells us much about its author’s life and times. This is perhaps the best context, and Atticus re-emerges here alongside her father, and we can appreciate the character we remember from the novel and movie. As Hollywood put it about another such character, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” An important literary history and author’s biography, and an illuminating, intriguing read. Highest recommendation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    SundayAtDusk

    In this biography/history book, author Joseph Crespino looks at the life of Harper Lee’s father, A. C. Lee, and tries to answer the question: Why was Atticus Finch, the fictional character based on her father, like a genuine Southern man in the first novel she wrote, a fabled man in the second novel, and an “American liberal” in the movie? It is without a doubt an intriguing question and read, that left me respecting To Kill a Mockingbird more than I did. I didn’t even read that book until after In this biography/history book, author Joseph Crespino looks at the life of Harper Lee’s father, A. C. Lee, and tries to answer the question: Why was Atticus Finch, the fictional character based on her father, like a genuine Southern man in the first novel she wrote, a fabled man in the second novel, and an “American liberal” in the movie? It is without a doubt an intriguing question and read, that left me respecting To Kill a Mockingbird more than I did. I didn’t even read that book until after I read Go Set a Watchman. It wasn’t required reading in any of my junior high or high school classes, and I don’t believe it would have had a major effect on me back then anyway. During that time period, which was the early ‘70s, there had already been much to read and much to see on television about race relations. (Not to mention everyday real life experiences, too.) It was all contemporary, not stuff from the ‘30s. I remember seeing parts of the movie at various times, though, while growing up, but never could continue watching it to the end. It was nothing but an old movie set in even older times, in my young mind. Joseph Crespino explains why To Kill a Mockingbird had to become a “fable”, as opposed to the more genuine story Harper Lee wanted to tell and did tell in Go Set a Watchman. The fable form was better storytelling, helped exposed dark, deep-rooted fears many would not admit to, and was safer for all real people involved who lived in the South or visited there. Personally, I thought Go Set a Watchman was much more honest and insightful, but it was certainly more poorly written than To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many young novelists writing their first novels, Harper Lee obviously had important messages she wanted her readers to get. In other words, at times, she did far more telling than showing. Or, as Dr. Crespino uniquely put it, she did far more ventriloquizing than dramatizing. When I read the idea that the story was turned into a fable, I immediately thought of Rod Serling. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Rod Serling wanted to get stories about controversial issues, like racism, broadcasted on television. His ideas were often rejected, however, because it was feared they would offend certain Americans in TV land, which would cause sponsors to go elsewhere. Hence, Mr. Serling eventually found an acceptable way to tell his stories. He turned them into fantasies and science fiction, and The Twilight Zone was born. In time, it would become legendary, too, just like To Kill a Mockingbird, both novel and movie. One imagines if Rod Serling had been allowed to tell the stories how he wanted to in the first place, the stories he told might have had a big impact at the time, but would have eventually been long forgotten because times changed. Would it not have been the same situation if Go Set a Watchman was published in 1960, instead of To Kill a Mockingbird? Messages and mere mortals are often forgotten, but fabled stories and fabled characters are not. (Note: I received a free ARC of this book from Amazon Vine.)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alison Law

    Listen to my interview with Joseph Crespino about Atticus Finch: The Biography on Episode 38 of the Literary Atlanta podcast.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Crespino deftly parallels the character of Atticus Finch with Harper Lee's father in this study of a man and his times. In her first novel, Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee could not convince the publishing world of the juxtaposition of a people who believed in segregation but despised the Klan. A product of the south in the sixties and seventies, I know from experience this phenomenon was as real as the heavy, humid air of a Carolina summer. So, Lee rewrote the novel through the eyes of a child, a Crespino deftly parallels the character of Atticus Finch with Harper Lee's father in this study of a man and his times. In her first novel, Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee could not convince the publishing world of the juxtaposition of a people who believed in segregation but despised the Klan. A product of the south in the sixties and seventies, I know from experience this phenomenon was as real as the heavy, humid air of a Carolina summer. So, Lee rewrote the novel through the eyes of a child, and this is the Atticus Finch the world immortalized. In fact, the inclusion of the word "biography" in the title of this work references the idea that some people equate Atticus Finch with a real man. Crespino brings readers to the realization that the Jim Crow era was a time so fraught with dirty politics and complex passions that we should not succumb to the fantasy of a world without gray areas or where one man is all good.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Don

    I make every effort to avoid overused phrases when I write which is the reason I thought I would never type the following: "I couldn't put this book down." In this instance, however, it's the God's honest truth. I started it at midnight last night and finished it at noon today; (I took a break to sleep, but the moment I woke up, I went right back to it.) It deserves more attention and I will definitely return to it for careful study, but I decided to review it now since people are probably most likely I make every effort to avoid overused phrases when I write which is the reason I thought I would never type the following: "I couldn't put this book down." In this instance, however, it's the God's honest truth. I started it at midnight last night and finished it at noon today; (I took a break to sleep, but the moment I woke up, I went right back to it.) It deserves more attention and I will definitely return to it for careful study, but I decided to review it now since people are probably most likely to read it right after it has been published. Anyone who knows me is well aware that, even though it sounds crazy, I definitely have a favorite book and that book is Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Unlike most people, I didn't encounter it in high school; in fact, I don't know exactly when I first read it. I do know that I have reread it many, many times since and each time, I find new riches in its pages. Most of you will probably recall that in 2015, another book by Harper Lee, GO SET A WATCHMAN, was published and caused a great deal of controversy. WATCHMAN is not a sequel to MOCKINGBIRD, though I've heard people say that it is. Although it has most of the same characters and takes place twenty years later, it was written first and was never intended for publication. Many MOCKINGBIRD fans chose not to read WATCHMAN, but curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give it a try. My feelings about WATCHMAN are complex and my view of the book has changed over time. When I first read it, I thought it was absolutely remarkable. Or at least that's what I thought I thought. Over time, I started to wonder why I had such a strong positive reaction to it, especially since I was extremely disturbed by the completely different picture it presented of Atticus Finch. I came to the conclusion that my initial reading experience had more to do with my love of MOCKINGBIRD than with GO SET A WATCHMAN. Being able to spend more time with those beloved characters as they confronted new situations was a gift I cherished. Also, although the book is flawed, (it's a draft after all), it certainly ignited my brain. I could hardly sleep during the week in which I read it because so many ideas were running through my head. How could both portrayals of Atticus Finch exist together? Why did harper Lee portray Atticus as such a racist in her first book and then decide to change that portrayal in her later work? If Atticus Finch were a real person, could the portrayals in both books have co-existed? (I ultimately decided that they probably could which I found quite disturbing.) Crespino explores these questions and many more in his new book. He begins with a portrait of Harper Lee's father, A. C. Lee, who was the model for Atticus Finch. Mr. Lee published a local newspaper and wrote many editorials over his long career. His topics ranged from local events to world affairs and, taken as a whole, they provide a window into how he thought and what shaped his world. Crespino uses them along with his extensive knowledge and deep understanding of the South at the time at which Lee wrote to provide background to support his analysis of both books. He also delves into her relationship with her father and shows how that relationship may have influenced the portrayals. It is fascinating to learn more about how MOCKINGBIRD was received by various people with differing political viewpoints. He reminds the reader that Martin Luther King Jr. speaks favorably of Atticus Finch in his book WHY WE CAN'T WAIT and that President Obama quoted from MOCKINGBIRD in his inaugural address. Crespino's analysis of the legacy of the book is nuanced and intriguing. Professor Crespino spends a lot of time discussing the portrayal of Atticus Finch in both books. The connection between these portrayals and Harper lee's relationship with her father is intriguing. Crespino reminds us that in MOCKINGBIRD, we see Atticus through the eyes of a child who idealizes him and worships the ground on which he walks. He also points out that the motivation behind writing the books was quite different. (It occurred to me as I read that one reason WATCHMAN lacks the punch of MOCKINGBIRD may be that Lee got so caught up in her relationship with her father that she forgot that the character needs to serve the novel.) Many people love the 1962 film adaptation of MOCKINGBIRD which stars Gregory Peck. I like the movie a lot, but I find the book to be a million times better. Crespino's discussion of the film helped me to understand why I have that reaction. This is well researched and extremely readable. I hope this is the first of many offerings by this author. If you love MOCKINGBIRD or if you are fascinated by the craft of writing, you owe it to yourself to read this remarkable book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. Countless young adults, coming of age when it was published in 1960, chose to become attorneys because of the character of Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck in the movie based on Lee’s fictional account of her life growing up in Alabama. Adding to the aura of MOCKINGBIRD was Lee’s post-publication decision to live her life outside the public eye and to never write another book. Not until shortly Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. Countless young adults, coming of age when it was published in 1960, chose to become attorneys because of the character of Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck in the movie based on Lee’s fictional account of her life growing up in Alabama. Adding to the aura of MOCKINGBIRD was Lee’s post-publication decision to live her life outside the public eye and to never write another book. Not until shortly before her death would a second novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN, be published. Shrouded in controversy and mystery, readers and reviewers were divided regarding WATCHMAN. Questions abounded, with the central debate raging over whether or not the portrayal of Atticus as a southern racist was inspired by the real Atticus Finch, Lee’s father. In the first decades of the 21st century, there were many attempts to break through the mysteries of Lee’s life. Several unauthorized biographies released, and even those that had her cooperation became shrouded in controversy because her estate objected to some of the portrayals. Recently, an attempt to adapt MOCKINGBIRD to a new play resulted in litigation from her estate and a court settlement that will allow the show to open in New York later this year. Joseph Crespino’s ATTICUS FINCH: THE BIOGRAPHY is a different take on the entire Harper Lee oeuvre. Rather than gossip, it is the work of a scholar of the American South. Crespino has written a biography of Strom Thurmond, as well as historical studies of southern culture during the years portrayed in MOCKINGBIRD and WATCHMAN. He brings a more scholarly and intellectual approach to a biography of A. C. Lee and Harper Lee that attempts to place their lives in the southern era that encompassed the racial revolution occurring in post-World War II America. Roughly one-third of this 200-page book is devoted to the life of Amasa Coleman Lee. Crespino is a historian and scholar, and employs resource material previously unused by other biographers. They include letters from Lee’s publisher and the hundreds of editorials A. C. Lee wrote during his tenure as editor of The Monroe Journal, where he commented on a vast range of subjects covering state, national and even international issues. A. C. Lee was deeply engaged in the important events of his time. He had a sense of civic responsibility and a belief that the problems of America were also the problems of his tiny hometown. He was a devout Methodist and pillar of his community who would be elected to local and state offices. His formal education ended after eighth grade, but after working for one year in a law office, he read and studied for the Alabama bar exam and was admitted to the bar in 1915. Crespino concludes that while A. C. Lee was partially a model for the fictional Atticus Finch, he also was a man whose political views differed from those of his daughter. The remainder of Crespino’s study is a scholarly discussion of Lee’s novels in the context of the racially evolving South. Crespino accepts the view that WATCHMAN was a first manuscript of what ultimately would be published as MOCKINGBIRD. From the original drafts to the conclusion of these books, events occurring in Southern states, now facing court-ordered integration of schools and other public facilities, changed Lee’s opinion of her beloved South as well as that of her own father. The Atticus Finch depicted in MOCKINGBIRD was partially the man she knew, but also the man she wished he could have been. Crespino notes changes in the two manuscripts that support an evolving view from Lee. It is a remarkable study of how MOCKINGBIRD changed and why those arguing that WATCHMAN never should have been published seem to have the better argument. There have been many efforts to examine the private life of Harper Lee and the novel that made her so famous. Each have flaws that hamper the literary case they make. Crespino’s scholarly and well-written history leaps to the top of the books you should read if you are a TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD devotee. Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman

  16. 4 out of 5

    Will A

    A very useful contextualization, with reference to Harper Lee's own life, her father, and the historical circumstances, of the character of Atticus Finch as depicted in both "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Go Set A Watchman". The book goes some way to elucidating the complicated question whether the racist views he utters in "Watchman" are also to be imputed to him in "Mockingbird". My conclusion is that by scrapping her novel set in the early civil rights era, in which the Jean Louise of "Watchman A very useful contextualization, with reference to Harper Lee's own life, her father, and the historical circumstances, of the character of Atticus Finch as depicted in both "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Go Set A Watchman". The book goes some way to elucidating the complicated question whether the racist views he utters in "Watchman" are also to be imputed to him in "Mockingbird". My conclusion is that by scrapping her novel set in the early civil rights era, in which the Jean Louise of "Watchman" is set straight as to Atticus' need to join the Citizens Council so as to prevent more extremist leaders raising havoc, and writing a second novel set in the thirties, Lee was perhaps giving herself a cop-out. The Atticus of "Mockingbird" does not have to deal with the challenge of black demands for full social equality nor Lee declare her hand in the politics of her present day. Atticus is presented as a man of integrity who treats everybody as worthy of respect, Tom Robinson as entitled to a fair trial, but he does not have to state his position on school integration. At the same time, his character is almost entirely stripped of racism. Almost: in his climactic speech he says: "One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious..." Although I included enough of the quotation to show that Atticus is not speaking in an explicitly racist way, what else can the reader take implicitly from the line about Yankees hurling in Southern faces the words "all men are created equal", other than that Atticus objects to Northern criticism of segregation? The Atticus of "Mockingbird" may well be similarly to the Atticus of "Watchman" in believing to some extent in the necessity, whether permanent or for reasons of political practicality, of segregation. Lee is able to depict him as a moral hero facing what is indeed a potentially serious threat from the white people around him who don't like his advocacy for the defendant, but at the same time she let him duck the issues of the day, when not just personal behavior but the system as a whole was at stake. It's hard not to think, when Lee placed this statement at the critical moment of the novel, that she was not telling us that one can be both a good person of integrity, and an opponent of racial liberalism: not perhaps the message her book ended up communicating.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    This is a terrific work. It's a combined biography of A.C. Lee and Nelle Harper Lee, history of Alabama in the late 19th-mid-20th C (with an emphasis on Monroeville and Monroe County), and cultural impact of the book and film (again, with an emphasis on its reception in Alabama). The biographical work is mostly focused on A.C. Lee--Harper's Lee father and the widely-perceived model for Atticus Finch. But Crespino is interested in exploring and explaining Atticus' evolution from Go Set a Watchman This is a terrific work. It's a combined biography of A.C. Lee and Nelle Harper Lee, history of Alabama in the late 19th-mid-20th C (with an emphasis on Monroeville and Monroe County), and cultural impact of the book and film (again, with an emphasis on its reception in Alabama). The biographical work is mostly focused on A.C. Lee--Harper's Lee father and the widely-perceived model for Atticus Finch. But Crespino is interested in exploring and explaining Atticus' evolution from Go Set a Watchman (written first, chronologically set about 15 years later, and published over 50 years later) to To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven't read Go Set a Watchman, but have read a lot about it in this book, as well as Why to Kill a Mockingbird Matters. In it, a 26-yo Jean Louise Finch returns to Maycomb (Monroeville) in the 1950s, to discover that her beloved father, Atticus, is a member of the local Citizen's Council ("CC"), which is resisting desegregation. In a series of conversations, Jean Louise is persuaded that her father is a conservative who is nonetheless a decent and honorable man. This development mirrors A.C. Lee's history, who supported FDR's New Deal in the early 1930s, and did (successfully) defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, but became more reactionary as the Civil Rights Movement developed (though never a member of the Klan, he did join the Monroeville Citizen's Council). It is the inherent tension of the Civil Rights South--white Southerners who didn't agree with the KKK but were still paternalistic racists who didn't think blacks were sufficiently "advanced" to participate in civic life on an equal basis. Were they still racists? Were they as bad as the KKK? Harper Lee didn't think so, but Crespino closes his history by focusing on Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he points out how pernicious were the actions of the white "moderates." More than anything, Crespino gets at Harper Lee's internal conflict about her father and her hometown--she loved the man and the small town, hated the racial prejudices, and, in her own way, attempted to reconcile them. I don't envy Lee's struggle; I don't know how I would reconcile learning something about my beloved father that contradicted my understanding of him. Crespino is a compelling writer, and he does a great job of exploring A.C. and Nelle Harper's lives against the social and legal developments of their times, while also looking at how To Kill a Mockingbird's depiction of Atticus was modified from page to screen. I found this book enlightening and an excellent read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary Lou

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Atticus Finch The Biography is a wonderful book that explains clearly how Harper Lee created an iconic American hero based on her father despite his racial prejudices. If you read Go Tell a Watchman, recognized it's validity, and wondered how to fully reconcile that version of Atticus Finch with the man in To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Crespino has the answers for you: "The most straightforward explanation for the altered view of Atticus is that it was dictated by Lee's change in narrative voice Atticus Finch The Biography is a wonderful book that explains clearly how Harper Lee created an iconic American hero based on her father despite his racial prejudices. If you read Go Tell a Watchman, recognized it's validity, and wondered how to fully reconcile that version of Atticus Finch with the man in To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Crespino has the answers for you: "The most straightforward explanation for the altered view of Atticus is that it was dictated by Lee's change in narrative voice and temporal setting. In Mockingbird, readers see Atticus through the eyes of Scout, and so through the limited experience, knowledge, and perspective of a child. He notes that since the famous novel begins and ends with an adult Scout telling the story, Lee could have inserted "some reflective qualifying comment about the limits of Atticus's example" but "That, however, could have unraveled Mockingbird entirely" (103-4). And, Crespino points out, "Perhaps Lee was able to write the Atticus of Mockingbird only after having written the Atticus of Watchman" (105), when she had realized as she has Uncle Jack say in Watchman "[Y]ou confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man's heart, and a man's failings. ... You were an emotional cripple, learning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers" (105). "The DISUNITED WHITE south. That was the side that Harper Lee and her people were on. It was to them that she had written a novel that would eventually be read and celebrated around the world as a timeless expression of universal values of moral courage, tolerance, and understanding. Yet through that process, and shaped, too, by the shifting politics of the day, she stumbled upon a simpler narrative: a father, inspired by his love and hope for his children, doing the right thing in a time crisis. In that story, Atticus rose to the occasion. At the moment when it really mattered, he was his best self" (172-3). An unwritten third novel, a bridge between Mockingbird and Watchman is mentioned by Lee in a letter to close friends with whom she shares her writing, but that book was never written. Crespino ends his writing with references to the pressure Lee felt because of the success of Mockingbird and the money that came with her success, and quotes her as telling young writers, that writing is "the one form of art and endeavor that you cannot do for an audience" (184).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Berto

    This was a very frustrating book to read. And I really wanted to love it more than I did. But I didn’t hate it. I think what it suffered from most was a bit of an identity crisis. Part biography of Harper Lee, part speculative biography of Atticus Finch, and part primer on the history of racial tension in the South - the transitions between themes made it a bit awkward. I found the information on Lee and her family interesting, but once I started getting into a flow of reading about it there woul This was a very frustrating book to read. And I really wanted to love it more than I did. But I didn’t hate it. I think what it suffered from most was a bit of an identity crisis. Part biography of Harper Lee, part speculative biography of Atticus Finch, and part primer on the history of racial tension in the South - the transitions between themes made it a bit awkward. I found the information on Lee and her family interesting, but once I started getting into a flow of reading about it there would be a whole section on southern politicians who honestly only seemed loosely related to the main point of the book. Another frustration was the lack of concrete fact about Harper Lee’s thoughts and methods. She was an incredibly private person and seems to have never authorized a biography or given interviews after 1964 so much of the detective work that has gone into tracing her inspirations is merely speculation. While this is really not the fault of the writer it still causes frustration. The history of racial tension in the south that the book contains is very interesting and well researched, and should probably be a separate book all on its own. I appreciated the background information but for a book about Atticus I was disappointed that a whole quarter of the book was more about southern politics. The analysis of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird vs Atticus in Go Set a Watchman is very intriguing and I appreciated it greatly since I was one of the few readers that didn’t hate Watchman - but it didn’t need to take up a full book, it would have made a fine essay. So all in all the book is interesting but nothing particularly special. It feels very much cobbler together, as if there really isn’t much more that can be said of Atticus Finch and Harper Lee than the world already understands so it needed the historical asides to fill in space to make it a full length book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marianne Evans

    I didn’t want to read this book; born and raised in Alabama I’m tired of thinking about it. But, this author grabbed my attention, as well as broke my heart, by showing me brutal, vicious, mob punishments inflicted by Christian Bible Belt white men against the mild sins of some black men. Furthermore this author reads me articles directly from Mr. Lee’s newspaper, which were surprisingly global and sophisticated in thought and ideas. He reminded of characters such as Millsap, Big Jim, Heflin, Wa I didn’t want to read this book; born and raised in Alabama I’m tired of thinking about it. But, this author grabbed my attention, as well as broke my heart, by showing me brutal, vicious, mob punishments inflicted by Christian Bible Belt white men against the mild sins of some black men. Furthermore this author reads me articles directly from Mr. Lee’s newspaper, which were surprisingly global and sophisticated in thought and ideas. He reminded of characters such as Millsap, Big Jim, Heflin, Wallace and Whatley; familiar places, like Huntingdon College, Vanity Fair Outlet and Tuskegee. Nelle was an extension of A.C.; a branch growing from a stable old tree. I’m thankful for the old concept of conservatism that A.C. demonstrated and of which I grew up as. “Being conservative meant that you didn’t spend money that you didn’t have, you didn’t wear flashy clothes or buy expensive cars, you didn’t show off, or brag, or gossip, you weren’t lazy, you didn’t say one thing in town and something else at home. And you were polite, particularly to those less fortunate than you.” Joseph Crespino

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I was excited to read this one, being from the south myself, and it being written by a southern writer ABOUT a southern writer. And, I did find it enlightening and informative of Atticus and his inspirational doppelgänger AC Lee, Harper Lee’s father. I gave it 4 stars because it is EXTREMELY well researched and clearly and concisely written. However, it read like an extended dissertation, and unless you are interested (and I mean significantly) in Alabama/national politics surrounding racial iss I was excited to read this one, being from the south myself, and it being written by a southern writer ABOUT a southern writer. And, I did find it enlightening and informative of Atticus and his inspirational doppelgänger AC Lee, Harper Lee’s father. I gave it 4 stars because it is EXTREMELY well researched and clearly and concisely written. However, it read like an extended dissertation, and unless you are interested (and I mean significantly) in Alabama/national politics surrounding racial issues of the 30-50s, this is not the book for you. I understand you cannot appreciate “Watchman” or “Mockingbird” without also understanding the racial climate of the period, especially Atticus’ character, who is so integrated with the issues of the day (and with Lee’s father in real life), but personally, it was a bit too lengthy in the off shoots regarding the political history (even though it’s merely 184 pages). Knowledgeable, serious, thoughtful, informative, accurate, historical.... yes to all.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    A.C. Lee, Harper Lee’s father, was a lawyer and newspaperman and the inspiration for Atticus Finch, her now legendary character in her two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. This intelligent and perceptive biography explores not only A.C. Lee himself but is also an informed and illuminating portrait of the society that formed him, and to a certain degree, Harper Lee herself. The differences between how she portrayed him in Mockingbird and Watchman are explicated here and provid A.C. Lee, Harper Lee’s father, was a lawyer and newspaperman and the inspiration for Atticus Finch, her now legendary character in her two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. This intelligent and perceptive biography explores not only A.C. Lee himself but is also an informed and illuminating portrait of the society that formed him, and to a certain degree, Harper Lee herself. The differences between how she portrayed him in Mockingbird and Watchman are explicated here and provide a fascinating insight not just into Lee’s character but also the world he lived in, the Jim Crow South, and his attitudes to race and intolerance. This is an interesting book on many levels – the biography itself, of course, but it’s also a well-researched study of contemporary publishing and the film industry, the civil rights movement, and the family’s personal history. There’s much to enjoy and discover here and I found it a fascinating and intriguing read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    3.5 All 20th c Southern history is uncomfortable for "enlightened" southerners. I refused to read Watchman because I loved Mockingbird so much, and this book reinforces that decision for me. This was a really thoughtfully written piece of popular history, divided roughly into thirds- the Watchman Atticus and the Lee Family, the Mockingbird Atticus and the Lee family, and the movie Atticus and Harper Lee's career. The real civil rights movement, from Jim Crow to the Freedom Riders swirls around it 3.5 All 20th c Southern history is uncomfortable for "enlightened" southerners. I refused to read Watchman because I loved Mockingbird so much, and this book reinforces that decision for me. This was a really thoughtfully written piece of popular history, divided roughly into thirds- the Watchman Atticus and the Lee Family, the Mockingbird Atticus and the Lee family, and the movie Atticus and Harper Lee's career. The real civil rights movement, from Jim Crow to the Freedom Riders swirls around it. Not an entertaining book, but worth reading. It took me a while to get through it because it's pretty serious. Not dry, but it took some time to digest. FWIW, I know the author by association (I knew his wife well) and I always hesitate to read books by authors I have a personal connection to. I'm glad I picked this up.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. To Kill a Mockingbird has been my favorite book of all time since the first time I read it, my sophomore year in high school. When I was a junior, I wrote an end-of-term paper about the book and its themes. I did a large amount of research for that paper, and I really wish this book had existed back then, because it is far more informative and far more easily readable than anything else I found back then. Besides being a great source of hist I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. To Kill a Mockingbird has been my favorite book of all time since the first time I read it, my sophomore year in high school. When I was a junior, I wrote an end-of-term paper about the book and its themes. I did a large amount of research for that paper, and I really wish this book had existed back then, because it is far more informative and far more easily readable than anything else I found back then. Besides being a great source of historical fact, it also gives wonderful insight into Harper Lee's life experiences and how she drew from them to write both of her novels. I also found myself thinking about the political climate in the 1950s and 1960s as it compares to today as I was reading, and while I wasn't happy with all the similarities I found, it definitely made me think about my own life in a different context.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    This was a fascinating look at Harper Lee's creation and evolution of Atticus Finch. I'd already read a biography of Lee, so the first half with its description of her personal influences, mostly her father, was not as interesting to me. But the book really got good as it described how the "decent" yet racist Atticus of "Go Set a Watchman" turned into the flawed hero of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the outright idol of the movie version. The author places that evolution against the backdrop of hi This was a fascinating look at Harper Lee's creation and evolution of Atticus Finch. I'd already read a biography of Lee, so the first half with its description of her personal influences, mostly her father, was not as interesting to me. But the book really got good as it described how the "decent" yet racist Atticus of "Go Set a Watchman" turned into the flawed hero of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the outright idol of the movie version. The author places that evolution against the backdrop of history, as subtle, paternal racism became overt, militant racism in the early 1960s as black people attained more civil rights and politicians sought to exploit white fear. That last bit makes it highly relevant to today.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

    A genuinely fascinating dive into one of the most iconic characters in American literature, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Harper Lee and her relationship to her father, AC Lee, who was the model for Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. With how important a work TKAM has been since its publication, it was great to get a real look at how the character of Atticus came together, and the real world influences that helped Lee to construct him in the first place. It's a fast-pac A genuinely fascinating dive into one of the most iconic characters in American literature, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Harper Lee and her relationship to her father, AC Lee, who was the model for Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. With how important a work TKAM has been since its publication, it was great to get a real look at how the character of Atticus came together, and the real world influences that helped Lee to construct him in the first place. It's a fast-paced read, and one that will make you want to revisit the novel that inspired it as soon as you put it down.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    The background on one of America's most iconic characters drew me to this book. I appreciated Crespino's research into AC Lee life, his upbringing, and work life both as an attorney and newspaper editor. AC Lee is the inspiration for Atticus. I now have a new understanding of "Go Set a Watchman" and how that work became to be, the people and situations who may have inspirited the story. I know many people were disappointed in the novel and the portrayal of Atticus and life in Maycomb. For "To Ki The background on one of America's most iconic characters drew me to this book. I appreciated Crespino's research into AC Lee life, his upbringing, and work life both as an attorney and newspaper editor. AC Lee is the inspiration for Atticus. I now have a new understanding of "Go Set a Watchman" and how that work became to be, the people and situations who may have inspirited the story. I know many people were disappointed in the novel and the portrayal of Atticus and life in Maycomb. For "To Kill a Mockingbird" fans this biography on Atticus is a fascinating read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Renberg

    Interesting read. Much to learn about Harper Lee's father. Lots of cross referencing between TKaM and GSaW that added to the analysis. Crespino does a great job tying the novel and the movie culturally to the rise of Wallace in Alabama and national politics as well as Dr. King 's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I leave the book knowing more about a favorite novel and the history that influenced its creation.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Ronn

    Atticus was a man if his time. Hollywood made him into a saint. The real Atticus, Harper’s father, was more moderate than his KKK neighbors, but hardly Gregory Peck’s character. Interesting insights to AC Lee and Harper Lee’s relationship, and the racist politics of Alabama. It’s not hard to see Jeff Sessions in AC Lee as a man of “peculiar” principles surrounded by racists whose biggest fear is - to this day - Blacks getting to vote.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hughes

    A truly fascinating journey through the segregation era south and the personal journey of Harper Lee as she created the iconic American literary character of Atticus Finch. Tracing from historical events and a good deal of biographical information about her own father A.C. Lee, the book gives an insightful glance into the development of Atticus in Mockingbird, Watchman, and in the film of Mockingbird. It is a definite must read for fans of To Kill A Mockingbird.

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