A while back we finished the James Buchanan volume in The American Presidents series from Time / Henry Holt. What an evil little prick Buchanan was! No wonder he's held the title of the Worst President until the present OhOh resident knocked him down to second place. He has all the worst traits of a combination of every rotten national stage politician you can think o -- such as Lieberman, Bush, Thurman, Calhoun -- without a single redeeming value. This little lawyer punk (who, alas for gays, was also clearly a submissive gay male) luuuuuuuuuuuuved the big Southern plantation slaveholders, and fought against his own party at every turn to give the slaveholders, against every law and treaty, what they wanted. He was the reason for Bloody Kansas, and by the end of his term, the Civil War. Yes, he was also corrupt, as well as a pontificating blowhard. Even his own state hated him, during his tenure in the OhOh.
Last week we started the Ulysses S. Grant volume. Since this series' focus is upon the presidencies, Grant's career as the Commander General of the Armies for the Union, and how he came to fill that position, is sketched in, with few details. We've reached the point where Lee has surrendered, the war is finished, Lincoln assassinated (the Boothe plot evidently included Grant and other key figures, but only the Lincoln assassination was successful) and Johnson is about to undergo impeachment, because his own party, like Buchanan's did, hate him so much -- because he was 1) a rabid hater of the former slaves and tried to block every move to help them move into a non-slave life, and he was an equal hater of the former big plantation owners of slaves and wanted them stripped of everything, whereas his opponents wanted to move on and be one big happy national family again, kumbya ya all. In the meantime, Grant is doing his best to carry out Lincoln's mandates, which include bringing the former slaves into the fold of voting citizenship. Grant believes it is his duty, a duty he owes still to the man who was his Commander-in-Chief. I appreciate that the author includes the telling detail that Grant was such a splendid horseman that at West Point he was number one, outriding even the vaunted scions of the Southern slaveholding aristocracy.
These books are excellent introductions to the individual each one covers, and to the period in which that individual acted upon the national stage. They're particularly good for president you know nothing about, like, in our case, Buchanan. Once you've read about a president in this series, you are prepped to do more reading because you've received the broad outline. They are also easy reading, written in popular, narrative style, not academic. They are excellent to read aloud, or to listen to if they were / are ? available as audio books.
I haven't been watching much television, meaning in my case, dvds, lately, though last night I did see the unique Marlowe noir, The Lady in the Lake, directed by and starring as Marlowe, Robert Montgomery. It's a good addition to your list of unexpected Christmas movies. Its cinemagraphic manner is unusual -- it's that 'subjective' camera style. You hardly ever see Marlowe / Montgomery on screen, except as a shadow, or in the mirror, or when he addresses you, the audience, directly as a -- writer of hardboiled detective fiction. Marlowe's narration alternates with long addresses by other characters or with mannered dialog with the unseen Marlowe. In contrast to the more modernist cinematography of the subjective camera, the sound of the movie is like a radio play. The women run through series of poses and projections that are from theater stage eras that are much earlier than the year of 1946 when this movie was released. It's a peculiar mixture of periods and techniques and forms then, which provides interest to what already in 1946 had become a generic staple.