On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Modern Library publishes Shelby Foote’s three-volume masterpiece in a new boxed set including three hardcovers and a new trade paperback, American Homer: Reflections on Shelby Foote and His Classic Civil War: A Narrative, edited by and with an introduction from Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and including essays by Michael Beschloss, Ken Burns, Annette Gordon-Reed, and others.
Random House publisher Bennett Cerf commissioned southern novelist Shelby Foote to write a short, one-volume history of the American Civil War. Thirty years and a million and a half words later—every word having been written out longhand with nib pens dipped into ink—Foote published the third and final volume of what has become the classic narrative of that epic war.
As he approached the end of the final volume, Foote recounted this scene in a letter to his friend, the novelist Walker Percy: “I killed Lincoln last week—Saturday, at noon. While I was doing it (he had his chest arched up, holding his last breath to let it out) some halfassed doctor came to the door with vols I and II under his arm, wanting me to autograph them for his son for Xmas. I was in such a state of shock, I not only let him in; I even signed the goddam books, a thing I seldom do. Then I turned back and killed him and had Stanton say, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ A strange feeling, though. I have another 70-odd pages to go, and I have a fear they’ll be like Hamlet with Hamlet left out. Christ, what a man. It’s been a great thing getting to know him as he was, rather than as he has come to be—a sort of TV image of himself, with a ghost alongside.”
When Percy read the final book, he wrote to Foote: “It’s a noble work. I’m still staggered by the size of the achievement. . . . It is The Iliad.”
A selection of these letters,...
Shelby Foote was born in Greenville, Mississippi, and attended school there until he entered the University of North Carolina. During World War II he served in the European theater as a captain of field artillery. In the period since the war, he wrote five novels: Tournament, Follow Me Down, Love in a Dry Season, Shiloh, Jordan County, and September, September. He was awarded three Guggenheim fellowships.
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