Atticus Finch: The Biography (Hardcover)
It has been nearly three years since the publication of Harper Lee’s once long-dormant first novel, Go Set a Watchman, and its surrounding controversy in relation to its successor, To Kill a Mockingbird, the most beloved novel of modern American literature. Both books, says Crespino, “became a kind of Rorschach test for the politics of race in the period that they were published.” Three years is time enough for the issue to have dissipated somewhat, and also time for historian Joseph Crespino to complete research on Harper Lee’s central character, “…the orienting figure of both novels, that touchstone of decency and goodness itself, Atticus Finch,” who was based on Lee's father. Crespino’s previous books on Southern politics and race, combined with his discovery of much unused or unknown research material, bring tremendous scholarship and insight to our understanding of Harper Lee and Atticus Finch.— From Richard's 2018 Picks
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.
available correspondence, [Crespino] examines hundreds of editorials in which
A.C. expressed opinions on local and national issues to offer a nuanced
portrait of a man of 'paternalistic sensibilities.' ... An informed look at
Southern history refracted through the lens of fiction."
"A thoughtful, fascinating study offering fresh revelations and insights about To Kill a Mockingbird.... Atticus Finch is a valuable new key to the mystery that is Ms. Lee."—Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning authorof Carry Me Home
Crespino's beautiful study of Atticus Finch, in fact and fiction, also brings
to life a writer, her father, and an entire people--all caught in history's
clenches. It is an impressive achievement, from start to finish."
brilliantly researched and beautifully written work, Joe Crespino explores the
fictions of Atticus Finch to expose the facts about white southerners in the
age of Jim Crow."
"To Kill a Mockingbird was a publishing sensation in its day, a staple of school reading lists for decades, and an enduring lens for understanding the politics of civil rights. Joe Crespino's smart and highly readable 'biography' of Atticus Finch gives us the story behind the story, from Harper Lee's family history to her emergence as a writer to her later fame. In so doing, he recaptures the lost diversity and complexity of thought and the perspectives about race and integration not just in midcentury America but within the white South itself."—David Greenberg, author of Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency