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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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JFK's Pulitzer



1957_0517_kennedy Times book critic Robert R. Kirsch is less than impressed with the Pulitzer awarded to Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) for "Profiles in Courage, calling it "a rather astonishing choice."

"Courage" was an interesting book and well worth reading, Kirsch said. "But the Pulitzer Prize? What were the judges doing? Where were they when Bruce Catton's 'This Hallowed Ground' was published?"

"There was no more scholarship in Sen. Kennedy's book than one would find in a memorandum researched by one of his assistants or by a harried clerk in the Library of Congress. There was no more style than an editorial writer achieves on a dull day. Perhaps the judges were bemused by the sight of a senator writing a book and decided to award an A for effort."


In college, which was the last time I delved into Catton's civil war histories, I found them absolutely unreadable: thick volumes of impenetrable prose.  And Kirsch failed to mention that Catton had already received a Pulitzer for "A Stillness at Appomattox." Don't take my word for it: Read the opening of "Hallowed Ground" courtesy of

Now let's have some fun and see Kirsch had anything to say about, oh, how about Richard Nixon's 1962 book "My Six Crises"?

Hm. For some reason the review was turned over to veteran Times book critic Marvin Seid. His verdict: "Six Crises" is a story told by an unapologetic partisan; it will not, of course, please everyone. But here is a story no one else could tell. Few who read it will be able to deny that the Nixon who emerges from its pages is a man of dedication, intelligence, political skill and--above all--guts."

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Comments (2)

Harnisch on Catton: “absolutely unreadable: thick volumes of impenetrable prose”.

I beg to differ on your opinion of Bruce Catton's writing. Maybe you found the topic of the American Civil War to be impenetrable and unreadable. Among Civil War historians Catton is probably the most readable, in my opinion. Maybe you got Catton confused with some other Civil War historian. There’s a bunch of them. Most, I kind of look at the size of the book and the hundreds of pages of tiny printed prose and quit right there.

If I were to fault Catton on his Civil War histories, it’s that he stayed away from the politics of the war, most especially the great political issue that was the cause of the war: Slavery. He only wrote about the period beginning with Fort Sumter and ending at Ford’s Theater and only on the military side of the war. Little about the causes or issues that lead to the war and never delves into Reconstruction and virtually ignores any other politician than Lincoln. Writes about the Civil War like it was big continentwide football game. Big on battles and campaigns, and the personalities and capabilities of the military commanders. Makes for exciting reading (for some of us anyway) but not much controversy and little insight.

About “Profiles in Courage”, I have read accounts over the years, usually by writers hostile to JFK, insinuating that Ted Sorensen was the REAL author of the book and that Joe Kennedy, Sr. pulled strings to get his son the Pulitzer.

When did the L.A.Times first get a Pulitzer? The Times has gotten one or two. No?

--Hey thanks for the well-considered response. I haven't cracked Catton's histories in years, although I did browse some material online before I wrote that entry. I can't say I found them appealing.

I took a course in Civil War and Reconstruction in college and one of the projects was to compare various news accounts of the 1860 political conventions. An interesting exercise.

Cheers, Larry

i don't believe that kennedy should have recieved a pulitzer. for one the wasn't anything that capitavaiting abou it


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