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Posted on Sep 13, 2007 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

10 Questions for Geoffrey C. Ward

Editorial Staff

In addition to writing Ken Burns’ new PBS documentary series on World War II, Ward has published his companion book, The War: An Intimate History, 1941-45 (Alfred A. Knopf, September 2007). ACG recently interviewed the best-selling author who has collaborated with Burns on some of the most interesting and insightful documentary films ever made.

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1. ACG: You have written about many famous people, from Lincoln to FDR, boxer Jack Johnson to Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony to Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others. Who is your favorite historical figure you’ve written about and why?

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WARD: Franklin Roosevelt – because he was at once so apparently accessible and so determinedly opaque. No one will ever pin all of him to paper.

2. ACG: How have your own life experiences influenced your writing? What made you decide to write history?

WARD: History has always fascinated me. The personal circumstance of having survived polio myself certainly added to my interest in trying to solve the riddle of Roosevelt.

3. ACG: Your books and your work in filmmaking have won numerous awards, including five Emmys. Which of the many awards you’ve received has been the most personally satisfying?

WARD: The 2005 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, given for Unforgivable Blackness [about boxer Jack Johnson] as that year’s most important non-fiction “contribution to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human culture.”

4. ACG: You’ve partnered with filmmaker Ken Burns on many outstanding documentary projects. Which one was your favorite, and why?

WARD: My favorite is always the one we’re working on. But I do think The War, which will be shown this September on PBS, is the best film Ken’s made.

5. ACG: Your book The Civil War, a companion book to the tremendously popular and influential television series, became a best-seller. Did the book’s success surprise you, and to what do you attribute its appeal?

WARD: I was stunned by the reception given both the series and the book. But I also understand – because I share – the country’s endless fascination with the conflict that set us on the path toward becoming the kind of country we ought to have been all along.

6. ACG: Your most recent book, The War, tackles World War II – a subject so vast that thousands of books have been written on various aspects of it. How do you go about capturing that global catastrophe in a single volume? What is your approach to the subject?

WARD: No one can capture it all in a single volume. Certainly, I can’t. What we’ve tried to do, instead – on-screen as well as in the book – is to capture something of what the war felt like for some 40 people from four representative American towns: Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Mobile, Alabama. Their stories are braided together chronologically, with the outcome always in doubt. If we learned anything, it was that in extraordinary times there turns out to be no ordinary lives.

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1 Comment

  1. I would be most interested in speaking or meeting Geoffrey Ward regarding is upcoming book on India’s partition. Being from Pakistan, I have studied this period and last year I wrote a book on the current US war in Afghanistan. Needless to say, India too is a big part of this conflict which is often lost in the enormity of this war.

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