Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Calling All Writers! Send in those inspirational stories to brighten the March drearies. Scroll down to my post of February 28 for more details.

And a Few Words about the Harriet Tubman Biographies

A real change of pace today. I abandoned my office to spend the morning at the Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenaeum, and then to a long, leisurely lunch with historian Kate Clifford Larson, author of the eye-opening Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, published in late December by Ballantine Books. I was so impressed by this biography, I knew I just had to meet her if I could. And, since I spent considerable time researching Tubman's Civil War activities for my book Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia, I thought we'd enjoy exchanging ideas. And so we did indeed.

Bound for the Promised Land is so beautifully written that it's hard to believe that it's Larson's first book. If I had to encapsulate in a few words what I liked best about the book, it has to be Larson's success in conveying the passion of this nineteenth-century woman who defied the limitations of a severe disability (probably temporal lobe epilepsy) to work tirelessly for freedom and justice.

There is another new, more highly publicized biography of Tubman out there--Catherine Clinton's Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (Little Brown, 2004). I'm sorry to have to say this because I have admired Clinton's work in the past, but her book lacks distinction. It is, in a word, wishy-washy. Clinton is a highly acclaimed historian and certainly has the ability to pull off a sterling piece of research, but this book does not bear evidence of it. The corners she cut in presenting her portrayal of Tubman leaves the reader with a picture of a hollow shadow of a woman. It's a short book (220 pages or so), and has only 21 pages of footnotes--compared to Larson's nearly 100 pages of notes! I have to shake my head. I am truly so puzzled. Why would a historian of her reputation publish a book that's so incomplete?

The ham and the potatoes are in the oven and Ken just called to say he'd be a little late. Terrific! That gives me the time to add the links to today's post.


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