Nigel Hamilton’s FDR, where Joseph Campbell began, John Wesley, and banana peels: newsletter, Aug. 16, 2019

August 17, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,696) on Friday, August 16, 2019.

Two big events this week: the publication of two books that we had been working on for the Friends of the Blount County Library. One is Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will A. McTeer, which we mentioned in the newsletter several weeks ago. The other book was Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s The One I Knew the Best of All, an autobiographical novel by the author of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Both of these publications came about because of the hard work of many people, and I thank them all.

Because of a presentation that I made a few days ago, I have immersed myself in the life of John Wesley, a theologian who started the Methodist movement with the Anglican Church and whose ideas and “methods” had a profound and long-term effect on the practice of Christianity. Wesley lived a long (87+ years) and fascinating life, and I discuss a bit of it below.

The week’s events precluded me from completing a Verse and Vision video, but I have one in mind that I have already begun to work on. Meantime, I hope that you’ve had a good week and that you enjoy a wonderful weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,707 subscribers and had a 34.0 percent open rate; 8 people unsubscribed. 

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Nigel Hamilton: Making the case for FDR

Biographer Nigel Hamilton has many reasons to admire — even idolize — Winston Churchill.

Hamilton’s father, Lt. Col. Sir Denis Hamilton, was a brigade commander during World War II and later became editor of the Sunday Times and The Times of London. He was also chairman of the Reuters news service and was a trustee of the British Museum and the British Library.

The family was close to Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, and it was through Montgomery that Hamilton, as a very young man, met Churchill and spent the weekend at Chartwell, Churchill’s estate.

Hamilton says he “imbibed the six-volume set” of Churchill’s memoirs, The Second World War, the publication of which, Churchill reckoned, would cement his place in history as the great leader of the Allied effort to save humanity from Nazism and the barbarism of Japan.

But for Hamilton, the shine on Churchill’s image began to fade when he became Bernard Montgomery’s official biographer. Montgomery loved Churchill and gave him ample credit for his role in Britain’s fight against Germany. But Churchill was constantly harassing Montgomery during his field command, interfering with his subordinates, and making impractical or idiotic tactical suggestions.

Hamilton began to wonder: what else about Churchill had Churchill himself covered up or written out of his memoirs? David Reynolds answered many of those questions in 2005 with his brilliant tome on Churchill’s memoirs, In Command of History, pointing our many of Churchill’s omissions and misinterpretations. (We’ve had articles about that book on JPROF, here and here and here.)

As Hamilton read his history, another question emerged: what role did Franklin Roosevelt play in conducting the war?

FDR had been pictured by Churchill and other historians as a “hands-off” commander-in-chief who held America together as a brilliant politician but left the running of the war to others.

“I was astonished that no one had ever addressed FDR’s role as commander-in-chief in World War II,” he said recently in an interview with Lewis Lapham. You can listen to that interview here:…

What Hamilton found was an untold story, and what he has produced during the last decade of research is the three-volume FDR at War: The Mantle of Command, Commander in Chief, and War and Peace. The third volume has recently been published, and the New York Times reviewer wrote: “Hamilton’s case for Roosevelt is a compelling one. Even in decline, the president had a vision that eluded others, including his closest partner [Churchill].”

“I never thought that — 50 years later — I would be writing about the commander-in-chief of the American forces,” Hamilton said. Hamilton, who teaches at Boston University and has become an American citizen, has attempted write from FDR’s point of view and restore a more balanced view of FDR’s — not Churchill’s — commanding role in the Allied victory in 1945.

I have read the first volume and am currently half way through the second. Hamilton’s prose is dramatic and gripping. His portraits of Churchill, FDR, George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and others involved at the very top of the command structure of World War II are fascinating and convincing. This is a must-read for those interested in this topic.

Joseph Campbell: beginning at the library

If you have studied anything about the art of  — storytelling — you have run headlong into the name and work of Joseph Campbell.

Campbell made the study of stories, their structure, and their purpose the focus of his life, and his 1949 book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, is still considered a seminal work in this field. Campbell compares the mythology norms across times and cultures in a fascinating and readable study.

Campbell started where many of us do: in a local library. On the 100th anniversary of Campbell’s birth, Robert Walter wrote this:

By the age of ten, Joe had read every book on American Indians in the children’s section of his local library and was admitted to the adult stacks, where he eventually read the entire multivolume Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He worked on wampum belts, started his own “tribe” (named the “Lenni-Lenape” after the Delaware tribe who had originally inhabited the New York metropolitan area), and frequented the American Museum of Natural History, where he became fascinated with totem poles and masks, thus beginning a lifelong exploration of that museum’s vast collection. Source: About Joseph Campbell – JCF: Home

Campbell achieved fame and influence not just from his books but also from his public speaking, and many of his mini-lectures are here on Spotify (you will need a free account):

We’ll be saying more about Campbell in the coming weeks.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

One of TR’s many foes: the banana peel

Before Theodore Roosevelt battled the Spanish on San Juan Hill, before he fought the trusts in Congress, he had a more obscure but just as dangerous arch-enemy: the banana peel.

Roosevelt was police commissioner of New York City in the 1890s when there was little or no garbage service. People simply threw their garbage in the street.

As Alex Mayyasi writes in Atlas Obscura:

Accounts and photos from the time are stunning. New Yorkers threw their trash in the street, where no one picked it up, leading the city to release wild pigs to eat the refuse. Dead animals lingered in gutters for days. In this environment, discarded banana peels rotted into slippery messes and mottled into a camouflaging brown. Source: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels – Gastro Obscura

Bananas were a particular problem. They had become a popular, ready-to-eat fruit because of changes in the way they were imported. But the discarded peels often landed in the streets and sidewalks and then turned slimy and dangerous.

Roosevelt told his policemen to stay on guard against this foe and “the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.”

That’s just one of several fascinating stories contained in Mayyasi’s article about the state of New York’s streets and how they got cleaned up — literally. Take a look: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels – Gastro Obscura


John Wesley, the history of Methodism, and the clash of biographies

Most of what happened to Methodism after John Wesley‘s death in 1791 was highly predictable.

Wesley had created Methodism, a religious movement within the Anglican Church, in the 1740s by his interpretative theology, his going outside the church walls to preach to those neglected by the church, and by forming “classes” of his followers who would meet regularly, hold each other accountable, and devote themselves to advancing the love of God.

Despite a great deal of persecution — much of it in the form of physical violence directed at these classes and at Wesley himself — the Methodist movement achieved phenomenal growth. Wesley was tireless in his efforts to spread his theology. He traveled constantly and preached everywhere he went. His followers numbered more than 130,000 in Great Britain and America when he died.

Wesley was also constantly writing. By the time he died at the age of 87, he had produced more than 400 books and publications. His own papers, which he collected late in life, constituted 32 volumes.

He also stayed firmly in control of the Methodist movement and tolerated no opposition.

So, when he died, not surprisingly, there was a power vacuum, and there were those who rushed to fill it. At the center of the struggle was control of Wesley’s papers and who would write his biography.

Wesley’s heir apparent was Thomas Coke, but Coke was in America when Wesley died. Coke was allied with Henry Moore, another minister favored by Wesley, but Moore was in Bristol at the time of Wesley’s death. Before these men could obtain the papers, the executors of Wesley’s will handed them over to John Whitehead, a Methodist minister who had served as Wesley’s physician.

Coke returned to London as soon as he could and with Moore asked Whitehead for the papers, but Whitehead refused, saying they could have them when he was finished writing Wesley’s biography. The idea of the biography was an important one because not only would it be a best-seller (Wesley had become one of the most venerated men in England by the time he died) but also because it would establish Wesley’s legacy and be influential in the future of the movement.

Coke and Moore continued with their efforts to get access to Wesley’s papers by appealing to the annual Methodist conference, and the war of words spilled into the civil courts. Even without access to his papers, Coke and Moore began working on a biography, Life of Wesley, and in just a few weeks they completed the manuscript and rushed it into publication in April 1792. By June it had sold 10,000 copies and was taken into a second printing.

It took Whitehead more than two years to complete the first of his two-volume history of Wesley’s life, which was published in 1794. Sales of that book were tepid.

Historian David Hart explains all of this in an article for the journal Methodist History, and he also outlines the outcome of this controversy for the Methodist Church. The article can be found here:…

We’ll be saying more about John Wesley in upcoming newsletters.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: John Wesley

Best quote of the week:

All great truths begin as blasphemies. George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Newsman Bob Considine, the semicolon, the demise of Mad, and another Longfellow poem: newsletter, Aug. 9, 2019



Verse and Vision

I am always open to suggestions about poets, poems or topics for videos. I’ve received several and would love to have more.

Meanwhile, here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at

Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson here:

1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace:

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner:

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson:

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

And more are on the way.






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