Lecture Schedule: 2013

All lectures are open to the public free of charge; no tickets are required.  Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. For further information, contact the Office of University Events and Conferencing Events Information line, at (540) 654-1065.

[Please note that the summary schedule is followed by a more detailed one describing the lectures and the speakers.  Clicking on any item in the summary schedule will take you to a description of that lecture.]


Thursday, January 24 Julius Caesar Philip Freeman
Tuesday, January 29 Cleopatra Duane W. Roller
Thursday, February 7 Brigham Young John Turner
Tuesday, February 12 Lawrence of Arabia Nabil Al-Tikriti
Thursday, February 14 Houdini John Kasson
Thursday, February 21 Arthur Ashe Arnold Rampersad
Tuesday, February 26 Marilyn Monroe Carl Rollyson
Thursday, February 28 Marian Anderson Raymond Arsenault
Tuesday, March 12 Walter Cronkite Douglas Brinkley
Tuesday, March 19 Winston Churchill Jeremy Black
Tuesday, March 26 The Pacific Admirals of World War II Walter R. Borneman
Tuesday, April 2 Queen Elizabeth II Sally Bedell Smith
Tuesday, April 9 Bill Wilson (Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) Susan Cheever
Thursday, April 11 Ernest Hemingway Paul Hendrickson
Tuesday, April 16 Rasputin Joseph Fuhrmann
Thusday, April 18 Abraham Lincoln Michael Burlingame
Tuesday, April 23 Michelangelo William Wallace
Thursday, April 25 Madness and Greatness Nassir Ghaemi


 Julius Caesar

Thursday, January 24
Philip Freeman, Luther College, Author of Julius Caesar
Wordy Birds Interview 

More than two thousand years after his death, Julius Caesar is still one of the great figures of history. He is best known as the general who conquered the Gauls and overthrew the Roman Republic, but he was also a brilliant orator, accomplished writer, and skilled politician. Born into a noble but fallen family and raised in the slums of Rome, Caesar rose through the ranks of Roman politics to become absolute ruler of the greatest empire Europe had yet known. His relationships with the greatest figures of his day, such as Cicero, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony, reveal a man of unbridled ambition matched with a superb intellect and an intimate knowledge of human nature. The story of Caesar’s rise and fall remains a tale of caution and inspiration even today.

Philip Freeman, an eminent classical scholar, earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, followed by a PhD from Harvard.  He has taught at Boston University and Washington University in St. Louis, and currently teaches Classics at Luther College in Iowa.  He has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C..  In addition, he has given talks on the ancient world at the Smithsonian Institution and interviews on National Public Radio.  Besides his biography of Caesar, he has written numerous articles and several books including a biography of St. Patrick and a study of the Druids.  In reviewing his Caesar biography, one reviewer called it “elegant, learned, and compulsively readable.”  Another noted that the book “takes the reader through every dizzying thrill and spill” of Caesar’s career and does it all “with excitement, enlightenment—and sheer narrative suspense.”

Speaker Philip Freeman flanked by Classics Professors Liane Houghtalin and Joseph Romero

(See more pictures from the lecture.)



Tuesday, January 9
Duane W. Roller, Ohio State University,  Author of Cleopatra: A Biography
Wordy Birds Interview

Cleopatra VII of Egypt (69-30 BC) was the last of a dynasty that went back 300 years and is arguably one of the most famous women in history.  Although best known for her relationship with the Roman commander Mark Antony and her eventual suicide that caused her kingdom to be taken over by the Romans, and presented in popular culture as one’s of the world’s great seductresses who let her personal needs interfere with her ability as a leader, she was in fact a highly educated woman who skillfully ruled her kingdom in the face of growing Roman power.  She was an accomplished linguist, published author, and naval commander, and the most capable leader that Egypt had seen in 200 years.   Even her well-known relationships (not only with Antony, but Julius Caesar) were carefully chosen connections with the most powerful Romans of the era, attempts to salvage her kingdom and produce heirs.  But because she lost to the Romans, since virtually the day of her death she has been depicted as an evil, promiscuous, and  dangerous woman.   In reality, her ideas of monarchy were highly influential in the developing Roman Empire, and she was worshipped as a cultic figure in Egypt into late antiquity.  The lecture will dispose of some of the myths about Cleopatra and present the real queen as one of the most important rulers in ancient history

Duane Roller earned his BA and MA degrees from the University of Oklahoma, followed by a PhD from Harvard.  A widely acclaimed classical scholar, he taught for many years at Ohio State, where he is currently Professor Emeritus of Greek and Latin.  In addition to his Cleopatra biography, he has written Through the Pillars of Herakles and The Building Program of Herod the Great.  Praising the Cleopatra book, one reviewer wrote that Professor Roller “deftly disentangles the historical queen of Egypt from her later legendary selves.  The real Cleopatra emerges in all her many sided splendor, with some surprises for us all.”

Professor Roller meets with Great Lives Book Club.

( See more pictures from the lecture)


Brigham Young

Thursday, February 7
John Turner, George Mason University, Author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet
Wordy Birds Interview

Brigham Young at age forty lived in western Illinois, was a faithful disciple of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, and had but one wife. He was known for his spiritual fire, collegial leadership, and tireless missionary service. Within ten years, much had changed. By then, Young had led thousands of religious refugees to the Salt Lake Valley, stood at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was the governor of the newly created Utah Territory, and had been sealed in marriage to fifty-five wives. Young, moreover, had become a very different sort of leader: hyper-sensitive to criticism, vigilant against potential rivals within the church, and violent in his rhetorical responses to everything from criminality to U.S. interference in Utah affairs. In his talk, John Turner will follow Brigham Young from Illinois to Utah, explaining how that transition affected both Young’s personality and the place of his church within American society.

John G. Turner received his BA degree from Middlebury College and PhD from Notre Dame. In addition, he earned a Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University, having previously taught at the University of South Alabama for six years. His primary teaching and research interests are 19th and 20th century culture and politics. In addition to Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, published in September 2012 by Harvard University Press, he is the author of Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America,winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 award for best book in History / Biography. His essays and reviews about religion in America have appeared in such outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

At reception, Professor Turner is flanked by American Studies Professor Krystyn Moon, Business Administration Professor Dan Hubbard, Religion Professor Mary Beth Matthews, and English Professor Gary Richards.

(See more pictures from the lecture)


Lawrence of Arabia

Tuesday, February 12
Nabil Al-Tikriti, Associate Professor of History, University of Mary Washington

Springing from a somewhat unorthodox and never legalized union between an Anglo-Irish petty lord and his governess, Thomas Edward Lawrence combined an elite Oxford education, wartime opportunity, and an impressive knack for self-promotion to emerge as one of the most famous characters of the Great War. Symbolic of Britain’s imperial ambitions in the Arab World, Lawrence successfully used his liberal arts education in history, archaeology, and Oriental Studies to provide key contributions to the negotiation process which shaped today’s Middle East. After the war, with the help of American journalist Lowell Thomas’ promotion efforts, Lawrence’s reputation grew steadily, until the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” ensured a continuing mythical status.

Nabil Al-Tikriti received his doctorate in Ottoman History from the University of Chicago in 2004 and joined the UMW faculty the same year. Having previously earned a bachelor’s degree in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University, he has also studied at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi in Istanbul, the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad in Cairo, and the American University in Cairo.  Dr. Al-Tikriti is the recipient of several grants and scholarships, including two Fulbrights, a U.S. Institute of Peace Fellowship, and a NEH/American Research Institute in Turkey grant. A member of the MSF/Doctors Without Borders USA Board of Directors since 2011, he has also served as a consultant, election monitor, and relief worker at a number of field locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. With scholarly interests that include Ottoman History, the modern Middle East, and Humanitarian Affairs, Prof. Al-Tikriti is primarily responsible for the University of Mary Washington’s offerings in Middle East History.

Speaker Nabil Al-Tikriti is flanked by Great Lives patrons Melissa and Wayland Marks and Chuck and Carol Schwartzman.




Thursday, February 14
John Kasson, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Author of Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man
Wordy Birds Interview

“Don’t insult me by calling me a magician,” Harry Houdini once told reporters. “I am an escape artist.” Much has been written describing his extraordinary feats: how he freed himself from cunningly designed handcuffs and leg-irons; how he escaped from massive packing crates, office safes and bank vaults, the jail cells of notorious criminals and entire prisons, from strait-jackets, first on stage and then suspended upside down high above city streets. How he extricated himself from a special water-torture cell–even responding to brewers’ challenges, when it was filled with beer. How, wrapped with chains and ropes or locked inside a weighted box, he plunged into rivers and harbors and swam free. How, lashed against the open barrel of a cannon with a time fuse, he vowed to free himself or “be blown to Kingdom Come.” How he consented to be buried alive under six feet of earth and clawed his way back from the grave. Devotees of magic have long discussed how he performed such feats. Biographers have probed the personal issues that drove him to do so. Yet the most important question has been the most neglected: What is the larger significance of his career for American cultural history?

John Kasson, a native of Muncie, Indiana, graduated from Harvard and received his Doctorate in American Studies from Yale. Since 1971 he has taught History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Kasson’s research has been primarily concerned with American cultural expression within a dynamic society. Several books have emerged from this work including: Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 (1976); Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (1978); Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (1990); and Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (2001). Evaluating the Houdini book, one reviewer commented that the study “has wise and witty things to say that we—in our age of health clubs and body-building machines—need to understand about the social meanings of strength and the powerful body….This is page-turner of a book, with a surprise worth knowing on every beautifully written page.”

Professor Kasson at podium in Dodd Auditorium at beginning of his lecture.

(See more pictures from the lecture.)


Arthur Ashe

Thursday, February 21
Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University, Co-author (with Ashe) of Days of Grace: A Memoir
Wordy Birds Interview

Tennis great Arthur Ashe transcended his victories on the court to become one of the iconic figures in the history of American sports.  Born in 1943, Ashe grew up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, where he learned to play tennis.  As a student at UCLA he won the NCAA singles crown, joined the U.S. Davis Cup team as its first black member, and also began the training that led to his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  Eventually he won 33 career tennis titles, including three Grand Slams.  On and off the court, Ashe blended a touch of flamboyance with such grace, dignity, and intelligence that he earned widespread admiration. He also became a controversial spokesman for various causes, including the anti-apartheid movement involving South Africa.  A heart attack in 1979 hastened the end of his tennis career; a second heart operation involved a blood transfusion that led to his contracting the HIV virus and, ultimately, AIDS itself. Before succumbing to the disease in 1993, he worked to educate others about HIV and AIDS.  Moreover, he wrote several books on various aspects of the African American experience, especially in sports.

Arnold Rampersad has had a distinguished career as a teacher and author. He was a member of the Stanford University English faculty from 1974 to 1983 before accepting a position at Rutgers University. Since that time he has also taught at Columbia and Princeton, before eventually returning in 1998 to Stanford, where is currently Professor Emeritus. Professor Rampersad has written biographies of major African-American figures, including Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson, and Langston Hughes, and was co-author of Arthur Ashe’s memoir, Days of Grace. He has served as co-author of Oxford University Press’s Race and American Culture book series. The recipient of a MacArthur grant from 1991-1996, he is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a 2010 recipient of the National Humanities Medal.

Professor Rampersad with former UMW tennis coaches Roy Gordon and Ed Hegmann prior to his lecture on Arthur Ashe.

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Marilyn Monroe

Thursday, February 26
Carl Rollyson, Baruch College-CUNY, Author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress
Wordy Birds Interview

A photograph of a dreamy-eyed Marilyn Monroe among a group of Hollywood starlets captures vividly the description of herself in My Story, the autobiography she collaborated on with screenwriter Ben Hecht.  The true dimensions of Monroe’s ambitions only began to be apparent when Norman Mailer wrote about her Napoleonic sensibility. She came to conquer her world in the same way as many of my other subjects—notably Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath—did: through hard work, tenacity, talent, and the ability to see beyond their own cultural conditions. How did Marilyn Monroe and others like her overcome obstacles and setbacks? What is it that keeps a person going after so many rejections, and how does someone not only overcome self-doubt but became a star? Marilyn Monroe’s story contains the answers to these existential questions as well revealing both the promise and the peril awaiting those who aspire to greatness.

One of America’s foremost teachers and practitioners of biography, Carl Rollyson is also one of the most prolific, having published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, and Susan Sontag to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times and the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals such as American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography; for four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, “On Biography,” for The New York Sun. Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi. His biography, American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, will be published in February 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of her death.

Carl Rollyson with his Monroe biography and his two most recent studies of Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath.

(See more pictures  from the lecture.)


Marian Anderson

Thursday, February 28
Raymond Arsenault, University of South Florida,  Author of The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America
Wordy Birds Interview

In 1939 Marian Anderson was at the peak of her career as an opera singer, yet she was denied the opportunity to present a concert at the DAR’s Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.—not because of anything she had done, but because she was black. That incident resulted in a nationwide protest, led by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The concert was eventually moved to the Lincoln Memorial, where Ms. Anderson attracted a throng of 75,000 people to what became an electrifying moment (and sometimes overlooked milestone) in civil rights history. The focus of this lecture will be the significance of that concert and the life of the musical pioneer who has been likened to a female Jackie Robinson for her brave and path-breaking career.

Raymond Arsenault received his B.A. from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. A specialist in the political, social, and environmental history of the American South, he has also taught at the University of Minnesota, Brandeis, and as a Fulbright lecturer in France. Since 1980 he has been a Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida. In addition, he has lectured internationally and has served as a consultant for numerous museums and public institutions. His extensive writings include books and articles on a wide range of topics in southern history, among them the biography of the colorful Arkansas politician Jeff Davis and the 2006 publication, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Professor Arsenault has spoken twice previously in the Great Lives program—on civil rights leader James Farmer and on the Freedom Riders.

Professor Arsenault prior to his lecture with Marian Anderson’s great nieces: Michelle Anderson Lee, Brenda Anderson Diggs, and Marian Anderson Elliot.

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Walter Cronkite

Tuesday, March 12
Douglas Brinkley, Rice University, Author of Walter Cronkite
Wordy Birds Interview

Born in Missouri but raised mainly in Texas, Walter Cronkite worked as a UPI reporter in Europe during WWII.  He then moved into TV journalism eventually becoming anchor of CBS news in 1962 and working in that capacity until 1981.  In the course of that time, he covered major events such as the space program, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War, becoming in the process what was often called “the most trusted man in America.”  But he became increasingly part of the news and not just its disseminator—and was not, historian Douglas Brinkly points out, always the loveable “Uncle Walter”—especially in his often contentious dealings with colleagues, notably his successor, Dan Rather.  Brinkley’s talk will examine the private man behind the popular public image.

A graduate of the Ohio State University, Douglas Brinkley earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Georgetown University in Diplomatic History. He has taught at Princeton University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Hoftsra University, the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, and (currently) Rice University. While at the University of New Orleans, he worked closely with his mentor, the pre-eminent military historian Stephen Ambrose, whom he succeeded for five years as director of that University’s Eisenhower Center. Aside from his teaching positions, he has served as a history commentator for CBS News and as a contributor to Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. Among the more than 25 books that he has either written, co-written or edited are biographies of major twentieth-century figures Henry Ford, James Forrestal, Dean Acheson, Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, and Gerald Ford, as well as Civil Rights legend Rosa Parks, about whom he delivered a Great Lives lecture in 2011. His most recent work, a biography of Walter Cronkite, was described by Doris Kearns Goodwin as “irresistibly told, beautifully written, and deeply researched.” She further commented that Brinkley “has produced one trustworthy biography after another, each one commanding widespread respect and admiration. And this is one of the very best.”

Professor Douglas Brinkley (center) with Great Lives patrons at dinner prior to his talk on Walter Cronkite.

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Winston Churchill

Tuesday, March 19
Jeremy Black, University of Exeter, Author of A History of the British Isles

Winston Churchill was, by any standards, one of the greatest lives of the 20th century.  During his half-century career as a military and political leader in Great Britain, Churchill endured numerous vicissitudes and controversies, reaching his zenith as Prime Minister during World War II.  His steadfastness in the face of Nazi aggression made him a heroic figure, not only in England, but in the United States, where he became the first person to ever be made an honorary citizen.  Jeremy Black’s lecture will focus on Churchill as wartime leader and will emphasize the role of the individual and the extent to which the outcome of WWII was far from inevitable.  He will also discuss Churchill in light of the complexities of a late imperial figure surviving into the age of the Cold War.  An eminent European historian, Professor Black has spoken several times in the Great Lives Series, including highly popular presentations on George III and Napoleon.

Jeremy Black studied at Queens College Cambridge, St. Johns College Oxford, and Merton College at Oxford. He began his teaching career at the University of Durham in 1980 before moving to Exeter University in 1996, where he is the current holder of the Established Chair in History. In addition to his teaching, Professor Black has held a number of important public roles, including that of editor of Archives, the journal of the British Records Association. His prodigious scholarly output encompasses more than 100 publications, mainly on, but not limited to, British and continental European history, with particular emphasis on international relations and military history. He has held numerous teaching positions outside of England, having lectured extensively in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and Denmark—as well as in the US, where he has taught at the Universities of Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgetown, and Rutgers, among others. At UMW, he has delivered hugely popular Great Lives lectures on Napoleon, George III, and James Bond.

Professor Black addresses near-capacity audience in Dodd Auditorium.

(See more pictures from the lecture.)


The Pacific Admirals of World War II

Tuesday, March 26
Walter R. Borneman, Lawyer and Historian, Author of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King—The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

Only four men in American history have been accorded the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral. Interacting with one another over four decades, Chester W. Nimitz, William F. Halsey, Jr., William D. Leahy, and Ernest J. King, not only rose to the top and won World War II, but also gave the United States Navy a global reach that has lasted for almost seven decades.  They were an unlikely quartet. All were graduates of the United States Naval Academy, but each came to display wildly different personality and leadership styles. Nimitz was the epitome of the stern but loving grandfather, but heaven help the man who let him down. Halsey was the hale-hearty fellow who through charisma and rough charm came to personify the American war effort in the Pacific. Leahy was the steady hand—almost invisible to the public but essential to Franklin Roosevelt’s decision-making. King was the demanding, hard-edged perfectionist who gave no quarter to superiors and subordinates alike and who was seemingly quite proud of his terrifying reputation.  These four Fleet Admirals played critical and occasionally controversial roles in the defining events, tactics, and developing weapons that won World War II, including submarines, aircraft carriers, and naval air power. In the process, they led America’s greatest generation to victory.

A native of Colorado, Walter Borneman received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Western State College of Colorado, and subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Denver. Much of his writing has focused on military history and the American West, including a history of Alaska, a biography of James K. Polk, an account of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and histories of the War of 1812 and the French and Indian War. His book The Admirals has won high praise, including the comment of one reviewer that “there’s scarcely a page where a reader won’t learn something unexpected and, occasionally, shocking.”


Walter Borneman flanked by navy Captains Hall and Nette at pre-lecture reception at Brompton.

(See more pictures from the lecture.)


Queen Elizabeth II

Tuesday, April 2
Sally Bedell Smith, Biographer, Washington, D.C., Author of Elizabeth The Queen

As a child, “Lilibet,” as she was called, became the “heiress presumptive” to the British throne when her uncle abdicated. As a teenager she was photographed repairing Army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day. Since ascending to the throne in 1952 at the age of 25, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of worldwide fascination and scrutiny. Sally Bedell Smith’s lecture will examine both the personal and public aspects of her remarkable sixty-year reign, revealing not only her resolve and her commitment to duty, but her oft-overlooked sense of humor and lively personality.

One of today’s most popular and respected biographers, Sally Bedell Smith began her writing career at Time magazine, where she was a reporter/researcher from 1973-1977. She then joined TV Guide as a staff writer, contributing feature articles and a weekly column. In 1982, she became a cultural-news reporter at the The New York Times, a position she held until 1985. Since 1996 she has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. An extraordinarily prolific writer, Ms. Smith has authored major biographies of six people: William Paley, Pamela Churchill Harriman, Princess Diana, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth II. Regarding the latter, one reviewer commented that “many authors have written about Elizabeth II, but none of them can match the literary style, wit, or insightful commentary of Sally Bedell Smith.”

Sally Bedell Smith signs her Elizabeth the Queen book following lecture.

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Bill Wilson

Tuesday, April 9
Susan Cheever, Writer, Biographer, Author of My Name is Bill: Bill Wilson, His Life, and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous
Wordy Birds Interview

Born behind a hotel bar in East Dorset, Vermont in 1894, Bill Wilson grew up with a severe drinking problem. In solving it for himself, he found a way to solve it for others, and he ultimately cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Although his name is not famous—he resisted any personal publicity while he was alive—Wilson, who died in 1971, was one of the most influential men of our time.  Although he improved the world, he was not a saint. He responded to the difficulties of his life in ways that were profoundly human and flawed.  His rugged, heart-breaking childhood, his unconventional fifty-three year marriage to Lois Wilson, his experiments with LSD and vitamin therapy, his friendship with Aldous Huxley, and his final longing for the whiskey he had  so successfully forsworn are all part of his extraordinary life story.
Susan Cheever earned a B.A. degree from Brown University and has taught at Brown, Yale, Hunter College, Bennington, and elsewhere. A prolific author, she has written several biographies, including studies of Louisa May Alcott and the Bloomsbury Group, which included Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Other non-fiction works include Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction; a remembrance of her celebrated father, novelist John Cheever, titled Home Before Dark; and a personal memoir, Note Found In A Bottle. Also the author of five novels, she has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Newsday, among other publications. Her work has been nominated for a National Book Circle Award, and she is a Guggenheim Fellow. Of Cheever’s study of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Judy Collins has written that it is “a stunning and moving book [that]…illuminates Bill Wilson’s brilliance, his eccentricity, and his humanism in a way that brings the whole movement to life.”

Susan Cheever (center, foreground) with Great Lives patrons and “Wordy Birds” host Liz Humes (right) prior to lecture on Bill Wilson.


Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, April 11
Paul Hendrickson, University of Pennsylvania, Author of Hemingway’s Boat
Wordy Birds Interview

Ernest Hemingway was one of the most captivating personalities of the 20th century, not only because of his extraordinary literary achievements, but because of his headline-catching behavior.  Hemingway served as an ambulance driver in World War I, and lived afterward for a time among the expatriate community in Paris; later he maintained residences in Key West and Cuba, before moving to Idaho, where in 1961 he committed suicide.  Few modern writers have been so extensively examined by scholars, memoirists, biographers, and doctoral students, yet his most recent biographer, Paul Hendrickson, believes there is more to be learned about this complex figure. “There is just something about Hemingway himself,” he says, “that — for all the boorishness and alcoholism and depression — makes people sense there is and was a good person there, capable of all that word magic.”  Professor Hendrickson’s talk will focus on those themes.

Paul Hendrickson, a distinguished journalist and author, was born in California, but grew up in the Midwest and in the Deep South, where he studied seven years for the priesthood. He holds degrees in American Literature from St. Louis University and Penn State. For 30 years he worked in daily journalism, including the position staff feature writer at The Washington Post from 1977 to 2001. After that he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, his current position, where he has been acknowledged for outstanding teaching. His several books have won widespread acclaim, including his most recent, Hemingway’s Boat, which The Wall Street Journal hailed as “both stunningly original and deeply gripping….Hemingway has never seemed so vivid or his work so heroic.”

Paul Hendrickson (left) visits with UMW Professor Emeritus of English Richard Hansen and wife, Judy, prior to lecture on Hemingway.



Thursday, April 16
Joseph Fuhrmann, Professor Emeritus, Murray State University, Author of Rasputin: The Untold Story
Wordy Birds Interview

The very name Rasputin evokes mystery —  a whiff of the occult.  Rasputin is famous for compelling eyes, mystical powers and a great sexual appetite.  His death has become legendary.  No other Russian has penetrated so deeply into urban folklore and pop culture.  Born a peasant in Siberia in 1869, Rasputin established himself as a Holy Man – a starets – a teacher, preacher and healer.  In October 1905 he met Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Empress Alexandra.  Their son Alexis, heir to the throne, was a hemophiliac who suffered excruciating attacks of internal bleeding.  The doctors were helpless, but when Rasputin prayed, the attacks ended.  This made Rasputin influential with the tsar and his wife, to the extent that, by 1914, he was thought to be all-powerful, and Russians were soon speaking of “The Reign of Rasputin.”  Alarmed, a group of monarchists murdered Rasputin on December 17, 1916.  Even so, when a popular uprising forced Nicholas II to abdicate in March 1917, Rasputin was dug up and cremated; his remains were dumped in a stream in a lonely forest on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

Joseph T. Fuhrmann was fascinated with Russian history from childhood.  His father was a college professor and music lover, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov was often heard on the family phonograph.  Having majored in Russian history, language and literature at Emory University (BA, 1962), he went on to earn a Ph.D. from Indiana University (1968) and was an exchange student at Moscow University (1965-1966).  He taught Russian history at Murray State University from 1978 until he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2010.  His Rasputin, a Life (1990) appeared without the benefit of archival research since Soviet authorities would not permit foreigners to work on politically sensitive subjects like Nicholas II and his circle.  But the archives opened up after the USSR collapsed, and from 1994 to 2005 Fuhrmann made seven research trips to Moscow and Siberia.  The information he collected resulted in a new biography of the peasant mystic and healer entitled Rasputin, the Untold Story (Wiley, 2012).  He is currently working on a biography of Nicholas II, which will be his tenth book.

Joseph Fuhrmann, right, with Biographers International Organization Vice-President Brian Jay Jones prior to Professor Fuhrmann’s lecture on Rasputin.


Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 18
Michael Burlingame, University of Illinois, Author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life

Certainly one of the greatest of all American lives, Abraham Lincoln has been the subject of more historical inquiry than any figure in the nation’s history.  Almost 150 years after his death, Americans are still drawn to him, as evidenced by the popularity of the recent Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln.  Michael Burlingame is among the most renowned Lincoln scholars in the world today, having written in 2008 what Publisher’s Weekly called the book that “supersedes all other Lincoln biographies.” In his lecture Professor Burlingame will connect Lincoln’s inner life with his outer life, addressing such questions as: What were the origins of Lincoln’s hatred of slavery? What were the qualities that made him a successful wartime President? What caused his intense ambition? How did his troubled marriage affect his career? How did the low-road politician of his twenties and thirties become the high-road statesman of his forties and fifties?

Perhaps the pre-eminent Lincoln scholar today, Michael Burlingame was born in Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. from Princeton and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, where he studied under and became the protégé of the legendary Civil War scholar David Herbert Donald. He taught at Connecticut College from 1968 until retiring in 2001, after which in 2009 he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, where he currently holds the Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies. He has written numerous books and articles on Lincoln and the Civil War era, the most recent being Abraham Lincoln: A Life, which has garnered several prestigious awards, including the 2010 Lincoln Prize for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln.

Michael Burlingame delivers Lincoln lecture to large audience in Dodd Auditorium.

(See more photos from the lecture.)



Tuesday, April 23
William Wallace, Washington University in St. Louis, Author of Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man, and His Times
Wordy Birds Interview

Professor Wallace’s biography has been called “the most important re-assessment of Michelangelo in more than one hundred years. Not since Irving Stone’s novel The Agony and the Ecstasy has there been such a compelling and human portrayal of this remarkable yet credible human individual.”    An internationally recognized expert on Michelangelo, Wallace will speak about the challenges and excitement of writing a modern biography of the famous Renaissance artist.  He will present a substantially new view of the extraordinary man, who was not only a great sculptor, painter, architect, engineer, and poet but also an aristocrat who believed in the ancient and noble origins of his family.  Utilizing the words of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, the lecture will place the famous artist firmly in his times, among his workers, family, friends, popes and patrons.

William E. Wallace received his Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University in New York in 1983 and is currently Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches Renaissance art and architecture, and is an internationally recognized authority on Michelangelo and his contemporaries. In 1990-91 he was a fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence; in 1996-97 he was at the American Academy in Rome; and in 1999 he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College. In addition to more than eighty essays, chapters and articles (as well as two works of fiction), he is the author and editor of six different books on Michelangelo, including Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man, and his Times (2010), which has been widely hailed as the foremost recent study of the artist. He served as the principal consultant for The Divine Michelangelo, a two-part film produced by the BBC.

Professor Wallace flanked by art historian Preston Thayer and his wife, UMW art history Professor Marjorie Och.


Madness and Greatness

Thursday, April 25
Nassir Ghaemi, Tufts University, Author of A First-Rate Madness
Wordy Birds Interview

According to Dr. Ghaemi, “Most of our heroes are seen as superheroes.  We don’t really know the human beings who were Lincoln and Churchill and King and Gandhi, or even Hitler. They are icons, or devils.”   In this lecture, he will examine who they were psychologically, focusing on their moods: did they have depression or bipolar illness?  He will show evidence for such mood diseases or traits in their lives, and how those moods actually helped them in their abilities as crisis leaders, or how they sometimes harmed them, especially in non-crisis periods.  He will argue that many of their greatest strengths grew out of their weaknesses and that depression and manic symptoms can have positive aspects – that, indeed, those positive aspects are beneficial for crisis leadership.

Nassir Ghaemi is an academic psychiatrist specializing in mood illnesses, especially bipolar disorder. Born in Tehran, he immigrated to the US at the age of five with his family and was raised in McLean, Virginia. He received a B.A. in History from George Mason University and received his medical training from the Medical College of Virginia/VCU. He subsequently also earned an M.A. in Philosophy from Tufts University and a MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. He trained and has worked mostly in the Boston area, mainly in Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and has also worked at George Washington University and Emory University. He is currently Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the Mood Disorders Program. His clinical work and research have focused on depression and manic-depressive illness. In this area, he has published over 100 scientific articles, more than 30 scientific book chapters, and has written or edited a number of books. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi lectures on the relationship between greatness and mental disorders.

(See more photos from the lecture)

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