Friday, August 31, 2012

An amazing man

The TCU Bookish Frogs had one of their potluck supper/programs tonight. The speaker was a man who has long been a good friend but is known outside TCU as the best-selling author of popular books on the American presidency. Paul Boller came to TCU as a professor of intellectual history (that's what I always heard was his specialty, but we think of it as the presidency.) His books include Presidential Anecdotes, Presidential Campaigns, Presidential Wives and many others. At TCU Press, during my tenure, we were privileged to publish Memoirs of an Obscure Professor, the title being Paul's poke at a Chicago Tribune article's reference to him during the McCarthy days, when he was teaching at SMU. Among other things, the book contains an essay on his work as a Japanese translator during WWII. A man of many talents and great intellectual capacity, Paul was always a strong supporter of TCU Press during my years there; more recently, when the press was an endangered species, he stepped forward to ask, "What can I do to help?" And help he has.
Paul is, if what I hear is correct, 95 years old, and he's still tooling around town in a smart car.And he still gives a wonderful talk. Tonight he had us all laughing as he talked about his new book from TCU Press, Essays on the Presidents; Principles and Politics. No, folks, it's not a dull, political science text. It's a lively look at some of our presidents and the way they thought. For instance, there's a chapter on the presidents and Shakespeare, many of whom studied the bard and quoted him frequently. On the other hand, there's LBJ who, when presented a speech with a quote from Aeschylus, asked, "Aeschylus? The farmers aren't going to know who the hell Aeschylus was." When the speech writers said they'd immediately take the quote out, Johnson said, "No. Leave it in. I'll say my daddy said it." LBJ always liked to claim he was born in a log cabin until one day his mother turned on him irately and informed him, as he well knew, he wasn't born in a log cabin. Paul said it's his opinion that if Johnson hadn't inherited the Vietnam War, he'd have gone down in history as one of our great presidents because of his social programs. There's a chapter on "Bush-Speak"--referring to the first Bush. I once heard Paul give an after-dinner talk on this subject that was so funny women had mascara running down their cheeks and men were falling off their chairs in laughter--even Republicans. The final chapter is "They Really Said It: Quotes from the Presidents and their Wives"--I can't wait to read that one. Folks, if you're interested in politics or not, read this book. You'll laugh, and you'll learn a great deal about American history and the presidency. It may help put today into perspective. Did you know that in the early days of the government, it was considered rude for a candidate to speak on his own behalf, let alone ask for money? They had a derogatory term for it--electioneering.
A neat touch to the book and the evening: tonight they unveiled a portrait of Paul by Jeff Barnard, a longtime friend of Paul's who has, in his own words, been his carpenter and his driver on book tours as well as his friend. The portrait perfectly captures Paul's wit and sense of adventure. It serves in place of an author photo on the back flap of the book jacket.
P.S. The potluck supper was good, and people, including me, liked the ever-so-simple cobbler I made.

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