143 A Soldier’s Heart – Teaching Literature at the U.S. Military Academy (with Professor Elizabeth Samet)

Since ancient times, societies have used rousing lines of poetry to inspire soldiers to acts of heroism, courage, and sacrifice. But what about literature that expresses doubts about war? Or fear? Or that conveys its brutal nature? Should those works be a part of the curriculum as well?

And what about literature that, on its surface, has nothing to do with the battlefield? Where is the value in that for a soldier?

One thing seems clear: how a society educates its soldiers tells us something fundamental about the values of that society. And when it comes to the role of literature in a soldier’s education, we can learn two things. We see how we as a society think of the men and women fighting for us. And we see a reflection of what we think literature can and should do.

In this episode, we’re joined by author Elizabeth Samet, a professor of literature at the United States Military Academy (West Point). Professor Samet’s book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, A USA Today Best Book, and A Christian Science Monitor Best Book.

Works and authors discussed include the Shahnameh, Elizabeth Bishop, Great Expectations, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Shakespeare’s Henry V and Romeo and Juliet, and others.

We took a look at Homer and his famous tale of the siege of Troy way back in Episode 3 – Homer.

For Shakespearean soldiers, try Episode 70 – Julius Caesar or Episode 80 – Power Play! Shakespeare’s Henry V.

For an episode on the dialogue between the reluctant warrior Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, who dramatically reveals himself as the incarnation of God, try Episode 33 – The Bhagavad Gita.

For more about poetry in the context of war, try a pair of episodes with Professor Bill Hogan: Episode 56 – The Poetry of Ruins and Episode 93 – Robert Frost Finds a Friend

For the story of an American writer who went off to World War II and came back a changed man, try Episode 141 – Kurt Vonnegut (with Mike Palindrome).

For a look at the politics of war and peace, try Episode 117 – Machiavelli and The Prince.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com or facebook.com/historyofliterature. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or on Twitter @thejackewilson.

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126 Animals in Literature (Part One)

Inspired by a listener’s heartfelt request, we take a look at an often overlooked subject: animals in literature. In this episode, a precursor to a forthcoming Draft with President Mike (i.e., “The 10 Best Animals in Literature”), Jacke considers the earliest mentions of animals in literature and how the literary appearances of animals have changed over time, before concluding with a modest offering of his own.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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83 Overrated! Top 10 Books You Don’t Need to Read

Life is short, and books are many. How many great books have you read? How many more have you NOT read? How to choose? Mike Palindrome, President of the Literature Supporters Club, joins Jacke for a discussion of overrated classics and the pleasures of shortening one’s list of must-reads.

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Show Notes: 

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

You can follow Jacke Wilson at his Twitter account @WriterJacke. You can also follow Mike and the Literature Supporters Club (and receive daily book recommendations) by looking for @literatureSC.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Sweet Vermouth” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

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70 Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Just after World War II, the poet and critic W.H. Auden said that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (ca. 1959) is “of great relevance to our time, though it is gloomier, because it is about a society that is doomed.  We are not doomed, but in such immense danger that the relevance is great. [Rome] was a society not doomed by the evil passions of selfish individuals…but by an intellectual and spiritual failure of nerve that made the society incapable of coping with its situation.”  Why is Julius Caesar so continually important to those living in a liberal democracy? What does it tell us about the relationship of an individual to society and the state? And as the citizens of a republic lose their faith in institutions, how do we reconcile the noble ambition of a Caesar with the high-minded (but bloody) principles of the assassin Brutus?

In this episode, host Jacke Wilson takes a look at Shakespeare’s play, the portrayals of Brutus (James Mason) and Mark Antony (Marlon Brando) in the 1953 film, the fraught morality of assassination, the surprising links between John Wilkes Booth and the play, and an essay from The Journal of Democracy describing the declining faith in liberal democracies in 2016.

Show Notes: 

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

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54 The Greatest Books Ever (Part 2)

What books are essential? Who has the authority to choose them, and what is their selection process? First, Jacke and Mike continue their look at the College Board’s 101 Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers. Then Jacke proposes a different method for determining which books are relevant in today’s world – and tests the results against the College Board’s efforts.

You can find a PDF of the College Board’s list at:

http://www.uhlibrary.net/pdf/college_board_recommended_books.pdf

Shane Sherman’s List of Lists can be found at:

http://thegreatestbooks.org/

His methodology is described at:

http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/details

Show Notes: 

Brand new! Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Bass Walker,” “Sweeter Vermouth,” “Greta Sting” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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53 Romeo and Juliet

In 1964, the Oxford professor John Barrington Wain wrote: “…Romeo and Juliet is as perfectly achieved as anything in Shakespeare’s work. It is a flawless little jewel of a play. It has the clear, bright colours, the blend of freshness and formality, of an illuminated manuscript.”

First produced in 1594, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet became an immediate sensation, and the story of the star-crossed lovers has been a core part of Western civilization ever since. Why is the play so popular? What does it tell us about falling in love – and how does that differ from being in love? And what does any of this have to do with George Carlin?

Show Notes: 

Brand new! Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

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50 Othello

One of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (ca. 1603) is perhaps the most difficult of them to watch. The malevolent Iago, viewed by some as evil incarnate, has been infuriating audiences for centuries – legend has it that at one performance in the Old West, a cowboy in the audience was so offended by Iago’s machinations he pulled out his pistol and shot him. And theater professionals are well accustomed to the gasps, cries, and occasional screams from the audience as they view the horrendous scene, in which the jealous lead character is finally driven to kill his wife, the innocent Desdemona. What motivates Iago? Why is Othello so susceptible? And what themes in Othello still resonate today?

Show Notes: 

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

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48 Hamlet

Hamlet (ca 1599-1602) has been called the greatest play ever written in English – and even that might not be giving it enough credit. Many would rank it among the greatest achievements in the history of humankind. Jacke Wilson takes a deeper look at the Prince of Negative Capability and his famous soliloquy.

Show Notes: 

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

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5 Greek Tragedy (Part One)

How was tragedy invented? Why was it so popular in Ancient Greece, and what power does it have for us today? Using the discussion of tragedy in Aristotle’s Poetics, author Jacke Wilson takes a look at tragedies from ancient times to Breaking Bad.

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RM4 Signs and Symbols

Jacke and Gar take a break from the history of literature to look at the meaning of signs and symbols. Can we forgive the swastika? Should we? Plus: Gar reveals his three ideal dinner guests.

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