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Eliot Morison, the last Harvard historian to ride a horse to work, liked to canter to Cambridge on his gray gelding, tie it to a tree in the Yard, stuff his saddlebags with papers to grade, and trot back home to his four-story brick house at the foot of Beacon Hill.“Ours was the horsey end of town,” he wrote of the place where he was born, in 1887, and died, in 1976.
In 1675, Massasoit’s son Metacom, called King Philip by the English, launched a war against Plymouth and, eventually, against Massachusetts and Rhode Island and Connecticut, too.
“My feeling for the sea,” Morison said, “is such that writing about it is about as embarrassing as making a confession of religious faith.”Morison wrote more than fifty books and won two Pulitzer Prizes, but he is probably best remembered for his biography of Christopher Columbus, whose voyages he retraced, in 19, by yacht.
When the resulting book was published, in 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so impressed that he agreed to allow Morison to join the Navy as what we might now call an “embedded historian”: for the remainder of the Second World War, Lieutenant Commander Morison fought the battles about which he later spent twenty years writing; the result, in fifteen dense, salt-sprayed volumes, was “The History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.” He left the Navy in 1951, a rear admiral.
Like Morison, he finds most history books written by professors a chore to read.
Trained as a journalist, Philbrick once explained his decision to include a bibliographic essay instead of footnotes or references to works of scholarship in his text: “I wanted to remove the scholarly apparatus that so often gets in the way of the plot in academic history.”Sam Morison never met a footnote he didn’t like, but his relationship to academic history was a complicated one.