How Accurate Is: Manhattan (TV Show, 2014-2016) S1E1

Hello everyone! Today’s post will focus on the first episode of Manhattan, a television show which aired from 2014-2016 on WGN America. The show focuses on the Manhattan Project, which produced the world’s first nuclear weapons from a secretive base in the New Mexican desert during the Second World War. It is an interesting show, one which covers fascinating topics; it is not, however, especially historically accurate. In a slight mitigating factor, the producers of the show were not aiming for full accuracy, only trying to bring to life the atmosphere which the scientists at Los Alamos would have experienced.[1] However, it is nonetheless important to discuss the inaccuracies in the show to avoid any confusion.

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How Accurate Is: All The President’s Men (Movie, 1976, Alan J. Pakula)

Hello everyone! Today’s (long-delayed) post will be on the 1976 film All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and directed by Alan J. Pakula. This film chronicles the Washington Post investigation of the Watergate Scandal and, like the 2015 Best Picture winner Spotlight, focuses almost exclusively on the investigation itself. The film is very strong overall. Similar to the process of investigative journalism, it is slow-moving in parts; however, it never lets the audience forget what is at stake. Robert Redford in particular does an excellent job as Bob Woodward, and Hoffman as Carl Bernstein is also a strong performance. With regards to historical accuracy, All the President’s Men is one of the most accurate films this site has reviewed.

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How Accurate Is: Bridge of Spies (Movie, 2015, Steven Spielberg) Post 2

Donovan.
Donovan.

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be part 2 of the series on Bridge of Spies, focusing on the negotiations themselves and the treatment of the main character, James Donovan. Both historically and in the film, Donovan was a New York attorney and former prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials who was called upon to defend Abel in American court; he then became involved in the negotiations for the prisoner exchange because neither the American nor the Soviet government wanted to send officially recognized representatives. By and large, the film did a good job with the character of Donovan, with his arguments in court in particular lifted directly from the historical record (including his excellent arguments in front of the Supreme Court, which almost seem to have been made for a movie).[1] Donovan’s friendship with Abel was also accurate; historically, in fact, Abel sent Donovan 400-year old Latin commentaries on the Code of Justinian to thank him for his efforts on Abel’s behalf.[2] The role of Donovan in the negotiations was also more or less accurate with the major exception that attempting to free Pryor as well as Powers was not Donovan’s side project against direct orders from the CIA: in fact, the American government had always hoped to have Pryor freed as well.[3] This change was one of the largest because it made the CIA significantly less sympathetic than they come across as in the historical record, and increased Donovan’s role in the negotiations.

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How Accurate Is: Bridge of Spies (Film, 2015, Steven Spielberg) Post 1


Bridge Of Spies

Hello everyone! Today’s post is on the 2015 film Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. The film focuses on one of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War: the 1962 spy swap of spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and PhD student Frederic Pryor for “Rudolf Abel”, a high-ranking Soviet spy in the United States. The film was quite good, and Hanks in particular played his role to a tee; Mark Rylance, who played Abel, also did an excellent job. Overall, the film was also fairly accurate. It took its title and its inspiration from Giles Whittell’s Bridge of Spies, a book chronicling the events leading up to and comprising the spy swap. The film began its narration later than did the book; while the book, for example, devoted more than a chapter to Abel’s mission in the United States, the film began with his capture.

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Book Recommendation: 1491, Charles C. Mann, Part 2

A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.
A part of the Amazon rainforest; possibly a man-made environment.

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be the second part of the earlier recommendation for 1491, by Charles C. Mann. Having now finished the book, I can state with certainty that it is very enjoyable; not only does it cover aspects of history which do not often get their due share of attention, but many of the theories it discusses are eye-opening in their nature and scope. The second half of the book deals primarily with the impact Native American societies had on the continents which they inhabited, and devotes a good deal of its energy to debunking the idea that they were living in an eternal state, in tune with nature and exercising as little of an effect as possible on their environment. Instead, Mann states (through the army of anthropologists, historians, archeologists, biologists, and others who he has interviewed for this book) that societies from the Amazon to New Hampshire had spent millennia perfecting the environment in which they lived; what the early European visitors to the continents believed was untouched nature was more of a “vast garden”, in the words of Mann, meticulously sculpted over the centuries. These theories form a wonderful tapestry which ties together the second  half of Mann’s work.

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How Accurate Is: Valkyrie (Film, 2008, Bryan Singer)

Valkyrie

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be on the film Valkyrie. Released in 2008, directed by Bryan Singer, and starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie chronicles the 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler, in which a significant number of upper-ranking German military officers participated. The plot was equal parts desperation due to Germany’s looming defeat in the war and genuine disgust with Nazi methods; the conspirators were an odd combination of fervent anti-Nazis (such as Stauffenberg, Beck, and others) and former Nazis who had decided that Hitler’s time had come (including von Neurath, the former foreign minister and governor of Bohemia). Tom Cruise played the leader of the plot, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg; his primary co-conspirators in the film included Major-General Henning von Tresckow, General Friedrich Olbricht, and (former) General Ludwig Beck.

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One-Year Anniversary Post

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Hello everyone! Today’s post is a special post, because two weeks ago (tomorrow) was the one-year anniversary of the very first post on ButISawItOnTv! On this occasion (the special qualities of which are up for debate) I would like to thank all of those who have read the approximately 50 posts which have made their way onto this site, or nearly one a week, in the past year. I would also like to say that I look forward to another exciting year of posts, and already have some ideas for topics: however, if any of you have ideas of your own or would like me to continue reviewing a television show I have already begun, it would be wonderful if you sent them in via the comments or social media.

If you truly love history, I cannot recommend enough that you enjoy some form of historical media during the following year. Whether this includes reading history books, listening to historical podcasts (during lunch is a good time, I have found), watching movies or television shows, or playing video games, it will enrich your life, I assure you. On that topic, I firmly hope that ButISawItOnTv has enriched yours during its year of existence thus far. Thank you all for reading as always, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

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Book Recommendation: 1491, Charles C. Mann, Part 1

1491

Hello everyone! Today’s post is on the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann. While I have not yet completed this book, I am currently enjoying it very much, and so thought that a post would be a good idea. As the title implies, the subject of this book is the civilizations of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. The book weaves a rich tapestry on this subject, drawing on the work of generations of historians, historical demographers, archeologists, sociologists, and others to bring to life civilizations which have since passed from the face of the Earth. In reading this book, a whole new historical world has opened for me. Previously, I was unaware of most aspects of the history of the Americas; one good example of an interesting historical fact contained in this book is that it is a strong possibility (though not certain) that the Inca developed a writing system in the form of long, knotted strings called khipu. The colours of the string, subsidiary strings which descended from the main knots, and the design and order of the knots were able to tell a story, an entirely unique writing system in the history of civilization. “Reading” the khipu depended on both sight and touch, making this also one of the only tactile writing methods in history. It is through glimpses such as this that Mann is able to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for a world which ceased to exist long ago; the loss of these civilizations and the majority of their records was truly a tragedy on a massive scale, and one which can never be undone.

For more, continue past the link.

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How Accurate Is: Marco Polo (TV Show, 2014-, S1E1) Post 2

Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be, as promised, on the first episode of Marco Polo, from the Mongol and Chinese point of view rather than that of Polo. In the previous post, it was discussed that the show was fairly faithful to the life of Polo principally because the surviving accounts of his life (including his own) were not especially detailed. The same cannot be said of Mongol and Chinese life during this period, however, so how does the show measure up in this respect? Before entering into a discussion of this subject, it should be noted that there are less personal details on the Mongol or Chinese characters than Polo, so a direct comparison between the treatment of the two cannot truly be made.

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How Accurate Is: Marco Polo (TV Show, 2014-, S1E1) Post 1

Marco POlo

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be on the first episode of the Netflix show Marco Polo, released in 2014. My personal opinion on this show was that it was a promising historical drama derailed by numerous and wholly unnecessary graphic scenes; however, for the sake of this review, that is neither here nor there. In terms of historical accuracy, the show was significantly more accurate than expected, with some caveats. The first is that nearly the only source on the life of the historical Marco Polo is his own book, Il Miliones, which he published upon his return; the second is that this book does not relate his life in great detail, giving the creators of the show significant leeway with their interpretation of events. In many ways, this makes Marco Polo the perfect historical drama from the perspective of television producers; they are permitted to tell a compelling historical story without having to worry too much about getting the details right.

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