American historian, critic, and annotator, born in Houston in 1962. Sixth-generation Texan and thirteenth-generation American. (Well, Southerner.) Did his undergraduate and law degrees at Washington & Lee, which is, oddly enough, responsible also for Tom Wolfe and Terry Brooks. Neither his undergraduate double-major nor, obviously, his law degree was in History. Or Literature.
Despite his background, he is not a cowboy; is neither type of Eaglelander; is not a Simple Country Lawyer or a Southern-Fried Genius; and although gentlemanly and a Southerner (his father, whose Western was published posthumously, was from an East Texas family; his mother's family were Kentuckians), is not a Southern Gentleman in the tropeful sense. Nor does he much care for American Football, or the sort of music usually troped as American Music; or the American piety of American Churches. He is instead a noted Baseball fan, an Anglican, and aficionado of Baroque Music, Big Band Jazz, and Carolina Beach Music.
He has written of his struggles with his waistline, but is not a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit, either. He also regularly points out that it's not true that Everything Is Big in Texas: he makes a point of being 5'6". And a half. He suffered a heart attack in 2014, and had a triple bypass, interrupting his work on a book; so he wrote a medical memoir of the experience instead.
He is a frequent co-author and co-annotator to GMW Wemyss, leading to Snark-to-Snark Combat in the dueling footnotes. (Word of God from GMW Wemyss is that some aspects of Mr. Pyle were folded-in to the character of the peppery Duke of Taunton.)
His Signature Style is that of a Deadpan Snarker who's Sophisticated as Hell. His self-description is of a man who "believes in the 1928 Prayer Book, brisket, cornbread, National League baseball, and Smithfield ham" and "is unalterably opposed to unnatural fibers, beans in chili, and the Designated Hitter."
His works include:
- Fools, Drunks, and the United States: August 12, 1941: an account of one Day in the Life of America: the day on which, four months before Pearl Harbor, Congress kept the military draft in place by one vote;
- Benevolent Designs: The Countess and the General: George Washington, Selina Countess of Huntingdon, their correspondence, & the evangelizing of America: recounting the correspondence between General Washington, after Yorktown, and his distant cousin the Methodist patroness Lady Huntingdon, on her scheme to people the American backcountry with whole towns full of her pet congregations;
- Tonight At The Morpheum: his account of his heart attack, triple bypass, and recovery;
- The Bapton Books Sampler: a literary chrestomathy: essays, criticism and reviews, with GMW Wemyss;
- The Transatlantic Disputations: Essays and Meditations: critical pieces, reviews, and essays, with (guess) GMW Wemyss;
- Freedom, Fascists, Fools, & Frauds: Bapton Books Position Papers and Other Critical Pieces, 2011 - 2014 (Bapton Books Position Papers & Criticism): Exactly What It Says on the Tin, with drumroll GMW Wemyss;
- When That Great Ship Went Down: the legal and political repercussions of the loss of RMS Titanic: also Exactly What It Says on the Tin (with, oddly enough, GMW Wemyss);
- '37: the year of portent (with yes GMW Wemyss): a Year In the Life of the world: the year of George VI's coronation after the Abdication Crisis, Neville Chamberlain's succeeding Baldwin as Prime Minister, the Mississippi River flood, the New London School Explosion, Guernica, the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Italian genocide in Ethiopia, T. S. Eliot, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Heisenberg, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Josef Stalin's show trials, The Hindenburg, the Rape of Nanking, the publication of The Hobbit, and the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- The Complete Mowgli Stories, Duly Annotated (with, er, GMW Wemyss): All of the Mowgli stories from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, annotated to hell-and-gone;
- The Annotated Wind in the Willows, for Adults and Sensible Children (or, possibly, Children and Sensible Adults) (with yeah, okay, GMW Wemyss): heavily annotated scholarly (and sometimes snarky-in-the-footnotes) edition of The Wind in the Willows.
The foregoing works include the following tropes:
- Author Tract: Averted in the histories and annotated editions, although it's obvious enough that that the man's a conservative with libertarian tendencies (i.e., a Classical Liberal) and for that matter a conservative Democrat (party of one). Some of the essays in the collections, however, are explicitly this, and it's the whole point of Freedom, Fascists, Fools, & Frauds.The Transatlantic Disputations: "In this country, being an orthodox Episcopalian is like being a conservative Democrat I should know, I'm both. Our next convention is in a phone booth, on Thursday."
"As a 1914-1918 man myself, and to a lesser extent a Second War man, I am painfully aware of the influence of my own preferences, and have to try to discount them: I detest Germans, for instance, rather like the Austro-Hungarians, and have a soft spot for the US 29th INF DVN as a whole and the 3/116 INF in particular, for purely personal reasons."
- He also lampshades the issue whenever he has to deal with Yanks with Tanks and foreign wars:
- Creator Provincialism: Generally averted: he can and does write about anyone, anywhere, and their circumstances. A division of labor is however evident in the histories: he does the baseball, Wemyss does the cricket, and, in When That Great Ship Went Down: the legal and political repercussions of the loss of RMS Titanic, Wemyss clearly takes the pen, or keyboard, when dealing with Parliament and the Board of Trade, and Pyle does the US Senate and US Supreme Court sections.
- Day in the Life: For the whole country in Fools, Drunks, and the United States.
- The Dead Have Names: Which you will learn. Along with their biographies.
- Deadpan Snarker: To almost lemony levels for a historian.The Transatlantic Disputations: "For four centuries now, the American people have resigned themselves to natural disasters and acts of God: floods, prairie fires, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, dust bowls, epidemics, academics, lawyers, and politicians;" and, "This side of the Kingdom of God upon Earth, it is a melancholy human fact that those who beat their swords into plowshares end up doing the plowing for those who kept their swords."
- Footnote Fever: Spiking to a dangerous level.
- Gratuitous Latin: Given the times written of, and lawyers' Latin, and Pan in The Wind in the Willows, this is pretty much required of him.
- Hurricane of Puns: A third of the footnotes, and at least two percent of the main text.In a footnote to a piece on gardening: "Somewhere we still have our ancestral mattock, a heavy, somehow Teutonic-looking tool I have named 'Otto.' (The author, smirking, waits for the penny to drop.)"
- Insufferable Genius (lampshaded by Word of God): He admits to a certain, ah, intellectual arrogance:The Transatlantic Disputations: "Public life in this country is too damn dominated by people who'd read more if only their lips didn't get so tired."
- Mundane Made Awesome: Congressional lobbying is a sordid business. Unless it's to keep the US Army in being four months before Pearl Harbor. And the disputes between branches of Methodism in and out of the Church of England, before the big split, could be boring
if they didn't end up accidentally influencing US immigration policy and the presidency of George Washington. And there are the dry details of admiralty law and Senatorial filibustering
which get suddenly important when RMS Titanic sinks.
- Crosses over with Write What You Know, duly lampshaded, in the histories, whether it involves Yanks with Tanks or well, the New London School Explosion in '37: The year of portent? His great-grandfather's brother was the school superintendent, and he lost a few relatives. And in the floods of that year, recounted in that book, his mother was a small girl in Western Kentucky when the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers flooded.
- Narrative Filigree: The histories delve into the (mundane but awesome. Ahem) details of daily life and the daily round of people who don't know what looms over them (such as the "Bedford Boys" who'd be all but wiped out in Normandy).Fools, Drunks, and the United States: "Congress had voted, which is what they were there for, and the promised hell hadn't broken loose, and Lend-Lease and defense contracts and all had put money in the pockets of folks who hadn't seen just a whole hell of a lot of that during the Depression. [snip]
"Across the mountains, in Bedford, beneath the Peaks of Otter, small merchants and farming families whose sons were in the National Guard wished the boys could stay at home and do their jobs.
"As harvests came in and the leaves blazoned autumn and farming families had harvest-money to spend, it was a time of Smithfield or country ham, fried chicken, creamed salsify, spoonbread and corn pudding and chess pie.
"Americans could no more contemplate a future of rationing than of war.
"November was coming, with Thanksgiving and all the trimmings; and after that, Christmas, in a land yet at peace in a war-torn world."
- Politically Correct History: Averted. He points out that the US kept the draft in 1941 thanks to a log-rolled, whipped coalition of big-city machine politicians and segregationist Southern Democrats; that the US Titanic inquiry was driven in the way it went by politics in a presidential election year; and so on.
- Real Place Background: Well, obviously, in the histories; and part of the point of the annotated classics.
- Self-Deprecation: Indeed, bar the fictionality requirement in that trope, it's Creator Career Self-Deprecation: ''Tonight At The Morpheum" begins,"Wolves. Three adolescent wolves. Three adolescent wolves dancing a jig, each with a shillelagh in its left, anthropomorphic, paw. They are bowler-hatted, in patched dungarees held up each by a single gallus. They owe something to A. B. Frost, something to Fred Moore, and something to Tex Avery. [snip]
"I am in the hospital. It is my first experience with morphine. I am in the hospital, where everything, real and unreal (and surreal), is lived in the present continuous. I am in the hospital, and ill enough to justify it, and in more danger than I or they know (or will know), and, God help us all, I am hallucinating about page layout, typography, dingbats, and book design.
"Writers. Good God."
- Shown Their Work: It's what annotators and historians do.
- Slice of Life: The histories; and the medical memoir.
- Small Reference Pools: Averting this is the whole point of the annotated classics. And all the 300-plus footnotes per volume, and introductory essays, and so on.