Politics & Polls #99: Who is Atticus Finch?

Jul 17 2018
By Arva Hassonjee
Topics Politics
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Fictional work often stimulates a broader debate about politics and history. This was the case following the release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” in 2015. A beloved literary hero, Atticus Finch was remade into a bigoted antagonist.

In today’s episode, historian and author Joseph Crespino joins Julian Zelizer to discuss the controversy that sparked following the release of “Go Set a Watchman.” Crespino, who’s written a book about Harper Lee’s writing, argues that her second book raised a number of questions about race relations and the American South.

Crespino is the Jimmy Carter Professor of American History at Emory University. He is a historian of the twentieth century United States and the American South since Reconstruction.

Crespino’s latest book, “Atticus Finch: The Biography—Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon.,” explores the character of Atticus Finch, “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” hero and “Go Set a Watchman’s” prejudiced antagonist. In his book, Crespino focuses on how Lee’s father provided the model for both versions of Atticus Finch.


Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also a CNN Political Analyst and columnist for the Atlantic. He is the author of several books including, most recently, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society," which was just awarded the DB Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. He has edited and authored 19 books on American political history and published over 700 hundred op-eds, including his popular weekly column on CNN.com.