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«Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words»

Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature and Mass Media

Wolfgang Mieder

The ten chapters of «Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words» present a composite picture of the richness of proverbs as significant expressions of folk wisdom as is manifest from their appearance in art, culture, folklore, history, literature, and the mass media. The first chapter surveys the multifaceted aspects of paremiology (the study of proverbs), with the second chapter illustrating the paremiological work by the American folklorist Alan Dundes. The next two chapters look at the effective role that proverbs play in the mass media, where they are cited in their traditional wording or as innovative anti-proverbs. The fifth chapter discusses proverbs as expressions of the worldview of New England. This is followed by two chapters on the proverbial prowess of American presidents, to wit the proverbial style in the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams and a discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s apocryphal proverb «Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream.» The eighth chapter traces the tradition of proverb iconography from medieval woodcuts to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and on to modern caricatures, cartoons, and comic strips. The last two chapters deal with the origin and history of the proverbial expression «to tilt at windmills» as an allusion to Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the many proverbial utterances in Mozart’s letters. The book draws attention to the fact that proverbs as metaphorical signs continue to play an important role in oral and written communication. Proverbs as socalled monumenta humana are omnipresent in all facets of life, and while they are neither sacrosanct nor saccharine, they usually offer much common sense or wisdom based on recurrent experiences and observations.


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6. “History Teaches by Example” David McCullough’s John Adams Biography 1


When it comes to questions of historiography, i.e., the theories, techniques, and principles of historical research and presentation, there has long existed a gulf between the pure, factual, objective and yet quite often cut-and-dry scholars and the less informed, superficial, subjective but vivid popularizers of history. The academics are addressing a small group of experts and are pleased if their books get published at all and make it into major scholarly libraries, while those authors who write for the mass market spread their books across the landscape in the thousands. Occasionally, however, we find historians who bridge this dichotomy by being truthful to academic principles and by being able to write in a style that is accessible and enjoyable for both professional historians and general readers. There is no doubt that David McCullough, renowned author of such books as The Johnstown Flood (1968), The Great Bridge (1972), The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914 (1977), and the Pulitzer-prize winning Truman (1992) biography as well as distinguished narrator of PBS’s American Experience and such historical documentaries as Ken Burn’s Civil War, is both an academic and popular historian. How else could it be explained that his most recent voluminous biography on the hitherto lesser known and appreciated John Adams could be equally acclaimed as a magisterial historical biography by profes- sional historians and the general public alike? Never before has such a book met with so much success. Barely three months after its publication in...

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