Joe Crespino

Joe Crespino has published three books. His most recent is Atticus Finch: The Biography – Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon. Also, he has co-edited a collection of essays, and has written for academic journals as well as for popular forums such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal. 

In a front-page review in the New York Times, Howell Raines, former executive editor of the Times and a native of Alabama, described Atticus Finch as a “crisp, illuminating” book that “opens a window into “Mockingbird’s’ scrubbed-up Alabama of memory” and “the literary politics of the modern South.” 

Crespino is the Jimmy Carter Professor of History at Emory University (Atlanta). He is an expert in the political and cultural history of the twentieth century United States, and of the history of the American South since Reconstruction. His work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Academy of Education. 

In 2014, he served as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Tubingen (Germany), and he has been named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.

Who was the real Atticus Finch? A prize-winning historian reveals the man behind the legend


The publication of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 forever changed how we think about Atticus Finch. Once seen as a paragon of decency, he was reduced to a small-town racist. How are we to understand this transformation?


In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose that mocked his values, she revised the character in To Kill a Mockingbird to defend her father and to remind the South of its best traditions. A story of family and literature amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, Atticus Finch is essential to understanding Harper Lee, her novels, and her times.

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