Following the self-publication of his first novel, Jim Pierce ’78 visited Kenyon on Oct. 21 to discuss his new work of historical fiction, Treachery: A Story of Deception Behind Union Lines.
Much of Pierce’s philosophy surrounding the study of the past is informed by his time at Kenyon. Though he started out as an English major, he soon switched to history, and he described his experience as “a really formative four years.” After graduating, Pierce found work representing marine and energy companies in the insurance marketplace. Pierce sat down with the Collegian during his visit to campus to discuss the writing process, the study of history and his advice for Kenyon students.
The idea for Treachery came from Pierce’s lifelong fascination with American history. A work of speculative historical fiction, Treachery attempts to posit a reason for the Union’s military ineptitude during the early years of the Civil War. “The Union had everything — the men, the arms, the supply chain, the manufacturing — and the South had nothing except the will to fight,” Pierce explained. The novel, which Pierce intended to be fictitious, was also inspired by his admiration for Abraham Lincoln. “There are so many more capable historians than I who have already told this story. So to me, the whole thing was to have fun with history by giving personalities and characters to those who actually lived in those times and to come up with a possibly valid explanation for why the North was so bad in prosecuting the war.”
The publication of Treachery fulfilled a dream of Pierce’s that took root many years ago. He first got the idea to write a historical fiction book in the late 1990s and had his mentor, the late Professor of History Roy Wortman, read over a short draft. Career and family, however, prevented Pierce from completing the novel. “It was COVID that gave me the opportunity to dust off the Word doc,” he said. “It was a respite from the boredom of the pandemic. My job was a global job, and I was supposed to be going around the world, but I found my afternoons devoid of business challenges. So I finally said ‘I’m gonna write this thing,’ and I reacquainted myself with what I had written 25 years ago.” Of his late mentor, to whom the book is dedicated, Pierce said, “I don’t know if I can say he lived through me as I wrote, but he did have a profound impact on me and my love of history.”
The Civil War is often a target of revisionist history, with some school districts teaching that the war was fought over “states’ rights” rather than slavery. When asked about this revisionist history, Pierce expressed his view that we should always be aware of the nuance surrounding the history of the conflict. “I think we have to be really careful to avoid what I refer to as presentism — it’s those who judge all people and actions of the past through a present lens, which I think is a very dangerous and slippery slope because you’ve got to contextualize and view history through the lens of what was happening there and then.”
Pierce credits his Kenyon education with granting him the necessary skills for success. “It’s an all-people business, and it’s all about being a good communicator. I think Kenyon helped me with the confidence to express myself and my ideas.” To that end, Pierce said that the most important piece of advice he would give to today’s Kenyon students is this: “Be a communicator.”