When I heard that Shelby Foote had died, at the age of 88, I immediately thought of Ken Burns' landmark PBS documentary The Civil War. Certain names stick out so clearly from that film, which is so very long and yet so very good in just the right doses: Among them are Jay Ungar's song "Ashokan Farewell," Sullivan Ballou's farewell letter to his wife, and Shelby Foote's interviews and narrations throughout the episodes. I thought it was fitting that his obituary should mention his moment in the sun, when the widest possible audience learned of his great work and heard his timeless voice.
The title quote is one of Foote's. Another great quote can be found at the end of this PBS transcript where he talks about how people once thought of the United States as being a plural, as deserving a plural verb, whereas "after the war, it was always 'the United States is,' as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an 'is.'"