Feats Of Progress

Ken Burns, whose new film airs this week, puts the story back in history

"Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live," said Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker religious sect, "and as you would if you knew you must die tomorrow." It is no accident that Ken Burns picked the Shakers, who believed that God dwelt in the craftsmanship of their everyday work, as the subject for one of his films. Each of his works seems the labor of a lifetime: a painstaking assemblage of archival photographs, period documents, interviews and music, welded together by narration that can soar to near religious inspiration.

Burns is best known for...

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