The BEST episodes directed by Ken Burns

A Strong and Active Faith (1944–1962)
star
9.51
49 votes

#1 - A Strong and Active Faith (1944–1962)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 7

Frail and failing but determined to see the war through to victory, FDR wins re-election and begins planning for a peaceful postwar world, but a cerebral hemorrhage kills him at 63. After her husband's death, Eleanor Roosevelt proves herself a shrewd politician and a skilled negotiator in her own right, as well as a champion of civil rights, civil liberties and the United Nations.

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Bottom of the Tenth
star
9.50
58 votes

#2 - Bottom of the Tenth

Baseball - Season 2 - Episode 2

Ken Burns' follow-up to "Baseball" concludes with a look at dominating pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Japan's first MLB star, Ichiro Suzuki; the comfort provided by the game after the 9/11 attacks; revelations about performance-enhancing drugs; the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry; and Boston's World Series victory.

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Sixth Inning: The National Pastime
star
9.40
80 votes

#3 - Sixth Inning: The National Pastime

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 6

Sixth Inning, The National Pastime, covers the 1940s and includes Joe DiMaggio's celebrated hitting streak, the awe-inspiring performance of Ted Williams and what Burns calls "baseball's finest moment" — the debut of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

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The Rising Road (1933–1939)
star
9.34
53 votes

#4 - The Rising Road (1933–1939)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 5

FDR brings the same optimism and energy to the White House that his cousin Theodore displayed. Aimed at ending the Depression, his sweeping New Deal restores the people's self-confidence and transforms the relationship between them and their government. Eleanor rejects the traditional role of first lady, becomes her husband’s liberal conscience and a sometimes controversial political force.

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Ninth Inning: Home
star
9.29
76 votes

#5 - Ninth Inning: Home

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 9

Ninth Inning, Home, looks at baseball from the 1970s to the present, including the establishment of the free agent system, the rise in player salaries, the continued expansion, the dilution of talent, the ongoing battles between labor and management and the scandals. The documentary ends with an ironic claim that baseball, and indirectly the World Series, could never be stopped. The 1994 World Series, the series to be played the year the film was aired, was canceled due to a players' strike.

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The Common Cause (1939–1944)
star
9.26
54 votes

#6 - The Common Cause (1939–1944)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 6

FDR shatters the third-term tradition, struggles to prepare a reluctant country to enter World War II and, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, helps set the course toward Allied victory. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep New Deal reforms alive in wartime, and travels the Pacific to comfort wounded servicemen.

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The Gift (1917–1924)
star
9.25
51 votes

#7 - The Gift (1917–1924)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 2

How can one explain the genius of a Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington? Blessed with skill and talent far exceeding their peers, one can only define what they possess as a gift from the gods. These early portraits are imperative, because both figures have been so canonized that it is easy to forget the significance of their gifts.

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Fifth Inning: Shadow Ball
star
9.22
82 votes

#8 - Fifth Inning: Shadow Ball

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 5

Fifth Inning, Shadow Ball, tells the story of the Negro Leagues in the 1930s. The title refers to a common pre-game feature in which the players staged a mock game with an imaginary ball. Though unintended, the pantomime was an apt metaphor for the exclusion of blacks from major league play at that time.

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War is All Hell (1865)
star
9.15
124 votes

#9 - War is All Hell (1865)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 8

The episode begins with William Tecumseh Sherman's brilliant march to the sea, which brings the war to the heart of Georgia and the Carolinas and spells the end of the Confederacy. In March, following Lincoln's second inauguration, first Petersburg and then Richmond finally fall to Grant's army. Lee's tattered Army of Northern Virginia flees westward towards a tiny crossroads town called Appomattox Court House. There the dramatic and deeply moving surrender of Lee to Grant takes place. The episode ends in Washington where John Wilkes Booth begins to dream of vengeance for the South.

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The Better Angels of Our Nature (1865)
star
9.13
120 votes

#10 - The Better Angels of Our Nature (1865)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 9

This extraordinary final episode of The Civil War begins in the bittersweet aftermath of Lee's surrender and then goes on to narrate the horrendous events of five days later when, on April 14, Lincoln is assassinated. After chronicling Lincoln's poignant funeral, the series recounts the final days of the war, the capture of John Wilkes Booth and the fates of the Civil War's major protagonists. The episode then considers the consequences and meaning of a war that transformed the country from a collection of states to the nation we are today.

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The Storm (1920–1933)
star
9.06
62 votes

#11 - The Storm (1920–1933)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 4

Franklin Roosevelt runs for vice president in 1920 and seems assured of a still brighter future until polio devastates him. He spends seven years struggling without success to walk again, while Eleanor builds her own personal and political life of. FDR returns to politics in 1928 and acts with such vigor during the first years of the Great Depression that the Democrats nominate him for president.

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In the Arena (1901–1910)
star
9.03
69 votes

#12 - In the Arena (1901–1910)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 2

Murder brings Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency, but in the seven years that follow, he transforms the office and makes himself perhaps the best-loved of all presidents, battling corporate greed, preserving American wilderness, carrying the message of American might around the world. FDR weds Eleanor Roosevelt, and jumps at the chance to run for the New York state senate.

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Gumbo (Beginnings to 1917)
star
9.02
55 votes

#13 - Gumbo (Beginnings to 1917)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 1

"Gumbo" traces the roots of jazz from the 1800s to 1917. The viewer will catch glimpses of Jelly Roll Morton, who erroneously claimed to have invented jazz, and the tragic, though influential, figure of trumpeter Buddy Bolden.

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Top of the Tenth
star
9.00
58 votes

#14 - Top of the Tenth

Baseball - Season 2 - Episode 1

Part 1 of 2. Ken Burns' follow-up to "Baseball" picks up where the 1994 series left off. Included: the crippling 1994 strike; the influx of international players; Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak; the thrilling 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

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The Adventure (1956–1960)
star
8.92
13 votes

#15 - The Adventure (1956–1960)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 9

Critics who had believed that Charlie Parker was "too much" musically, could not have welcomed the arrival of Ornette Coleman. Coleman and John Coltrane would edge jazz toward even more freedom, eventually dropping all traditional structures. While these artists alienated many listeners, Miles Davis would record the most popular jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue.

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Seventh Inning: The Capital of Baseball
star
8.91
82 votes

#16 - Seventh Inning: The Capital of Baseball

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 7

Seventh Inning, The Capitol of Baseball, takes viewers through the 1950s when New York City had three successful baseball teams and dominated the World Series. By the end of the decade, the Giants and Dodgers had left New York, a signal that the old game was changed forever.

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Valley of the Shadow of Death (1864)
star
8.86
141 votes

#17 - Valley of the Shadow of Death (1864)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 6

Episode six begins with a biographical comparison of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee and then chronicles the extraordinary series of battles that pitted the two generals against each other from the wilderness to Petersburg in Virginia. In 30 days, the two armies lose more men than both sides have lost in three years of war. With Grant and Lee finally deadlocked at Petersburg, we visit the ghastly hospitals north and south and follow General Sherman's Atlanta campaign through the mountains of north Georgia. As the horrendous casualty lists increase, Lincoln's chances for re-election begin to dim, and with them the possibility of Union victory.

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Eighth Inning: A Whole New Ballgame
star
8.85
78 votes

#18 - Eighth Inning: A Whole New Ballgame

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 8

Eighth Inning, A Whole New Ball Game, moves the field to the 1960s. This episode traces the emergence of television, the expansion to new cities and the building of anonymous multipurpose stadiums that robbed the game of its intimacy and some of its urban following.

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Fourth Inning: A National Heirloom
star
8.81
88 votes

#19 - Fourth Inning: A National Heirloom

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 4

Fourth Inning, A National Heirloom, concentrates on Babe Ruth, whose phenomenal performance thrilled the nation throughout the 1920s and rescued the game from the scandal of the previous decade.

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The Homeless, The Tempest-Tossed (1942–)
star
8.78
27 votes

#20 - The Homeless, The Tempest-Tossed (1942–)

The U.S. and the Holocaust - Season 1 - Episode 3

A group of government officials supports rescue operations; the public sees for the first time the scale of the Holocaust as Allies liberate German camps.

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Get Action (1858–1901)
star
8.77
82 votes

#21 - Get Action (1858–1901)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 1

A frail, asthmatic young Theodore Roosevelt transforms himself into a champion of the strenuous life, loses one great love and finds another, leads men into battle and then rises like a rocket to become the youngest president in American history at 42. Meanwhile, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, brought up as the pampered only child of adoring parents, follows his older cousin’s career with fascination.

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Forever Free (1862)
star
8.72
166 votes

#22 - Forever Free (1862)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 3

This episode charts the dramatic events that led to Lincoln's decision to set the slaves free. Convinced by July 1862 that emancipation was now morally and militarily crucial to the future of the Union, Lincoln must wait for a victory to issue his proclamation. But as the year wears on there are no Union victories to be had, thanks to the brilliance of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The episode comes to a climax in September 1862 with Lee's invasion of Maryland. On the banks of Antietam Creek, the bloodiest day of the war takes place, followed shortly by the brightest: the emancipation of the slaves.

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Third Inning: The Faith of Fifty Million People
star
8.72
90 votes

#23 - Third Inning: The Faith of Fifty Million People

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 3

Third Inning, The Faith of Fifty Million People, examines the century's second decade, which was dominated by the Black Sox scandal. George Herman "Babe" Ruth makes his first major league appearance (as a member of the Boston Red Sox) and a wave of immigration helps fill the stands with new fans, eager to "become American" by learning America's game.

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Dedicated to Chaos (1940–1945)
star
8.71
17 votes

#24 - Dedicated to Chaos (1940–1945)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 7

"Dedicated to Chaos" finds jazz musicians teetering on the brink of the modern era, fighting against the straightjacket of clichéd, big band arrangements. The revolution started at Minton's Playhouse, a rundown club where musicians like Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Christian jammed on Monday nights. When they hooked up with a young saxophone player from Kansas City named Charlie Parker, the bop insurgency had arrived.

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Second Inning: Something Like a War
star
8.66
95 votes

#25 - Second Inning: Something Like a War

Baseball - Season 1 - Episode 2

Second Inning, Something Like a War, takes viewers through 1910 and introduces some of the game's most celebrated and colorful characters, including Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson., and includes the formation of the American League and its integration with the National League, culminating in the establishment of the World Series.

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Most Hallowed Ground (1864)
star
8.65
131 votes

#26 - Most Hallowed Ground (1864)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 7

The episode begins with the presidential election of 1864 that sets Abraham Lincoln against his old commanding general, George McClellan. The stakes are nothing less than the survival of the Union itself: with Grant and Sherman stalled at Petersburg and Atlanta, opinion in the North has turned strongly against the war. But 11th-hour victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and the Shenandoah Valley tilt the election to Lincoln and the Confederacy's last hope for independence dies. In an ironic twist, poignantly typical of the Civil War, Lee's Arlington mansion is turned into a Union military hospital and the estate becomes Arlington National Cemetery, the Union's most hallowed ground.

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Risk (1945–1955)
star
8.65
17 votes

#27 - Risk (1945–1955)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 8

The bop revolution's influence would spread to other musicians, but unlike swing, it would never become a popular music. The rapid-fire solos and complicated chord structures made bop a musician's music, unfit for dancing. Indeed, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s music even alienated established musicians like Armstrong. "Risk" provides an in-depth biography of the bright, brief life of Parker, and includes interviews with his former wife.

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Simply Murder (1863)
star
8.64
157 votes

#28 - Simply Murder (1863)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 4

The nightmarish Union disaster at Fredericksburg comes to two climaxes that spring: at Chancellorsville in May, where Lee wins his most brilliant victory but loses Stonewall Jackson; and at Vicksburg, where Grant's attempts to take the city by siege are stopped. During the episode we learn of fierce Northern opposition to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the miseries of regimental life and the increasing desperation of the Confederate homefront. As the episode ends, Lee decides to invade the North again to draw Grant's forces away from Vicksburg.

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The Fire of Life (1910–1919)
star
8.61
59 votes

#29 - The Fire of Life (1910–1919)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History - Season 1 - Episode 3

Theodore Roosevelt leads a Progressive crusade that splits his own party, campaigns for American entry into World War I—and pays a terrible personal price. Franklin masters wartime Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, while Eleanor finds personal salvation in war work. Her discovery of Franklin’s romance with another woman transforms their marriage into a largely political partnership.

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The Universe of Battle (1863)
star
8.57
155 votes

#30 - The Universe of Battle (1863)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 5

This episode opens with a dramatic account of the turning point of war: the Battle of Gettysburg, the greatest ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. For three days 150,000 men will fight to the death in the Pennsylvania countryside, culminating in Pickett's legendary charge. This extended episode then goes on to chronicle the fall of Vicksburg, the New York draft riots, the first use of black troops, and the western battles at Chickamauga, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The episode closes with the dedication of a new Union cemetery at Gettysburg in November, where Abraham Lincoln struggles to put into words what is happening to his people.

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The Weight of Memory (March 1973–Onward)
star
8.51
292 votes

#31 - The Weight of Memory (March 1973–Onward)

The Vietnam War (2017) - Season 1 - Episode 10

Saigon falls and the war ends. Americans and Vietnamese from all sides search for reconciliation.

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A Masterpiece by Midnight (1960 to the Present)
star
8.50
14 votes

#32 - A Masterpiece by Midnight (1960 to the Present)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 10

Obviously Ken Burns knows that he can't fit the last thirty-nine years of jazz history onto two hours of video tape, so from the outset, that shouldn't be expected. There's an excellent biography of John Coltrane, and footage of Miles Davis' wonderful mid-’60s quintet. There is also a nice, small section on the magnificent Charles Mingus.

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Swing: The Velocity of Celebration (1937–1939)
star
8.47
15 votes

#33 - Swing: The Velocity of Celebration (1937–1939)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 6

Swing would be reacquainted with its blues roots by way of Kansas City, when Count Basie and the Barons of Rhythm brought their hot sound to the Big Apple. Basie would also give Billie Holiday her first break, offering her a chance to travel, perform, drink, and gamble with the rest of the band. Another young singer named Ella Fitzgerald would get her start in Chick Webb's band at the Savoy Ballroom, and then be named top female vocalist—over Billy Holiday—by Down Beat in 1937.

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I Can't Stop Loving You (1953–1963)
star
8.40
55 votes

#34 - I Can't Stop Loving You (1953–1963)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 4

Travel to Memphis, where Sun Studios artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley usher in the era of rockabilly. Ray Charles crosses America's racial divide by recording a country album. Patsy Cline shows off Music City's smooth new Nashville Sound.

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The True Welcome (1929–1934)
star
8.40
15 votes

#35 - The True Welcome (1929–1934)

Jazz - Season 1 - Episode 4

"The True Welcome" continues many of the stories begun in Episode 3, following several troubling years for Louis Armstrong (who was arrested for marijuana possession), Duke Ellington’s growth as a composer, and Benny Goodman discovering gold in Fletcher Henderson’s arrangements. "The True Welcome" also has a nice section on rich kid John Hammond, Sr. who would become one of the biggest promoters of jazz.

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Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968–1972)
star
8.37
51 votes

#36 - Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968–1972)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 6

Learn how country music responds to a nation divided by the Vietnam War, as Army captain turned songwriter Kris Kristofferson sets a new lyrical standard, and artists like Bob Dylan and the Byrds find a recording home in Nashville.

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The Rub (Beginnings–1933)
star
8.33
81 votes

#37 - The Rub (Beginnings–1933)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 1

See how what was first called "hillbilly music" reaches new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launches the careers of country music's first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

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Pride of our Nation
star
8.31
62 votes

#38 - Pride of our Nation

The War - Season 1 - Episode 4

By June 1944, there are signs on both sides of the world that the tide of the war is turning. On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — in the European Theater, a million and a half Allied troops embark on one of the greatest invasions in history: the invasion of France. Among them are Dwain Luce of Mobile, who drops behind enemy lines in a glider; Quentin Aanenson of Luverne, who flies his first combat mission over the Normandy coast; and Joseph Vaghi of Waterbury, who manages to survive the disastrous landing on Omaha Beach, where German resistance nearly decimates the American forces

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The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945–1953)
star
8.29
62 votes

#39 - The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945–1953)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 3

See how the bluegrass sound spreads in post-war America, and meet honky-tonk star Hank Williams, whose songs of surprisingly emotional depth are derived from his troubled and tragically short life.

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Yearning to Breathe Free (1938–1942)
star
8.29
38 votes

#40 - Yearning to Breathe Free (1938–1942)

The U.S. and the Holocaust - Season 1 - Episode 2

As World War II begins, Americans unite in their disapproval of Nazi brutality and work to help refugees escape; Germany invades the Soviet Union and secretly begins the mass murder of European Jews.

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Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973–1983)
star
8.26
43 votes

#41 - Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973–1983)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 7

Country music enters a vibrant era of new voices and attitudes. Dolly Parton crosses over to mainstream success and becomes the most famous woman in country music. In 1980, she achieved an entirely new level of national stardom when she joined Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the hit Hollywood movie, Nine to Five. George Jones and Tammy Wynette seemingly live out their songs' tragic lyrics. Hank Williams, Jr. emerges from his father’s shadow. He performs his father’s song beginning at age 8, debuts on the Opry at 11 singing "Lovesick Blues," and records an album of Hank Sr.’s hits at 14; as soon as he turned 18 he dropped his mother as a manager. [Note: In some regions, this episode is titled "Music Will Get Through (1973–1983)".]

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The Sons and Daughters of America (1964–1968)
star
8.25
55 votes

#42 - The Sons and Daughters of America (1964–1968)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 5

See how country music reflects a changing America, with Loretta Lynn speaking to women everywhere, Merle Haggard becoming "The Poet of the Common Man" and audiences looking beyond race to embrace Charley Pride.

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A Disrespectful Loyalty (May 1970–March 1973)
star
8.24
319 votes

#43 - A Disrespectful Loyalty (May 1970–March 1973)

The Vietnam War (2017) - Season 1 - Episode 9

South Vietnam fights on its own as Nixon and Kissinger find a way out for America. The POWs return.

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The Golden Door (Beginnings–1938)
star
8.22
49 votes

#44 - The Golden Door (Beginnings–1938)

The U.S. and the Holocaust - Season 1 - Episode 1

Congress reverses open borders; Hitler and the Nazis begin their persecution of German Jews, causing many to seek refuge; President Franklin D. Roosevelt is concerned but unable to coordinate a response to the crisis.

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The Cause (1861)
star
8.22
329 votes

#45 - The Cause (1861)

The Civil War - Season 1 - Episode 1

Beginning with a searing indictment of slavery, this first episode dramatically evokes the causes of the war, from the Cotton Kingdom of the South to the northern abolitionists who opposed it. Here are the burning questions of Union and States' rights, John Brown at Harper's Ferry, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the firing on Fort Sumter and the jubilant rush to arms on both sides. Along the way the series' major figures are introduced: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and a host of lesser-known but equally vivid characters. The episode comes to a climax with the disastrous Union defeat at Manassas, Virginia, where both sides now learn it is to be a very long war.

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When Things Get Tough
star
8.20
66 votes

#46 - When Things Get Tough

The War - Season 1 - Episode 2

By January 1943, Americans have been at war for more than a year. The Germans, with their vast war machine, still occupy most of Western Europe, and the Allies have not yet been able to agree on a plan or a timetable to dislodge them. For the time being, they will have to be content to nip at the edges of Hitler’s enormous domain. American troops, including Charles Mann of Luverne, are now ashore in North Africa, ready to test themselves for the first time against the German and Italian armies.

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Don't Get Above Your Raisin' (1984–1996)
star
8.18
44 votes

#47 - Don't Get Above Your Raisin' (1984–1996)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 8

Neotraditional country artists such as George Strait, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and the Judds keep country music true to its roots. Plus, the rise of superstar Garth Brooks and the return of Johnny Cash to the industry he helped create.

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Hard Times (1933–1945)
star
8.17
59 votes

#48 - Hard Times (1933–1945)

Country Music - Season 1 - Episode 2

Watch as Nashville becomes the heart of the country music industry. The genre grows in popularity during the Great Depression and World War II as America falls in love with singing cowboys, Texas Swing and the Grand Ole Opry's Roy Acuff.

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The History of the World (April 1969–May 1970)
star
8.13
341 votes

#49 - The History of the World (April 1969–May 1970)

The Vietnam War (2017) - Season 1 - Episode 8

Nixon withdraws troops but when he sends forces into Cambodia the antiwar movement reignites.

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Things Fall Apart (January 1968–July 1968)
star
8.10
389 votes

#50 - Things Fall Apart (January 1968–July 1968)

The Vietnam War (2017) - Season 1 - Episode 6

Shaken by the Tet Offensive, assassinations and unrest, America seems to be coming apart.

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