Thursday, May 31, 2007

New Books on Lincoln

Emmett Tyrrell has a terrific Town Hall column discussing not only a couple of new books about Abraham Lincoln but also a couple of fascinating anecdotes from his own family history and its connection to the great President. The column, like all Tyrrell writing, is delightful and instructive both plus, in this case, it points the way to two books that you may well want to put on your "to-read" list: Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln and Thomas J. Craughwell's Stealing Lincoln's Body.

They're both already on mine..

Here's a quick teaser:

...The library is known in my family as "The Lincoln Library," because of this old picture of the savior of the Union. Given by the president's son to my great-great-grandfather, its thick mahogany frame bears a bronze plaque, which reads: "Presented To P.D. Tyrrell, U.S.S.S. By Robert T. Lincoln April 14, 1887 For Loyalty And Service To His Father Abraham Lincoln." April 14 was the date on which the president had been shot 12 years earlier on Good Friday. That Easter Sunday, it would have been a rare church that did not echo with comparisons between the assassinated president and Christ. I assume it was not coincidental that Robert Lincoln made his gift to my ancestor on April 14.

In a fine new book, "Land of Lincoln," my friend, Andy Ferguson, describes how the eponym of my library has been reinterpreted through the years, usually through evolving contemporary values. Recently, you will recall, Lincoln was reintroduced to the reading public as gay. Soon he will doubtless be presented as an opponent of global warming. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has served up the resolute conqueror of Confederate armies as a likely opponent of the war in Iraq. "Lincoln hasn't been forgotten," Ferguson writes, "but he's shrunk" to conform to our "wised-up world." It is only a matter of time before Bill Clinton announces that the 16th president is endorsing Hillary and, perhaps, making a small donation to the Clinton Library, possibly through a Swiss bank account...

By the way, over in NRO's Corner, Stanley Kurtz had a few comments on Ferguson's book too:

I’ve been dipping into Andrew Ferguson’s new book, Land of Lincoln, which is as wise and funny as you’d expect a book by Ferguson to be. (Between Ferguson, Steyn, O’Rourke, Brooks, Derb, and Goldberg, maybe we should start calling ourselves the "funny party.")

Land of Lincoln is more like a comic anthropology than a biography. You can study secularization through statistics on church attendance, but it’s a lot more fun and interesting to notice that signs directing visitors to "Lincoln shrines" have turned into posters for "Lincoln sites." That’s secularization, American-style. Through a thousand clever insights like that, Ferguson turns our ways of watching old Abe into a window onto who we are. And his closing thoughts about Lincoln "the icon" strike me as just right. This is a wonderful book.