Book 27 and the life of an expecting father

27. Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson

Hands down, Ferguson’s book is one of the best I’ve read yet in my quest for 50 new books in 2009. He writes, not about the nuts and bolts facts of Lincoln, but more about what Lincoln means to people, and more specifically, what he is redefined into by people.

Ferguson goes to a conference of skeptics tearing down Lincoln as well as a convention of Lincoln impersonators. He talks with memorabilia collectors who have searched out pieces of hair and bits of blood from the assination of honest Abe and historians who build museums around Lincoln. He even goes on a vacation along the Lincoln Trail with his own family. His results are searching, insightful, funny and honest.

Surprise, surprise. Everybody has an agenda. Men who hate their wives (including Carnegie, the original self-help king) see him as a saint for dealing with that shrew Mary Todd, southern sympathizers think Abe was a closet racist and a nincompoop, historians see him in the bland politically correct terms of their modern historical movement, Ferguson’s children apparently think he was pretty boring. Ferguson tells us more about ourselves and our age than he does about Lincoln; history, he seems to say, is transfigured into a mirror, and whoever looks inside sees something that looks a lot like them.

But the book is a lot more fun than I’m letting on. He tells stories like that of a Lincoln historian and his wife in the 1930s or 1940s, trying to visit Mary Todd’s old Lexington, KY home. Now, it’s a nice museum. Then, it was a working whorehouse. I also could have laughed for hours at his depictions of the “humor” within the Lincoln impersonators convention– samples included an Abe plopping down in a booth for lunch and exclaiming, “Normally, I would try to avoid a Booth.” and tales of looking for a particular Abe at the convention and having another impersonator describe him as “the tall fellow, with the beard and the top hat.”

I really, really liked this book. There are a million books about that “What?” of Lincoln’s life. This is one about the “Why?” of his legacy. I recommend it.

T minus six days on the baby expected date. Starting to look like a late arrival could well be a possibility.

Also, I made my own hot chicken tenders yesterday. I nearly lit my internal organs ablaze. I’ll try to take pictures next time (of the chicken, not of my organs. Not another colonoscopy post!)



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3 Responses to “Book 27 and the life of an expecting father”

  1. barboo77 Says:

    This sounds like an interesting book, and I know that Abe is not the only victim of the agendas of others. Everything in school history books are riddled with errors and they turn every figure into a perfect hero, while everything in the media wants to tear heroes down for ratings. The truth of history is often very complex, and most famous historical people were doing the best they could with their own vices and virtues to deal with the chaos going on around them….just like the rest of us.

  2. eljoe1235 Says:

    The breath and depth of Lincoln re-writing is especially amusing. It goes all the way back. The first meaningful Lincoln biography was written by his old law partner, William Herndon. Herndon hated Mary Todd, and so he wrote her as a shrew, and heavily emphasized the Ann Rutledge story, which may have acquired a great deal of undue emphasis under Herndon’s pen. A famous husband and wife team a few decades later (whose name I sadly forget) of course decided Herndon was a vengeful old man and that Lincoln had a wonderful marriage.

    Ferguson talks about Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book (reviewed earlier on this blog) and how Shenk, a manic depressive, decides that Lincoln’s greatness was tied to his manic depression. Or how a homosexual writer decided that, lo and behold, Lincoln was a homosexual.

    While history has its shortcomings, usually we don’t feel a need to redefine historical figures into our shoes. But Lincoln is apparently different, according to Ferguson.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography is on the shelf for future reading. I have always enjoyed Goodwin’s writing and look forward to seeing if she’s any better than the pack.


  3. barboo77 Says:

    I see what you’re saying…that Lincoln for some reason kind of stands out as a Rorschach test of each author’s particular issues. I think that Kenneth C. Davis does a pretty good and fair assessment of Lincoln (among others) in his book “Don’t Know Much About American History”. I just always get really ticked off every Columbus Day because most of his “greatness” was completely invented by Washington Irving.

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