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Fri June 22, 2012
Good Read: Out Lincoln by Eric Foner
Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World
edited by Eric Foner
(Your purchase supports WKMS!)
Among these original essays by prize-winning historians, James M. McPherson examines Lincoln’s deft navigation of the crosscurrents of politics and wartime strategy. Sean Wilentz elegantly explores Lincoln’s debt to the democratic political tradition of Jefferson and Jackson. Eric Foner examines Lincoln’s controversial position on the movement to colonize emancipated slaves outside the United States. James Oakes explores Lincoln’s views on the rights of African Americans. There are also brilliant essays on Lincoln and civil liberties, and on his literary style, religious beliefs, and family life.
Todd Hatton says:
“It’s impossible to go to Washington, D.C. and not be touched somehow by Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. It’s even more difficult to find something new, something previously unsaid or unwritten about our 16th president. Lincoln has held our hearts and minds since the end of the Civil War, and one could be forgiven for thinking that in the intervening century and a half we’ve more or less plumbed the depths of this man.
The recent bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth with its releases of new tomes and re-issues of classic pieces nevertheless proves that we are still drawn to him. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a hint of desperation in this renewed compulsion, as we search for a way to heal our own bitterly divided body politic in the careworn face of this gifted, troubled, and extraordinarily complicated man.
Our Lincoln, New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, a collection of essays edited by Columbia University history professor Eric Foner, may not show us how to bridge today’s political divides, but it does provide a glimpse into the various and sometimes conflicting facets of a man who held our nation together for its own good when it wanted nothing more than to come apart.
Make no mistake, Our Lincoln isn’t a light read; but then, not much about Lincoln ever is. It is, however, an engrossing one. Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Mark Neely and James McPherson contribute insights into Lincoln the Commander-in-Chief and his relationship to the Constitution and civil liberties, but we also find essays that peer into Lincoln’s spirituality and analyze his role as a student and patron of the visual arts. Andrew Delbanco, who edited The Portable Lincoln, even contributes a piece asserting that other than Mark Twain, no other writer had as enormous and lasting an impact on American literature as did Abraham Lincoln. Not bad for a guy with a grand total of 18 months of formal education.
There is much in Our Lincoln to recommend it, and its satisfactions are much like those of running into an old friend, long absent. This is Abraham Lincoln, after all, the man whose likeness marks our money and a great number of our monuments, and we get a chance to find out what he’s been up to all these years.”