Friday, June 5, 2015

Four Score and Seven Years Ago

Housekeeping note – Stephen King’s The Stand is officially off the list. I had to do a bit of editing recently when I realized one sneaky bastard had gotten eight different books on the list. EIGHT! He and I negotiated down to three, with one to be read at a later date. The King book is gone for a different reason – page length. The person who recommended today’s three-pound barbell of historical non-fiction also recommended two other books of similar length. I’ve decided in the face of this, a restriction has to be put in place. I can’t spend 3,000 pages on one person, no matter how much fun it is to publicly make fun of his wife’s musical tastes. Onward!

#40 – Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
Recommended by: KD

On May 18, 1960, the day when the Republican Party would nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was up early.

All of my knowledge of the Civil War comes from fiction and movies. To say that I was not in the least interested in reading the ultimate biography of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet is to understate, in the extreme, my dread in having to read this hefty tome. The only book I have ever read about Lincoln had the phrase “vampire hunger” in its title. Civil war history is just not my jam.

Once again, I find myself mistaken.

This book was excellent and that had everything to do with the writing. I cannot imagine the work involved in spending an entire decade perusing every document under the sun to get a firmer understanding of Lincoln and all of the people who surrounded them. The bibliography is almost 200 single spaced pages! But what is stunning is how deftly all of these facts and figures, quotes, and letters are interwoven into one cohesive story. I knew nothing about the members of government during the Civil War. This book allowed me to follow, remember, and get to know a cast of thousands. This book requires a diligent reader. It takes hundreds of pages to even get to Lincoln’s nomination as president, let alone his first and second term. It is really a stunning achievement in stating fact in a way as to make it as enjoyable as fiction. You really get the sense of what Washington was like, what Lincoln was like, and how his brilliance as a statesman, his lack of ego, and his patient determination to do the great things that led to the 13th Amendment.

However, what I found most surprising was how little slavery had to do with the Civil War. Or, to be more specific, the human rights aspect of slavery was far less important than the politics. I was also surprised that political maneuvering was as much a part of campaigns in the 1800s as it is now. This book takes a while to plow through, which being 754 pages long, it should. If you are a fan of Lincoln, or the Civil War, or politics, I really do think you should take the time to enjoy this one. It will increase your knowledge immeasurably (as well as your arm muscles). As for myself, I think my interest in the topic is fully sated. However, this book is a master class in how to bring non-fiction to life and fully deserves every accolade and award is has won, including the Pulitzer. 

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