Lincoln: A President For The Ages, edited by Karl Weber
I certainly agree with the title of this book that Abraham Lincoln was a president for the ages, but this is certainly not a book for the ages. Written and published as a cash grab to support the well-regarded film directed by Steven Spielberg, this book is one of the worst books I have ever read about Abraham Lincoln–not as bad as the DiLorenzo one, but at least in the same ballpark . Why did I feel so irritated about this book? I think, in the main, that the reason I disliked this book so much was the way that the authors consistently sought to use Abraham Lincoln and their thoughts on Abraham Lincoln to shoehorn him for support of various progressive causes and contrary to my own political and religious worldviews. I guess you could say that I feel hostile towards this book because the authors of this book, over and over again, show themselves hostile to me. I tend to find it hard to like it when people are condescending or insulting to me or to my worldview, and this book manages to accomplish that task repeatedly.
This book is about 250 pages and contains 13 essays, making for a reasonably short collection of mostly mediocre to bad essays. The first essay, by the book’s editor, talks about the many faces of Lincoln. Then Gloria Reuben channels her own dysfuncational personal history and family life to play Elizabeth Keckley in one of the book’s better essays. After this Henry Louis Gates Jr. shows his inner black nationalist in talking about Lincoln’s journey from racism. Jean Baker then writes about Abraham Lincoln and his jocular comments about women’s suffrage. Daniel Farber then tries to draw parallels between Lincoln and FDR to justify the New Deal as well as the progressive belief that the Constitution is largely obsolete. James Tackach then comments on how Lincoln would have handled the Hiroshima decision at the end of World War II. Allen Guelzo comments on the relationship between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War II. James Malanowski looks at Abraham Lincoln as an outlaw through ostensibly unconstitutional behavior of his as a president. Frank J. Williams draws parallels between Lincoln and George W. Bush in presenting a counterfactual case of how Lincoln would have handled the war on terror. Douglas Wilson delivers a fine essay on Lincoln as a communicator and its implications for contemporary leaders. Richard Carwardine then delivers a nasty essay against evangelicals and the religious right. Andrew Ferguson participates in an interview that argues that the real Lincoln is the icon. Harold Holzer then closes the book with a look at Lincoln as an unlikely celebrity before the acknowledgements, notes, and index.
Ultimately, this book exists for several purposes and all of them are bad. Part of the purpose is to sell the movie, making this book a cash grab of the most obvious kind. Unfortunately, that is the most noble of its purposes, which also include trying to co-opt Lincoln for all kinds of blameworthy progressive causes and perspectives as well as engaging in counterfactual history that allows for a great deal of wishful thinking on the part of people who consider themselves to be great scholars. It was more than a little distressing to read this book and think of how much better it could have been if only the authors of the essays had been more interested in researching and studying Lincoln rather than bloviating about their own views and perspectives and using Lincoln merely as a stalking horse for the benefit of their own nefarious political and cultural agendas. This book has the whiff of ulterior motives all over it, and when commercial motives are the best motives that can be found, one can gather quickly that this book is not going to be an enjoyable one.
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