Book Review: Land Of Lincoln

Land Of Lincoln:  Adventures In Abe’s America, by Andrew Ferguson

As someone who reads a great deal of books about Abraham Lincoln, it is pretty clear that I would likely fall into the category of being a buff, as this author would like to say [1].  Instead of writing a book about Lincoln though, the author is seeking someone more nebulous, and that is the contested place that Lincoln holds in American society and how he is viewed and marketed.  I have to say that I greatly appreciated the author’s approach, as he was highly critical of many of the tendencies of political correctness that are a part of the “new” social history.  For the most part, though, this book tries to adopt a sort of neutrality where the author shows an interest in the wildly different viewpoints of people who are fond of Lincoln as well as those who are highly critical of them either because they blame Lincoln for the way things are in contemporary society that they don’t like (this would be the case for DiLorenzo and his ilk) or for those who dislike Lincoln as an icon and want to cut him down to size.

In terms of its contents, this book looks at Lincoln in the public memory with a special interest to museums, collections, statues, and other aspects of historical preservation and presentation.  The result is a trip through some very odd areas of the United States, beginning in all places in Richmond, Virginia, where the placement of a statue of Lincoln sparked a massive conflict with those who thought that the statue was a sign of yankee cultural imperialism.  After that the author takes a look at Hearndon’s value in trying to determine the inner Lincoln, a task that continues to interest many.  A trip to Chicago follows with a look at the decline of interest in many museums over the past few decades due to the culture wars in academia.  After this the author goes to Springfield to look at what state money can do for the creation of massively expensive infotainment.  A chapter about Lincoln collectibles then follows before the author visits a conference of Lincoln impersonators as well as a business seminar in Gettysburg that uses Lincoln as a way of educating people on virtues that would otherwise be largely ignored by business audiences.  The author then closes the book with a look at the largely defunct Lincoln trail in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, the fact that there is a whole lotta Lincoln in contemporary culture even with changing tastes, and that the iconic view of Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial is something worth defending.

Ultimately, the author remains as confused about Lincoln after his study as before.  The general phenomenon one notices in Lincoln studies are noted by the author, including the way that many people see in Lincoln people after their own hearts and interests and ideological commitments.  For many, Lincoln is famous for being famous, almost like Paris Hilton, while for others Lincoln is the placeholder for what is wicked and corrupt about contemporary leftist politics, and for others Lincoln is someone whose cultural cachet can serve the interests of those who want to write books promoting some aspect of his complex character.  Is it inevitable that complicated people with many facets and complexities who are a bit shy about exposing the deepest parts of their feeling to others be seen as an empty vessel to fill with whatever presuppositions and ideologies that people want to promote?  I would hate to be used in such a fashion when I was not able to defend myself with a fierce pen.  Part of the defense of the icon is that while Abraham Lincoln was a complicated man, he was also a noble man, and deserves to be remembered as a human being who can also inspire us to better versions of ourselves than we might otherwise be.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Land Of Lincoln

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Land Of Wolves: The Return Of Lincoln’s Bodyguard | Edge Induced Cohesion

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