I’ve already received a few emails asking for recommendations on books about Abraham Lincoln. Since I anticipate more of these requests after tomorrow, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a short list of Lincoln books. My recommendations are for those of you who walk out of the theater in the next few weeks and want to learn something more about our 16th president, but are not interested in a dry scholarly study. It’s a good thing that Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln, is being released not so much after the election, but after the Lincoln bicentennial as the offerings are broad and deep.
The decision to delay the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln until after November 6 is a facile attempt to disassociate it from the presidential election. It’s unavoidable and doomed to give us a skewed view not only of our own political climate, but that of the 1860s as well. Hurricane Sandy may have caused unprecedented destruction in places like New York City and New Jersey, but for a brief moment it paved the way for what appears to be an apolitical embrace between Republican Governor Christie of New Jersey and President Obama. Whether it is apolitical is not so important as that it is perceived by many on both sides of the aisle as a welcome respite from the usual vitriol for the purposes of aiding those in need.
Like many of you I am looking forward to seeing Speilberg’s film, Lincoln. There is quite a buzz, which I hope translates into a good showing at the box office. As long as we don’t get carried away with critiquing the film along the narrow lines of historical accuracy we should be just fine. I am hoping Daniel Day-Lewis presents us with a sympathetic portrayal of Lincoln that is placed within a solid historical context. I am not looking for nor do I desire a scholarly treatment of Lincoln. First and foremost, I want to be entertained. I plan on writing a review for the Atlantic and I have agreed to take part in a roundtable discussion that will appear at some point in the journal, Civil War History.
I am also looking forward to seeing what Sally Field does with Mary Todd. If anyone deserves a sympathetic treatment it’s Mary Todd and after listening to Field reflect on her character I am confident that this is just what we will see. It would have been easy to present the popular view of an unstable woman, who caused her husband nothing but trouble. Remember Mary Tyler Moore in the TV adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln? This is still a common theme in the Lincoln literature as well. Back in 2007 I taught an elective on Lincoln, which included a couple of classes on Mary Todd. Students examined a number of secondary sources including an essay by Jean H. Baker in which she offers her own interpretation of why this particular view continues to hold sway.
I had no idea that there is now a chapter of Flaggers in North Carolina. It would be a stretch to draw any type of formal connection with the Flaggers in Virginia. It’s the same inane rhetoric about a subject they apparently know very little about. In this case, it’s a new exhibit about Lincoln on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. These people have nothing to say about the actual exhibit beyond vague accusations of Lincoln as a war criminal. Kirk Lyons (misspelled by the media as Lion) and H.K. Edgerton were in attendance, but all they can manage is the same old dog and pony show that has become their trademark.
It looks like some of the students had a good laugh at their expense.