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Archive for April, 2012

I think I’ve written previously that one of the ways that I can tell if I’m reading an engrossing book is to read it on the dreaded stairmaster or elliptical machine and see if time goes by quickly. As hard as it is to believe, while reading A. Lincoln: A Biography, I barely noticed my sweaty 30 minutes of torture!!

The book is a true biography of the President, in that it follows him from his birth in Kentucky, to his childhood in Indiana, to his young adult life in Illinois, his political career and presidency and eventually to his death.  It delves into Lincoln’s personality like nothing I have ever read before – including where his integrity came from and how it showed in every day of his life; his subtle humor and wit; and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. 

A. Lincoln also devotes a substantial amount of time to Lincoln’s bid for the senate, and the debates with Stephen Douglas that have become popular history.  The sections that I found most intriguing were when the author explained, once Lincoln became President, how Lincoln chose to appoint certain members of his cabinet – many times he appointed political rivals.  I was also intrigued and chagrinned by the relationship that Lincoln had with the various leading Union generals in the Civil War.  I was unaware that Lincoln had to go through so many generals until General Grant finally proved himself to be the one that would lead the Union to victory. 

The chapters surrounding his assassination are heartbreaking, given that it was so soon after his re-election, and so near to the end of the Civil War.  I was left to wonder what would have happened had President Lincoln been given the chance to lead the country during that second presidential term and during the Reconstruction.  The character and intelligence of President Lincoln shine in this biography, and it is not because of any embellishment or fiction on behalf of the author.  It is because the author presents the President as he really and truly was – many times in his own words, using speeches and letters that Lincoln wrote himself.  My favorite parts were when the author would include letters that President Lincoln wrote, but then never sent and instead filed away as ‘not sent’, because he had written them in the midst of his emotions on whatever topic they discussed, and in order to maintain relations, he simply filed them away.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in President Lincoln, or in how the issue of slavery affected America in the early 19th century and how the Civil War began.

After reading A. Lincoln, I decided to re-read Uncle Tom’s Cabin because I could not remember much from my first read of the book back in primary school, except for the fact that it left an impression on me.  I read on Wikipedia that President Lincoln met Harriet Beacher Stowe and declared “so this is the little lady who started this great war.”  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1855, and the Civil War began in 1861.  I was glad to have read A. Lincoln prior to re-reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because I could read Uncle Tom’s Cabin while knowing what was going on in America in 1855 with respect to the extremely emotional ideals on both sides of the slavery coin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was definitely a great choice for a re-read, especially immediately after finishing A. Lincoln and it once again left an impression on me. It is easy to see why Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century.

One of my final Civil War-era re-reads is Beloved, by Toni Morrison.  Maybe I shouldn’t call this a re-read though, because I honestly don’t remember ever reading it for the first time, but I find it hard to believe that I haven’t read this before.  Beloved is a very powerful book and I would give it a **** star rating, but I think it would be hard to describe the experience of reading this book as “enjoyable”.  It is about slaves living in Ohio after escaping their masters in Kentucky.  The main focus of the story is on Sethe, a mother of 4 children, who escaped a horrid master only to finally be tracked down in Ohio by that same master.  Sethe would rather have seen her children die than to see them go back into slavery, and so that becomes the focus of the book once “Beloved” comes back to haunt her.  The book is obviously extremely powerful and well-written, and I understand why it is such a popular novel.  There were certain parts that I did not enoy about it, however –  mainly the ramblings when the various chapters were written from various character’s point of view.  I think maybe the ramblings were intentional – to try to show what the character’s actual state of mind was, but I found it difficult to read and ended up skimming quite a bit of that. I am glad to have read Beloved as it seems to be a very real insight into the lives of slaves and freed slaves prior to the Civil War.

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