Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The Book: Paul S. Boyer, editor; THE OXFORD COMPANION TO UNITED STATES HISTORY. Oxford University Press, 2001 (first edition). Fine condition.
First read: Still reading
Owned since: 2002

It's very dangerous for me to open this book, and not just because it's massive and if I dropped it I'd break a toe. (The index alone is almost 80 pages long.) It's not unusual for me to look one thing up, and then raise my head again two hours later, following one reference to another.

I open the book to find the entry on Abraham Lincoln, for instance, and my eye falls on the entry for Charles Lindbergh, which feels more interesting this morning -- and that takes me to an entry on Anti-Semitism -- which takes me to the entry on The Twenties -- which ends with an entry on Amusement Parks! I would love to write a history of amusement parks ... except that it appears that one Judith A. Adams has already written The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. But the publication date on that is 1991, so maybe it's time for a new look ...

Anyway, I think I've made my point. Owning this book is like having my own personal museum of cool stuff.

And back to Lincoln, whose birthday is today. I never think about the fact that he was only 56 when he died; he was only 52 when he took office. And not to stretch a point, but he was elected after only two years in the United States Senate.

Historians still argue about the sincerity of his opposition to slavery, his willingness to suspend the rule of law, his personal foibles and emotional health. None of that matters. He was the right man for the time. He saved the United States. He took that burden on himself, and even if he'd lived to the end of his second term, he probably wouldn't have survived to old age -- photographs of him at the end of the war show a ruined man, old before his time.

In Mrs. Holmes's fourth grade class, we got extra credit for memorizing the most important statements of American history -- the preamble to the Constitution, the complete lyrics of our national anthem, the Gettysburg Address, and the final paragraphs of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Thanks to Mrs. Holmes, if you woke me up in the middle of the night, I could still give you these lines:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

It's a good day for voting in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Wish I was there today.

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