Interview: Hirsch & Van Haften, “Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason”

13 12 2010

Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason (Savas Beatie) is probably the most original thesis (or at this point, is it antithesis?) I’ve run across in a long while.  First-time authors and long-time friends David Hirsh (below first) and Dan Van Haften (below second) have been drawing a lot of attention with their study of Lincoln’s consistent use of principles of geometry in the construction of his speeches.  The two-headed Danvid answered a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you tell the readers about yourselves?

DH/DVH:  We met in the first grade.  David is a Des Moines attorney. For more than 10 years he co-authored the technology column for the ABA Journal.  Dan, who lives in suburban Chicago, retired from Alcatel-Lucent in 2007 after 37 years.  His work involved developing and testing telecommunications systems.

BR:   You have unusual backgrounds for Lincoln authors – particularly Dan.   Can you describe the winding road that led you to the wonderful world of Lincoln scholarship?

DH/DVH:  Dan first became interested in Abraham Lincoln in the 1990s when he attended three-day Lincoln seminars in Springfield. In 2006 David was thinking about researching a column for the ABA Journal on how Lincoln would have fared practicing law with today’s technology. Dan joined David and his wife in Springfield. Dan functioned as tour guide; David did research in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. After going through the old Lincoln and Herndon law office, David commented that Abraham Lincoln’s law practice, and small-town midwest law practice in the 1970s appeared to have many similarities. Then we visited the old Springfield train station from which Lincoln departed to Washington as President-elect never to return. David read the plaque outside the station containing Lincoln’s short farewell address. The combination of the touring and the research hooked David on Lincoln. He commented, “I used to think I knew something about Lincoln; I knew nothing.” There is nothing unusual about a lawyer being interested in Lincoln. It is true however that most Lincoln scholars are not lawyers. Added to that is the fact that not much substantive primary source material survives from Lincoln’s law practice. There was no official, court reported, stenographic record back then of opening and closing statements to juries, or of witness examinations. Nor was there recording of appellate oral arguments. Those are the things everyone would love to see. Plus briefs then were truly brief, not what they are today. Modern technology has made more of what survives generally available. That includes many arcane hand-drafted Lincoln legal documents. There are fine source books now like The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, and Herndon’s Informants, and others. Things fell into place. It turned out that Dan’s math background was an ideal match for David’s legal background. When the book started there was no thought about how useful the math background would be for the book. It was one of many surprises. A secret was ready to be revealed.

BR:  How would you describe your writing and research process?

DH/DVH:  The process of two people jointly writing a book could be a book in itself. It greatly helped that we have known each other since the first grade. Obviously email, Google Books, telephone, Skype, web access to major sources including Basler’s The Collected Works all made it easier. For instance, we each had a print version of major Lincoln resources like Basler. The ability to digitally search was an added and valued tool. We wanted to focus on primary sources.

The initial plan was to focus on Lincoln’s work as a lawyer. We consciously decided that we did not want to deal with Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches. Countless books had already done that. We felt his Lincoln’s law practice had been under-treated, mainly because of a lack of data. We wanted to use Lincoln’s law practice as a tool to both illuminate it and, by comparison, examine modern legal issues. Little did we realize where this would lead.

Right around the time of the decision not to write about Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches, Dan stated, “The first thing I want to do is read the complete Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Cooper Union Speech.” To put it mildly, David thought this was a peculiar place to start given the topic limitation that was agreed on. But, not wanting to limit Dan’s creativity, David made no comment. Dan came back with a seven-page handwritten summary of key items from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. One paragraph included a reference which mentioned Euclid. David immediately became excited. David had always believed there was a relationship between math and language, and in his youth had wasted many hours looking for that connection. He instantly felt that this would lead to the connection between math and speech. David asked Dan to find everything in Lincoln literature that discussed or referenced Euclid.

Dan reported that not much was there other than that Lincoln mastered the first six books of Euclid, and his purpose was to learn what it meant to demonstrate.

So David said to Dan , “Do what Lincoln did; study the first six books of Euclid and find out what it means to demonstrate. Then when you find out what demonstrate means, find the best Lincoln example showing it.”

Dan studied Euclid, and then looked at Proclus’ commentary on Euclid. Proclus was a fifth century neo-Platonist philosopher. Dan determined the six elements of a proposition, which Euclid uses to prove his propositions, were used by Lincoln for the structure of the Cooper Union speech. The rest, literally, is history. Suddenly we were propelled into examining Lincoln speeches and his presidential years, in addition to his law practice. It turns out all of this nicely blended into a unified theme. We continued to rely most on primary sources, letting Lincoln speak for himself as much as possible. Then we turned to what his contemporaries said. Once we knew what demonstrate meant, we knew what to look for. Everything fell into place.

BR:  OK, this is probably the most original premise I’ve seen for a Lincoln study in a long time.   Keeping in mind that I scored higher on verbal than math on my SAT, and that the only time I consciously use geometry is when I play pool, can you briefly explain the principles of Euclidean geometry, how we know that Lincoln studied and mastered them, and how you demonstrate that Lincoln consciously used them when composing his speeches?

DH/DVH:  We cover no math in the book more complicated than 2 + 2 = 4. What we do cover is the hidden verbal template that underlies Euclid’s form, which Lincoln uniquely transferred to political argument and speech. This verbal template is profound, but simple.

We know Lincoln studied and mastered Euclidean geometry because he tells us he did in his short 1860 autobiography for John L. Scripps. Furthermore many Lincoln contemporaries who travelled with him on the Circuit comment on Lincoln pulling out Euclid and studying by candlelight. What Lincoln’s colleagues don’t know, and what Lincoln does not say, is specifically what he learned from Euclid. The common assumption, until now, was Lincoln learned Euclid for recreation or to sharpen his mind, kind of like mental calisthenics.

The actual technique is simple, though it takes a little practice to feel comfortable with it.

Here are the names of the six elements of a Euclidean proposition:

  • enunciation
  • exposition
  • specification
  • construction
  • proof
  • conclusion

Now for the definitions. Bear with us. The definitions, when taken together are simple. The terms themselves can be confusing at first because they are unfamiliar in this context. If you want to use this system you should first memorize the names and order of the six elements, then gradually internalize what they are.

For the enunciation, think in terms of: Why are we here. It contains short, indisputable facts. They are part of the given. It also includes a sought. This is a high level statement of the general issue being discussed.

For the exposition, think in terms of: What do we need to know relating to what is given. These are additional facts, generally fairly simple, and indisputable. These facts take what was in the enunciation’s given, and prepare for use in the investigation (in the construction).

For the specification, think: What are we trying to prove. The specification is a more direct restatement of the enunciation’s sought. While the sought is frequently neutrally stated, the specification is a direct statement of the proposition to be proved.

For the construction, think: How do the facts lead to what is sought. The construction adds what is lacking in the given for finding what is sought.

For the proof, think in terms of: How does the admitted truth confirm the proposed inference. The proof draws the proposed inference by reasoning scientifically from the propositions that have been admitted.

For the conclusion, think: What has been proved. The conclusion reverts back to the enunciation confirming what has been proved. The conclusion should be straightforward, forceful, and generally short.

We go into many more aspects of the technique in the book, simplifying and explaining. We also demarcate about 30 Lincoln writings into the six elements of a proposition. Once a Lincoln writing is demarcated, one is literally able to get inside Lincoln’s head. One sees how and why Lincoln makes his word choices.

In between the demarcations are many Lincoln stories showing his character and his characteristics. These give further insight into the man himself which make it easier to feel like one is truly inside his brain. Harvard professor and author John Stauffer characterizes our book as a sophisticated detective story. It is also a how-to manual. Anyone can be an Abraham Lincoln.

To answer your question of how we show Lincoln used this system, the 30 demarcations are the best evidence. The stories and historical comments that surround the demarcations reinforce the conclusion that this was a secret hiding in plain sight. We even construct an “I say” table that further confirms our proposition. You will have to read the book to find out what that is.

BR:  That’s fascinating stuff!  Was Lincoln unique in his use of Euclid’s template?

DH/DVH:  Yes and no. We discovered (for the first time) that Thomas Jefferson used this format for the Declaration of Independence and for his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson even refers to the religious freedom statute as a proposition. The Declaration proves the proposition that it is our right and duty to throw off allegiance to the British Crown and become free and independent. We demarcate both Declaration and the Statute for Religious Freedom in Chapter 13 of  the book. Like other discoveries in the book, we could not believe we were able to make this discovery so many years after these documents were drafted, and so many years after so many books had been written about them.

Lincoln was an admirer of the Declaration of Independence, and one can speculate that he recognized Jefferson’s use of Euclidean structure in the Declaration. We will never know. Many long regarded the Declaration as Euclidean, for instance the phrase, “all men are created equal”.  We found no reference to the six elements of a proposition in connection with the Declaration. The six elements had essentially been lost in the dust bin of history.

BR:  Are there any speakers (political or otherwise) today who you’ve identified as using this method?

DH/DVH:  Both of the authors have used the technique. The last person prior to that that the authors know used the technique was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln brilliantly transferred the language of geometrical proof to the language of political speech. The technique is usable by anyone. But even if you do not want to learn to speak and write like Lincoln, the technique is invaluable for finding weak spots in others’ arguments. It squeezes out sophistries. And if all you want to do is understand Lincoln better, you can reach a level of Lincoln understanding never before possible.

BR:  Did your research turn up anything that either surprisingly supported or contradicted any notions you held prior to beginning the project?

DH/DVH:  We had no significant prior notions. We followed the evidence wherever it led. It led us to Euclid, which led us to the six elements of a proposition. Only at that point did we set out to prove what Lincoln accomplished. We did not initially intend to cover Lincoln’s presidential years or his speeches. But we needed his speeches to prove our proposition. That led us to Lincoln’s great deception in his Cooper Union Speech, explained in Chapter 3. That again was something we did not anticipate. We could not believe that had gone undiscovered for over 150 years. But it was the six elements that indirectly led us to discover Lincoln’s Cooper Union deception. And in the process of all this, we returned to our original theme. The legal system itself proved to be Euclidean. This is what completes the explanation of how Lincoln was Lincoln.

BR:  How has your book been received so far?   In particular, what has been the reaction of the Lincoln establishment?

DH/DVH:  So far we have received warm embrace. There are flattering adjectives like “groundbreaking”, “astounding”, and “wow moments”. From our standpoint the book was a joy to research and write.

BR:  What’s next for you?

DH/DVH:  The is an endless series of topics to carry forward with the discoveries in Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason. If we find time, we will not run out of topics.

I’m not sure how David and Dan, alone or together, are going to top this effort, but if Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason is any indication, whatever they come up with should be unique.  You can keep up with their doings at www.thestructureofreason.com.





Military Strategy at the Battle of Bull Run

28 07 2010

Donald Stoker, whose new book on strategy in the Civil War was the subject of this post, sent me a link to his summary of military strategy at the battle of Bull Run.  Check it out, see what you think.  As usual, I can quibble a bit.  For an expansion on Lincoln’s motivations for sending McDowell forth, see here.  For a look at how – or if - Patterson’s failure foiled the Federal plan for the movement, see here.

Look for an interview with Mr. Stoker here in the weeks ahead.





Lincoln as Strategist

21 07 2010

Another comment I made on Facebook the other day:

I saw a new book in the store today, The Grand Design: Strategy in the Civil War by Donald Stoker. Since the title has a colon in it, it must be a serious book ;-)

Anyway, this one quote from the jacket bothered me:

Lincoln, in contrast [to Jeff Davis], evolved a clear strategic vision, but he failed for years to make his generals implement it.

Here’s where I’m bothered: the statement implies that this vision of Lincoln’s evolved quickly relative to his attempts to get his generals to do what he wanted. And also implicit is the notion that he clearly and effectively communicated this vision to those same generals. I’m not sure I’m in agreement. Has anyone read this yet?





Interview: Larry Tagg, “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln”

18 07 2010

Larry Tagg is the author of 2009′s The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President.  Recently he took time to respond to some questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Larry, your background has been a topic of discussion due to its unique character.

LT:  I was born in Lincoln, Illinois. After living in the Land of Lincoln for eight years, my family moved to Dallas, Texas, where my father was Minister of Music at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church. As a high school senior, I won the city-wide high school extemporaneous writing contest. (I was lucky. The prompt was “Describe a concert,” and just the week before I had seen Jimi Hendrix for the first time, just after the release of Are You Experienced? Security was lax at the State Fair Music Hall in those days, and after the show I jumped onstage and walked backstage to Jimi’s dressing room, where I talked to his drummer, Mitch Mitchell. Jimi was across the room talking to someone else.)

I attended the University of North Texas, graduating cum laude in Philosophy in two years, and I was awarded a teaching assistantship at the University of Texas. After one semester of graduate school I knew academia was not for me. I was more a musician—a bass player, singer, and songwriter.

I moved to California in 1978 with an excellent band, Uncle Rainbow, to record under the aegis of Michael Hossack, one of the Doobie Brothers. In 1985, my band Bourgeois Tagg—with Brent Bourgeois, Michael Urbano, Lyle Workman, and Scott Moon—was signed to Island Records. We recorded two albums and had two hits, Mutual Surrender and I Don’t Mind at All.  We toured Europe and America with Robert Palmer, Heart, Belinda Carlisle, and others.

After Bourgeois Tagg broke up in 1989 during the making of our third album, I toured as a bass player and singer with Todd Rundgren and Hall and Oates. (My audition gig with Hall and Oates was in front of a million people at the Great Meadow in Central Park on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day.) During the 1990s I was signed as a staff songwriter by Warner Chappell Music. My songs were recorded by Eddie Money, Kim Carnes, Cliff Richard, and others. I released two solo albums—With a Skeleton Crew and Rover—in Europe and America.

By the mid-90s I had a family, and the road had lost much of its allure. I became in English and drama teacher and Lead Teacher of the Arts Academy at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, California. While I taught I began writing in my spare time. My first book, The Generals of Gettysburg, was published in 1998 by Savas Publishing, and the paperback edition appeared a couple of years later on Da Capo.

The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln, my latest book, took me about 7 years to research and write. It was a labor of love, of course. I love the scavenger hunt that is research, and I love trying to make the words come out right.

BR:  How long has Abraham Lincoln been a focus of your studies? 

LT:  Lincoln has been the focus of my studies since about 2001, when I was working on a follow-up to my book The Generals of Gettysburg.  Since I hadn’t seen a good history of the Army of the Potomac since Bruce Catton, I was working on a new history of that army that would take advantage of all the research that’s been done in the last 50 years, and which would concentrate more on the effects that the relationships between its generals had on the battles it fought.  I was starting at the very beginning, with Winfield Scott and Charles Stone and the District of Columbia militia during the Secession Crisis.

BR:  What first got you interested in tackling his “unpopular” side? 

LT:  Right away, I started turning up an alarming number of disparaging references by the generals to their Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln.  It seemed like none of them took him seriously, or worse, thought he was an ignoramus, totally overmatched by the crisis.  That jarred me, since it didn’t square with my education on The Great Emancipator, and it made me curious.  The more I looked into opinion on Lincoln, both within the army and without, the more incredibly poisonous stuff I found.   I thought, “Here’s the story!”

BR:  What challenges did the project present?

LT:  The most serious challenge in writing The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln was not to find material.  That abounded—I ended up including in the book only the “10s” on a 1-to-10 scale of slurs I found on Lincoln.  The hard part was walking the line between including enough examples of the violent criticism of Lincoln to make the book a good resource on one hand and writing a good narrative on the other hand.  I had to go to the University of California to send for microfiche of Democratic newspapers, then wade through those for hours sitting at a microfiche reader.  I had to be careful to balance those obviously biased sources with neutral observers that were more valuable as indicators of the lack of political support Lincoln had during almost his entire time in office.  I am also careful, on any Civil War topic, to take with a grain of salt any reminiscences written by the participants later in the century—these were so clouded over, after hundreds of dinner speeches and rose-colored retellings, that they’re not worth much.

BR:  Tell us about The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.

LT:  The thesis of the book is that Abraham Lincoln accomplished more with less political capital than any other figure in American history.  I think the book is particularly valuable where it discusses the context of his presidency, the tenor of the times—I am particularly grateful to reviewers who appreciate these chapters of the book.  Lincoln was president when respect for all authority was at low ebb, and when respect for the presidency as an institution was at its lowest point.  (Just last week, I saw a new poll on presidents, and, as usual, the four presidents preceding Lincoln were in the bottom ten.  The low quality of presidents was the result of the same boss-run party system that produced Lincoln, and Americans of that time were increasingly horrified by the quality of the presidents produced by the system.  Lincoln seemed to many to be the worst of the lot.  As a result of the seeming capriciousness of his nomination by the Republicans in 1860, wags titled Lincoln “His Accidency.”)  Once he took office, he inherited a political milieu so overheated that everyone had flown to extremes right and left, which soon left Lincoln, a moderate, alone in the middle.  I think that the more one knows about this context, the more one appreciates what he was able to accomplish.

The audience for the book was not academia, although I am a teacher myself.  I was extremely scrupulous with my research and my conclusions so that my book would stand up to academic scrutiny, but I wrote for an intelligent general audience.  I have to say I continue to be amazed that this book had not been written before.  (As a songwriter, I knew a great song when I heard it and thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”)  I think the “angle” I took in The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln is a particularly powerful one for studying Lincoln the President, the mood of the North, and the politics of the Civil War.  I recommend it as a primer on those closely related subjects.  Besides my effort as a historian, I also put in a lot of effort as a writer.  It is a great story—a wild ride.

BR:  Did you find out anything while researching The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln that changed – or reinforced – any opinions you already had?

LT:  It’s funny that in researching a book about how little people thought of Lincoln at the time, I can’t remember anything I found made me think less of Lincoln—the experience only added to my esteem for him.  Politician is so often used as an epithet, and Lincoln, who was an unapologetic, bare-knuckles fighter of a politician—reminds us how a great politician can be a crucial asset to the American people.  As a writer, I loved reading what Lincoln wrote; even his everyday notes to generals and politicians had a sinewy quality to them, a unique ability to see to the heart of a problem, small or large.  Along with the rigor of his logic, there was a gentleness and a humor in his writing that is the most incontrovertible testimony to his character.  However, I am not among those who think Lincoln was a military genius.  Although he was an excellent student of military principles, his lack of knowledge about logistics and the friction of war made him a poor general-in-chief, which he was for the four months that ended with the disaster of the Peninsula Campaign.  Also, he had inherited the racial prejudices of his place and time, and his flirtations with projects to deport African-Americans are embarrassing to us now.  However, they were serious attempts to solve monumental, centuries-old national problems, and it was with regard to race that he showed the most growth as a man and leader.

BR:  Considering Lincoln’s continuing unpopularity with Congress after Lee’s surrender, what’s your opinion of his prospects of successfully achieving a “soft” peace with the former Confederates and implementing the details of emancipation, while at the same time satisfying the Radicals?

LT:  Yes, Lincoln was still considered an enemy by the Radicals who controlled Congress, and his prospect of pleasing them, while he tried in his usual gentle way to make Southern governments out of nothing, were nil.  Andrew Johnson at least had a honeymoon period with the Radicals, while Lincoln had never been their man.  However, Lincoln was without a doubt the best man to establish a “soft” peace with the former Confederate states.  I consider the next hundred years, the hundred years of Jim Crow rule in the South, to be the biggest what if in American history:  I think Jim Crow might have been avoided if Lincoln had lived.  He was the one man who best knew how to navigate on the race question, and a president not squeamish about using presidential power to advance Jefferson’s principle that “all men are created equal.” 

BR:  How has the book been received?  [Tagg’s response here is brief and modest.  Personally I’ve noticed a profound silence from the Lincoln “establishment” on this, in my opinion, very important book, which gives us a rare look at Lincoln as he was viewed without the prism of martyrdom.]

LT:  The response to the book by those who have read it has been all I could have hoped.  However, not very many people have read it.
 
BR:  What’s next for you?

 LT:  I look around for quite a while to find a great subject before I start writing.  So I’m in the “read, read, read” phase right now, which precedes the research phase of my book writing.  Two subjects have struck me.  One is the two-week period after Fort Sumter when Maryland teetered on secession and Washington—with the entire government apparatus—was surrounded by rebellion and almost totally unprotected.  I think that could be a “cinematic” narrative, and tramping around Maryland to find primary sources on those two weeks would be fascinating (though not easy; I live in California).  The other subject is Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment, an act in which, unlike the Emancipation Proclamation, he did not take the initiative.  I think there’s probably a good story there—he was trying to get re-elected at the same time, and his feelings toward a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery were complicated.  I’ve got about six books next to my bed on that subject right now (though none specifically treats Lincoln’s role, which is good).  I may also write a book on statistical research on Civil War battles, a subject I’ve been gathering material on for about twenty years, especially since I’m now working with the company that has produced Scourge of War: Gettysburg, an excellent computer strategy game on the Battle of Gettysburg.

These would be smaller books than The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln—I’m in the mood to concentrate on a smaller subject.  I think, however, that The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln will be the “big book” to which people will return.

 Thanks to Larry for taking the time to share his thoughts with us all, and we look forward to his future work.  I’m intrigued by anyone who has an interest in exploring the numbers of the Civil War – it’s decidedly un-sexy but can be enormously enlightening.  Remember back when folks thought Lee was outnumbered by McClellan during Seven Days

Pick up a copy of The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln and give it a read.  You’ll be glad you did.

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No, Honey, Your Big Butt Makes You Look Fat, Not the Dress

3 07 2010

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC4K6n1iCgc

Awesome.  Fireworks to follow.

Happy Independence Day!





How First Bull Run was REALLY Lost

4 03 2010

Well, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hit the shelves day before yesterday.  By most accounts it’s a big hit, and may even be made into a movie (unlike some folks, I don’t see Johnny Depp as Abe – maybe John Wilkes Booth).  Anyway, seeing the book in Barnes and Noble today reminded me that there’s an, umm, interesting account of the fighting at Bull Run, and what turned the tide for the Confederacy.  An enlisted man in a Massachusetts regiment wrote home to his wife after the battle, in a letter residing in the Harvard University Archives (where it “has long been mistaken for a work of epistolary fiction”):

We had [the Confederates] whipped at the start.  Blessed with greater numbers, we drove south up Henry House Hill, and into a group of trees at its peak.  What a sight to see them scatter like mice!  To see our ranks spread half a mile wide!  Th hear the cracking of gunpowder from all directions!

“Let us chase them all the way to Georgia!” cried Colonel Hunter, to the delight of the men.

As we neared the top of the hill, the rebels covered their retreat by firing on us.  The gun smoke grew so thick that one could scarcely see ten yards into the trees where they hid.  From behind this curtain of smoke suddenly came a chorus of wild yells.  The voices of twenty or thirty men, growing louder by the moment.  “First Ranks!  Fix bayonets!” ordered the colonel.  As they did, a small band of Confederates emerged from the smoke, running toward us as fast as any men have ever run.  Even from a distance, I could see their strange, wild eyes.  There was not a rifle, or a pistol, or a sword among them.

Our first ranks began to fire, yet their rifles seemed to have no effect.  Melissa, I swear until my grave that I saw bullets strike these men in their chests.  In their limbs and faces. Yet they continued to charge as if they had not been hit at all!  The rebels smashed into our ranks and tore men apart all in front of my eyes.  I do not mean to suggest that they ran them through with bayonets, or fired on them with revolvers.  I mean to say that these rebels–these thirty unarmed men–tore one hundred men to pieces with nothing more than their bare hands.  I saw arms pulled off.  Heads twisted backward.  I saw blood pour from the throats and bellies of men gutted by mere fingertips; a boy grasping at the holes where his eyes had been a moment before.  A private three yards in front of me had his rifle plucked away.  I was close enough to feel his blood on my face as its stock was used to smash his skull in.  Close enough to taste his death on my tongue.

Our lines broke.  I am not ashamed to say that I dropped my rifle and ran with the others, Melissa.  The rebels gave chase, overtaking and savaging men on either side of me as we retreated.  Their screams following me down the hill.

Well, there you have it.  As if we needed any more proof of the evil that was the so-called Confederacy.  Just for fun,though, care to take a stab at the factual accuracy of the account, with the exception of bloodsucking assistance?

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Book Trailer – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

2 03 2010

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a trailer for a book before, but this one is pretty cool.  It kind of reminds me of the Diet Mountain Dew commercial with a shirtless Abe.  The book comes out today.  I previewed it here, and reviewed it here.  I’m thinking a film is likely.

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An 11-Year-Old on Abraham Lincoln: “Even if it meant being hated by most of the country”

18 02 2010

The guest poster today makes his debut on the internet, with last night’s homework assignment.  I think it’s terrific, but I’m a little biased.  As he gets older, I’m sure his thoughts on his hero will be refined, but I hope the central theme of his admiration as expressed in the penultimate sentence doesn’t change.

My Hero: Abraham Lincoln

by Joey Smeltzer

There are a lot of people that I look up to. Most of them are either athletes or politicians. But the person who I look up to the most is Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of United States. I look up to Abraham Lincoln because he was the President during one of the toughest times in American history: The Civil War. His goal was to free the slaves. Because of this, many people hated him. Everybody in the South hated him, and if that wasn’t bad enough, many people of the North hated him because they were upset with the way that he was running the Civil War or were against freeing the slaves. Yet he still managed to get elected President twice. As soon as he was nominated, he started getting death threats from people who were scared he was going to end slavery. When he got into office, the death threats got even worse. Even though people wanted to kill him, he still stood up for what he believed in. On April 14, 1865, he was finally assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. If he did not speak out against slavery, he probably would have never been assassinated. But he still did it because he knew what was right. Abraham Lincoln was my hero because he always did the right thing no matter what – even if it meant being hated by most of the country. I think everybody should try to be like Abraham Lincoln.

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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

17 02 2010

The way I heard the story, in response to complaints of baseball purists that actor Ray Liotta’s portrayal of baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson batting right and throwing left was in contrast to the fact that he batted left and threw right, Field of Dreams director Ron Shelton quipped, “Did they notice he is currently dead?  I guess that’s another mistake we made.”  Or words to that effect.

I had to remind myself of that story frequently while reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  This book requires the suspension of a whole lot of disbelief.  After the vampire-induced death of his mother, Abe devotes himself to the eradication of the creatures from the country.  Abe’s father’s inability to repay a debt to his vampire loan shark (the senior Lincoln’s many faults were frequently referred to, as were the positive traits he passed on to his son) is what led to Nancy Hanks’ murder.  It turns out that vampires were the movers and shakers, the money-lenders, the men behind the men in 19th century America, though they stretched back all the way to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke settlement.  They also played a role in the institution of slavery, striking deals with human slaveholders for prey.

Abe was a self-taught vampire hunter at first, but early on was trained by a friendly bloodsucker.  He hunted with crossbow and knives, but his weapon of choice was his trusty axe.  Over the years, he enlisted the help of first Jack Armstrong of  Clary’s Grove, then friend Joshua Speed, and later Ward Hill Lamon.  But none of them could help Abe during what would be his last confrontation with the undead in Ford’s Theater in April, 1865.  Or was it his last?

Throughout, Grahame-Smith weaves Abe’s nocturnal hunts in with the “known” history.  As you’d expect, much of that “known” history has some unknown facets: was Ann Rutledge the victim of a vampire?  Take a wild guess.  But here’s where the book disappointed me.  Not just the fact that there were inaccuracies, but that the miscues would have been easy enough to correct without affecting the story one iota.  For the record, I reviewed an advance reading copy (aka bound galley aka uncorrected proof).  The following may be corrected in the book when it is released next week:

  1. The military career of Edgar Allan Poe is discussed.  Grahame-Smith states that when Poe was transferred to Ft. Moultrie in South Carolina, he was not near a town.  Ft. Moultrie is hard-by Charleston.
  2. Grahame-Smith describes Lincoln’s cabinet in the spring of 1861, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.  Simon Cameron, not Stanton, was Lincoln’s first Secretary of War.
  3. Robert E. Lee is said to have been a friend of Lincoln’s before the war.  The two were not acquainted, though Lee’s opponent George McCellan appears to have had numerous dealings with Lincoln in the 1850s, and they established a friendship of sorts.
  4. Grahame-Smith writes that Our American Cousin was a new play in 1865.  It was written in 1858.

There are other hiccups - these just happened to stick with me.  But guess what?  Vampire’s aren’t real (at least, I think they aren’t).  Unless you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to you.  If you can overlook that minor detail, I think these little mistakes shouldn’t concern you much.

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Abe Kicks Undead Ass

2 02 2010

 

Today’s mail brought a package I’ve been eagerly anticipating.  About a week ago, Miriam Parker of the Hachette Book Group sent me a note asking if I’d like to review their upcoming (March 2, 2010) release by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  (I think the titles are self-explanatory, but if you don’t get it these books are based on the classic works and written in Jane Austen’s style, with macabre twists.)  Ms. Parker tried to sell me on the book by telling me that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is supporting the book with author events (see their press release), but I couldn’t say “YES!” to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter fast enough.  The collection of essays on Thomas Jefferson’s founding of West Point that I’m currently reading is so dry it would make Gordon Ramsay use the F word, so this is a welcome break.  From the inside front cover of my uncorrected proof:

When Abraham Lincoln was nine years old, his mother died from an ailment called the “milk sickness.”  Only later did he learn that his mother’s affliction was actually caused by a local vampire, seeking to collect on Abe’s father’s unfortunate debts.

When the truth became known to the young Abraham Lincoln, he wrote in his journal, “Henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion.  I shall become learned in all things—a master of mind and body.  And this mastery shall have but one purpose.”

That purpose?  Elimination of all vampires.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for reuniting the North and the South and abolishing slavery in our country, no one has ever understood his valiant fight for what it really was.  That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than one hundred and forty years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true story of our greatest president for the first time—while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Were Jack Armstrong and the Clary’s Grove Boys actually a coven of blood suckers?  Was the pathological sluggishness of George McClellan attributable to the fact that he only came out at night?  Did Jefferson Davis sleep in a casket (OK, that one’s obvious – just look at the guy!)?  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

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