Thursday, March 5, 2009

The New Lincoln Mega-Book

Prof. Michael Burlingame just wrapped up an online discussion of his new opus "Abraham Lincoln: A Life" on, and it promises to be quite a dizzying addition to the Lincoln bibliography.
Coming in at 2 volumes and several thousand pages, this text will give most of those that came before a serious inferior complex. Not only that, but the scholarship within is just stunning. Certainly, reading books of this size is a daunting proposition, but this sort of work comes along only every few decades, so you've got time before the next one arrives. Also, it can easily be used as a reference text.
Burlingame is a self-described psychohistorian in that he plumbs the historical depths to not only paint a picture of the subject, (in this case, Lincoln), but to reconstruct their psychological makeup and approach. In hearing him speak, he certainly has as much mastery of the subject of Lincoln as anyone who has ever tackled the issue.
What struck me in listening to Burlingame speak was not so much the content of the book, but the incredible inquisitiveness he possesses. Again and again, he spoke of subjects he will write more about, that need further study, that could be readdressed. If anyone's going to craft a masterwork, it's the guy that never stops asking questions.
Speaking of questions, I submitted one during the program that was asked by the moderator regarding whether or not Lincoln may have been Jewish. Burlingame was more succinct on this point than any other; no. More accurately, he said "there is no evidence to suggest that." Part of me would have liked a bit more conversation on the query; where it stems from, etc, but if there's no evidence, there's no evidence.

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