While in 2008 I took a needed break from reading as many often do, this year I’m ratcheting up my reading once again. I’ve always enjoyed reading a few, if not several, books at a time, alternating back and forth between them. Usually, it takes a few months to complete any one book. I’m presently switching back and forth between four non-fiction books, having just completed a fifth. Here are my assessments so far:
Abraham Lincoln by James M. McPherson
With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday approaching on February 12, I’ve noticed a slew of new books on our 16th president at my local Barnes & Noble. I counted 15 in all! I’ve never been all that interested in reading about Lincoln, and from what I’ve gathered reading about him in Objectivist circles, he seems to be a rather mixed figure. At my job as an editor-reporter at a newspaper on Long Island, the higher-ups have asked us to do some stories on black history month. I decided to take a look at how Lincoln is taught in schools, as well as try to find a Lincoln or Civil War buff and look into what the local library may be doing to commemorate the bicentennial.
So to prepare for this, I decided to pick up a short, 70-page biography on Lincoln, written by James M. McPherson, whose Battle Cry of Freedom I’ve heard is an excellent book about the Civil War. Well, I just completed it tonight. It’s written chronologically, and somewhat encyclopedically: “Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky, about fifty miles south of Louisville.”
McPherson, however, has an agreeable style that doesn’t bore. He presents Lincoln as a respectable figure who, at least in his early politically career, was pragmatic. But when the most important decisions came—from Fort Sumter to emancipation and particularly when a war-weary North pressured him to compromise and bring “peace”—Lincoln stood his ground on the issue of abolition and reconstruction.
New Deal or Raw Deal? by Burton Folsom
I’ve read good things about this book, including a positive review by historian Eric Daniels in the Winter 2008 issue of The Objective Standard. Plus, I just watched the author, Burton Folsom, give a talk about his book on C-SPAN’s BookTV last Saturday, and I read and enjoyed his two other informative books, The Myth of the Robber Barons and Empire Builders.
The book’s basic premise is that far from improving the economy, FDR’s New Deal and its essentially socialist policies prolonged the Great Depression. I’m only a few chapters into it so far, but already I’ve come across some interesting passages about how the New Deal statists operated, particularly their threats to use for with those who showed resistance to their coercive policies.
Objectivism in One Lesson by Andrew Bernstein
The title of this book is a spin on that excellent volume on basic economics, Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I’m halfway through Andrew Bernstein’s book with the purpose of brushing up on the fundamentals of Objectivism, and curious about Bernstein’s presentation of the subject.
I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed his lectures (in person and on tape) and writings (particularly those that pertain to hero-worship), and the best part of this book so far are the examples he uses to ground the philosophy. These simple, understandable and, in many cases, totally new examples are also what I mainly enjoyed about Craig Biddle’s worthwhile Loving Life. Beyond that, I question why Bernstein omitted writing about the Objectivist aesthetics.
The Best Game Ever by Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, takes a more in-depth look at the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” I’m halfway through this book and loving it. Appropriate to the subject, Bowden writes simply and clearly, and starts by giving a broad overview of the historic game, as well as the general culture surrounding it. Leading up to the chapters on the title game itself, which I have not reached yet, Bowden constructs a context by exploring the history of the two teams. He starts with the Colts, focusing on wide receiver Raymond Berry and his relationship with quarterback Johnny Unitas. From there, he features the Giants, highlighting Sam Huff and his conversion into a linebacker by his defensive coach Tom Landry, who would later become the legendary head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
While this game certainly had its excitement, in part because it was the first and still sole overtime championship game in NFL history, it is primarily considered “the greatest” because it put professional football on the map. From what I know about that famous game played at Yankee Stadium, it generated a huge television rating, and from there professional football eventually rose in popularity on a par with major league baseball.
Obit by Jim Sheeler
Award-winning obituary writer Jim Sheeler’s book of obituaries is more entertaining, and less encyclopedic, than your run-of-the-mill obituary since it adopts the form of a good short story, with compelling first paragraphs that usually make no mention of the date of the person’s death. Eventually, those dates come, but I like Sheeler’s style of first getting into what made the deceased interesting, rather than citing up from what made him or her interesting.
Why am I reading a book on obituaries? Because I occasionally write obits at work and I’m looking to improve on them. Plus, contrary to what some believe, obituaries are not primarily or even predominantly about death or how a individual died, but rather a celebration of his life—if they are so deserving. The subtitle for this book is “Inspiring stories for ordinary people who led extraordinary lives.” While it’s questionable just how “extraordinary” some of dead he writes about actually were, Sheeler demonstrates a knack for knowing what is, at least, intriguing and going with it.