Friday, January 09, 2009

Abraham in Sound-Bites

I love Brian Lamb. How can you not? He's like that high school coach who ends up teaching History because the regular teacher is on maternity leave; he's prepared, got lots of notes, fires off questions like he's drilling plays, and he always seems uncomfortable and enthusiastic in equal parts. If you don't watch "Booknotes," hosted by C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb, you are soooo missing out. It is a great program, particularly for history buffs, among whom Mr. Lamb can clearly be numbered. He's not quite a TV personality, despite years in front of the camera, and that only adds to his charm.

Periodically, C-SPAN gathers some of Lamb's "interviews," or friendly interrogations might be more apt, into a kind of a book. Now, they've gathered excerpts from C-SPAN many wonderful Lincoln broadcasts, Booknotes interviews and the like into a new book, Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President. It isn't really a book, at least not a book of essays, though that's what the clever editors are calling these interview responses and the like. Think of it more as a souvenir of Lincoln chats with some of the best -- and one of the worst -- folks in the field. Every entry is basically a bite-sized summery of remarks on a particular theme, say Lincoln on religion, by a particular historian.

There are a some genuinely bad choices here. The cover, yet again, is an over-designed cypher reproducing the revised Lincoln portrait on the new five dollar bill. All well and good, but faced-out on the shelf, there's nothing to tell you what the Hell this book is! Worse, included without comment is an "essay" from the reactionary fringe economist and "neoconfederate" favorite, Thomas Dilorenzo, on "The Lincoln Cult." This is like including neo-Nazi David Irving in an anthology in tribute to Churchill. Indefensible and offensive.

So, this book is not meant to be so much a serious bit of scholarship as it is a celebration of C-SPAN's ongoing and wonderful participation in the Lincoln Bicentennial. Enjoy it as a companion to the programming, but beware of the psuedo-historian included.

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