Notes from around the Human Experience…
CAPSULE BOOK REVIEW: Lincoln, The Prairie Years by Carl Sandburg: Whew. Made it. Climbed the mountain.
That is the best way to describe putting this book down for the final time, because completing this book gave us the same feeling of accomplishment we’ve felt when we’ve been obliged to run more than a few steps, either for a fitness test or simply because we’d lost our mind and felt like running.
This was one long book, and we’re accustomed to reading works of substance here. Chapter length, of course, is subjective, but there were over 160 chapters over two volumes of The Prairie Years . We are rather leisurely readers here at the Daily Dose and it took us a couple of months to get through it.
Uh, Can We Get Down To Business Here: It certainly is not your traditional biography. Sandburg, of course, was a renowned poet and he waxes, well, poetic often enough to make you feel you are reading a valentine to our 16th president, including sections where Sandburg tells us what the moon would be seeing if it were gazing down at certain times in Lincoln’s life. There are other divergences, too, that might well leave scratching your head wondering if you’re reading a biography or a creative writing assignment.
In fact, some research shows there are historians who got their shorts in a knot over the lack of footnotes and bibliography that did not attend this book. Some have even critiqued Sandburg’s use of local prairie dialect throughout, though we found this added a healthy dose of color and enjoyed it immensely.
Fly In The Ointment: Also, if you are looking for any sort of historical context, or definite lines of demarcation when certain milestones in Lincoln’s life began, like running for Congress or his debates with Stephen Douglas, good luck, they are few and far between. Sandburg rambles about this and that and then you find Lincoln is Washington as a member of Congress and then he and Douglas are yapping about slavery under a tree somewhere.
Fly In The Ointment II: Also, two important elements of Lincoln’s life are barely touched on. His wife Mary was not particularly easy to live with and one of his sons had already died, but there was no sense of the influence and impact his family had on his life. Also, Lincoln was virtually completely self-educated and we are left with very little sense of the drive Lincoln had to teach himself what he wanted to know.
The Bottom Line: Still thought, we give The Prairie Years good marks. Sandburg rambles from time to time, but he does a brilliant job of putting you right there in the same room with Lincoln. His account of Lincoln’s childhood years in Kentucky and Indiana are particularly good. If some academics got their shorts in a knot over this book – it was published in 1926 – well, biographies are a lot like history books, the reader being subject to the author’s vision.
FunFact: Sandburg remains the only person to win Pulitzer Prizes for both Poetry and History.
GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINE: A squad of four, led by Kazimierz Piechowski of Poland, escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp on this date in 1942. The four dressed as German SS agents and drove a German staff car out the front gate.
Too Bad For You: Their escape came at a price for others. The prisoner in charge of the motor pool, who may well have had nothing to do with the escape, was implicated by circumstantial evidence and was arrested, tortured and died the following January. The parents of three of the four escapees, including Piechowski’s, were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where they all died.
FunFact, At Least If You’re Piechowski: Piechowski survived them all. Now 97, he still lives in Poland.
Hello, I Love You: Following the fun-filled Cuban Missle Crisis, the United States and Soviet Union agree to establish a dedicated hot line with each other on this date in 1963.
Dry, Technical Matter: Although generally thought of as a telephone set-up, the hotline has never actually utilized a telephone. It was originally a teletype link, switched to fax machines in 1986 and has utilized email since 2008.
Thought For The Day: And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents‘ interests, I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can. – Barry Goldwater
Answer To The Last Trivia Question: The United States government conducts its executions at the United States Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Today’s Stumper: Where was Abraham Lincoln born? – Answer next time!