Log Cabin Fever: Getting into Lincoln

I don’t suppose you’ve heard about this guy, Abraham Lincoln? He was president of the United States of America a while back, and by all accounts, he had a pretty big impact on the trajectory of world history.

I knew a fair bit about him before last week, about how he was a lawyer and he read a lot and was considered pretty much the smartest man alive by almost everyone he met, about how he might have been gay (or at least not that great with the ladies), all sorts of things. We Hoosiers take some tiny bit of ownership in the Lincoln legacy because he spent some formative years in the unconquered wilderness of southern Indiana before absconding to Illinois. But then I started reading Carl Sandburg’s six-volume biography on Lincoln and, well, now I’m down the rabbit hole.

Carl Sandburg is pretty great, a giant of literature, and unleashed on the legend of our 16th president with countless reams of personal letters, interviews, ledgers and legal documents, along with many, many years to write and research the man’s story, he’s transcendent. He’s comprehensive and eloquent and journalistic and investigatory; his writing makes me feel as though I know Lincoln, personally and intimately.

I can’t say enough about how much I recommend Sandburg’s Lincoln biography, which can be found in one compiled volume for about $20 nowadays. I was lucky enough to find it in three paperback volumes at a farmers market book stand, a box set given to account holders at First Mutual Bank of Chicago on the occasion of Illinois’ sesquicentennial year. Eight of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.

I can also heartily recommend Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln,” starring the sublime Daniel Day-Lewis, Hal Holbrook, Sally Field, David Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Straithairn, all of whom turn in remarkable performances. Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln, at turns lighthearted, whimsical, thoughtful and sad beyond explanation, is mesmerizing. I suppose I’m not breaking any ground here, recommending a Steven Spielberg movie starring one of our greatest living actors in Day-Lewis, but I thought it was worth mentioning while I’m on the Lincoln kick.

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