Lincoln, giver of economic certainty
Last week, I had a chat with my son about his job prospects after graduation from college next May. He was wondering if there were any careers that might be impervious to the ferocious recession gripping our nation by the very throat. So I gave him the same advice I give every young person casting about for a stress-free career. If you are looking for a situation in which you will never have to worry about getting laid off during an economic turndown, get yourself a job in the Abraham Lincoln book publishing business. And stay there for the rest of your life.
According to the New Yorker, there are 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln in existence, with 50 more coming through the sluices next year. In all of human history, perhaps only Jesus Christ has inspired more verbiage. Recent titles include “Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point” by Lewis E. Lehrman, “Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer” by Fred Kaplan and “Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861" by Lincoln scholar and Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Chairman Harold Holzer, who once won a Lincoln Prize for his book, “Lincoln at Cooper Union.”
What explains the enduring appeal of books about the Great Emancipator? Well, for one, he was probably America’s greatest president.
Two, he was a martyr.
Three, he is a million times more interesting than most of our presidents (and 2 million in the case of Chester A. Arthur).
Four, he was a Republican whom Democrats do not think of as a Republican, so people on both the left and the right feel free to adore him. Five, he did and said so many exciting things during his life that it is impossible to run out of new slants to take on it. This is not true of, say, Millard Fillmore or Jimmy Carter.
Given these facts, going into the Lincoln publishing business has proved irresistible to many Americans. Next year, Holzer, who has already written or co-written 30 books about Lincoln and the Civil War, will publish “In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary From Distinguished Americans,” as well as “The Lincoln Anthology: 85 Writers on His Life and Legacy From 1860 Until Now.” Holzer also wrote the introduction to the forthcoming “Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Painting.” Of all the Lincoln books in the works, this is no doubt the most breathlessly awaited.
The appetite for reading material about Lincoln is so great that entire families can support themselves by publishing Lincolniana. The newly published “Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon,” for example, is the work of Philip B. Kunhardt III, his brother, Peter W. Kunhardt, and his brother’s son, Peter W. Kunhardt Jr. But there is every reason to believe that another dozen or more family members may have pitched in and helped with the effort at some juncture.
As the very title “Lincoln at Peoria” suggests, there is literally no Lincoln-related subject too arcane to be explored by Lincolnianists. Already in the works are “Lincoln at Toledo,” “Lincoln at Gary, Indiana,” and “Lincoln About Six Miles Down the Road from Dingman’s Ferry, Pa.,” and, of course, “Lincoln at Lincoln.” “Lincoln: The Biography of a Rail-Splitter,” “Lincoln: The Biography of a Fightin’ Illini” and “Too Ugly to Live, Too Fast to Die: The Life and Times of Honest Abe” are all at some stage of preparation. “Other Than That, How Did You Like the Play, Mrs. Lincoln?” chronicles Mary Todd Lincoln’s courageous attempt to reintegrate dramatic entertainment into her life after her husband was gunned down at Ford’s Theater, and “Why Lincoln Still Matters to People Other Than People Who Write About Lincoln for a Living” will see the light of day in late spring.
And that’s not even mentioning such overseas titles as “Lincoln Il Capo di Tutti Cappi,” “Lincoln der Mensch,” “Sacre Bleu, Monsieur Lincoln!” and “Lincoln y La Vida Loca.”
So if you know somebody who’s looking for work, I’d steer them in the Great Emancipator’s direction. The only American industry that hasn’t gone bust so far is writing about Abe. Honest.
Joe Queenan writes frequently for Barron’s, the New York Times Book Review and the Guardian.