16 February, 2009Issue 8.4Review of Reviews

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Review of Reviews

Oxonian Review Staff

In 1893, the civil rights leader Frederick Douglass declared: “It is impossible for… anybody… to say anything new about Abraham Lincoln.” For the past two weeks, top US book reviews have put Douglass’s declaration to the test.

The 12th of February marked the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and although the markets have tumbled, Honest Abe’s stock is up. (Though still below Ronald Reagan, who is ranked as the “greatest” president in a poll of American adults.)

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that business is booming for Lincoln look-alikes. The auction house Christie’s announced that an anonymous telephone bidder will ante up $3.44 million for the manuscript of an 1864 Lincoln speech. And for the publishing industry, Lincoln is a one-man stimulus package: only Jesus Christ, Shakespeare, and the Virgin Mary have generated more English-language biographies.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln jokes are in high demand-and short supply. Here’s Fred Kaplan’s attempt at a quip in the (second-to-last-ever edition) of the Washington Post Book World:

There’s a joke in the publishing world. A writer asks his editor for ideas about a commercially promising topic for a book. The editor responds, “Lincoln’s doctor’s dog”.

Ba-dum-ch! But William Safire repeats the same punch-line in the New York Times. And unlike Kaplan, Safire explains why it’s (ostensibly) funny: “the three fields readers are most interested in are: (1) Lincolniana, (2) medical books, and (3) books about the care of pets.”

Unfortunately for author Richard Grayson, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog: & other stories (Thunder Baas Press, 1982) has not had the commercial success that Kaplan and Safire suggest. It’s in 3,745,794th place on Amazon.com’s bestseller list. But here are a few Lincoln-related books that do sound promising to the Oxonian Review:

* Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, by Gabor S. Britt (Memphis State University Press, 1978). Lincoln was a proto-Keynesian who thought that public works projects would jolt the economy out of a recession. This month, Time magazine dusts off its copy of Britt and concludes that Lincoln would have voted for Obama’s economic policies.

* The President’s Cookbook, by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (Funk & Wagnalls, 1968). The Ann Arbor News looks at the old cookbooks inside its cupboard and finds that his wife’s favourite dessert was vanilla almond cake. He was also a fan of oyster and scallop soup, chicken fricassee, and biscuits with apple pie.

* 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Lincoln: Loves and Losses. Political Power Plays. White House Hauntings, by Brian Thornton (Adams Media, 2005). Lincoln’s sons kept a pony, a turkey named Jack, and two pet goats named Nanny and Nanko in the White House while he was president.

And Obama has yet to get his daughters a dog?