Thursday, February 28, 2013
Two years ago this month in February 2011, I reviewed the first in a trilogy of science-fiction books featuring Abraham Lincoln and other icons from that era in history. The trilogy titled A New Birth Of Freedom is the story of a time traveler who has come from the very distant future to seek the help of Lincoln, the Union, and even the Confederacy against alien invaders who threaten to annihilate our planet. The first book, "The Visitor," is the story of Mr. Edwin Blair, who returns to introduce himself to Abraham Lincoln in the year 1849, hands Lincoln a letter, and asks him to keep it until 1863 at which time the visitor (Mr. Blair) will return to tell Lincoln in detail what he is asking of him. That book was hard for me to put down and I eagerly waited for the second in the trilogy.
After a two year wait, the second book has arrived. "The Translator" picks up where the first left off. The Battle of Gettysburg has ended prematurely as the Union and rebel forces had combined to help combat the invaders. Some of the invaders had been captured, which raised huge ethical concerns about the treatment of prisoners of war, especially if those prisoners are bent on destroying your planet. By the end of that first volume, a rudimentary way of communicating with the aliens had been discovered, that communication revealing the creatures to be intelligent. In turn, that raised even more ethical and humanitarian concerns.
In "The Translator," the focus shifts from the reasons why Mr. Blair has come from the far future to the young man (and others) who can communicate with the alien prisoners. The aliens tell him they need to communicate with "White Hat" and "Big Mouth," a soldier and a Native American, respectively. No one knows where these two men are, let alone why the creatures need them to be found. Even the aliens themselves aren't entirely sure why.
As in the first book, "The Translator" skillfully blends history, alternate history, and science-fiction into an interesting and fun book, while also raising important questions about how compassionate people must (or should) be toward their enemies. That the author, Robert G. Pielke, holds degrees in ethics, theology, and history, it's understandable why this trilogy asks important questions of the reader.
Overall I enjoyed "The Visitor" more than I did "The Translator." But it's understandable as the first features a battle, the mystery of why Mr. Blair is in Lincoln's time, and the shock of finding out why. "The Translator" just doesn't have the same swift pace and gripping narrative, but it's obviously setting the stage for the concluding volume. It's still well-written, entertaining, and hard to put down.
Yes, the entire premise of A New Birth Of Freedom is ridiculous. But if you like science-fiction in addition to history (you must, or you wouldn't be reading this post), then I'd highly recommend this trilogy.
Both books are published by Tribute Books and may be purchased on Amazon or at Whiskey Creek Press in paperback format. eBook versions are available for Kindle and Nook, as well as through Whiskey Creek Press.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 4:13 PM
Thursday, February 21, 2013
The long running Public Broadcast System (PBS) series Antiques Roadshow has "uncovered" a previously unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln barely a month after his nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 U.S. Presidential Election.
The woman who brought the letter in for appraisal at the Roadshow's stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, found the letter in a desk she inherited from her parents. They were collectors of antique furniture and had purchased the desk many years ago. The letter, written to William Jones, is pictured in the photo above. As you can see, it's in wonderful condition with some light foxing around the edges. A paper conservator will be able to preserve the letter and keep it from further damage.
William Jones was basically Abraham Lincoln's first employer. He lived in Spencer County, Indiana and was a well-to-do businessman. Lincoln did odd jobs for him as he grew up. Today you can visit the home of William Jones in Indiana.
The letter from Lincoln to Mr. Jones is a little illegible in the photo, but is a "thank you" to his old mentor and boss for the congratulations Lincoln received from him after the nomination. Lincoln mentions Spencer County in the letter, saying that he misses his old neighbors there. Lincoln's signature is strong and clear, signed "A. Lincoln" as he typically signed his other letters. I wrote in the opening paragraph that this letter is previously unknown as it's nowhere to be found in the "Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln," a standard reference for Lincoln scholars and historians.
The appraiser of this Lincoln letter was Dr. Martin Gammon, director of the Rare Books & Manuscripts department for Bonhams and Butterfields in San Francisco. What value did he place on this Lincoln artifact? You'll have to tune in and find out. Let's just say that it's enough for the owner to take a very special vacation should she desire to sell. His appraisal of this wonderful find may be seen in the next episode of Antiques Roadshow, scheduled for Monday February 25, 2013 on PBS at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Check your local listings as local stations often show PBS programs at different times.
An account executive with the series contacted me back in November to tell me about this wonderful discovery. She asked if I'd publicize it for WGBH (Boston), the producer of the series. I'm thrilled to do so for two reasons. I'm obviously an Abraham Lincoln enthusiast. And Antiques Roadshow just happens to be my favorite television program of all. I love antiques and also collect Lincoln memorabilia. So this discovery and appraisal are very exciting for me.
In addition, the executive with the show has asked me to join her, Antiques Roadshow appraiser Arlie Sulka, and perhaps another person or two, in a "Live Tweet" session on Twitter while the show is broadcast on Monday night. I'm honored to be part of my favorite show. I am "Mr_Lincoln" (@Mr_Lincoln) on Twitter, so I hope you'll join me and the others on this week's Antiques Roadshow!
Here is a link to a preview of this episode:
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 8:00 PM
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Life was hard, and as Lincoln himself later wrote, his childhood and youth could be described as the "short and simple annals of the poor." The Lincoln family was indeed poor, but early descriptions of it living in abject poverty are probably exaggerated. The Lincolns were no poorer nor richer than most of their neighbors working to eke out a living from the land. Thomas eked out a living on various farms and made furniture to help further raise scarce money.
Throughout his entire life, Abraham Lincoln had less than 12-18 months formal education, making him one of our least educated of the Presidents of The United States. His father never encouraged education for his children, and in fact seems to have considered school to be a waste of time. Fortunately for his son, Lincoln's step-mother Sarah encouraged Abraham to read and learn as much as he could. As a child (and as an adult), Lincoln had an insatiable desire to learn and better himself. He read fine literature like Shakespeare and the Bible, Aesop's Fables, and an early biography of George Washington. Lincoln also later taught himself geometry in order to simply learn. This motivation to improve his lot in life set him apart from almost everyone he knew, especially his father, which might explain why the two were never close.
Lincoln had extraordinary ambition, which along with his quest for learning, might help at least partially explain how he achieved such towering heights in life. He wanted to be held in esteem, but only by making himself worthy of esteem, as he said in his first campaign speech when running for the Illinois State Legislature. Lincoln lost that first election, but he was determined to succeed, and won on his second try. By the time he was in his late 20's and early 30's, friends and associates began calling him "Old Abe" as a sign of respect for his intellect and wisdom.
That Lincoln was a genius seems clear. With no formal education in any field, least of all engineering, he invented and patented a device to help remove boats off of sandbars in the shallow rivers in Illinois. Railroads supplanted the need for such a contraption, which was never used. Nonetheless, his 1849 patent for his invention remains the only one awarded to a future President Of The United States.
He was, of course, a political genius as well. He and his team of advisors outmaneuvered favored candidates to win the GOP nomination for President in 1860. Then he molded his political rivals into a cabinet which was among the best in U.S. presidential history as Civil War raged. Secretary of State Seward, Secretary of War Stanton, and Secretary of Navy Welles, and Secretary of Treasury Chase all worked against Lincoln at one point, but he saw their abilities and overlooked their political differences because he knew they were the best men for their jobs.
Perhaps the greatest sign of Lincoln's genius is his prose writing which was majestic and almost poetic at its best. Many writers consider his prose to be among the finest writing by anyone, period, and not only among Presidents. His Gettysburg Address helped reshape and re-define America in only 271 words. His Second Inaugural Address reveals his magnanimity and desire to restore the nation, yet is among the shortest of all Presidential inaugural speeches. These and other of his writings took place in an era when orations were expected to last hours, with flowery and embellished phrases. Lincoln's simplicity and clarity of speech still stun in their beauty today.
Fascination with Abraham Lincoln has never really gone away, but he is today enjoying a surge in popularity which is remarkable. The bicentennial of his birth saw exhibitions, concerts, and a re-dedication of the magnificent memorial in Washington, D.C. If anything, Lincoln's presence seems even stronger in recent months. The Stephen Spielberg film "Lincoln" with its astonishing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis leads this year's list of Academy Award nominations with 12. The dreadful "Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter" was released this past summer to so-so reviews and a weak box office, but it did raise Lincoln's visibility further into popular culture. President Obama again used the Lincoln Bible last month for his second inauguration as he did for his first. New books about Lincoln seem to appear weekly. His character is used in television commercials, including a new series of ones for Lincoln automobiles (yes, that line was named after Lincoln). In short, Mr. Lincoln seems to be almost everywhere we look.
It's difficult to say why Lincoln still resonates with so many people, old and young, women and men. Is it because he was so honest, a trait which is terribly lacking in our era of lying politicians and cheating athletes? Is it simply because we're commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War? Could it be his rise from absolutely nothing to his achieving the highest office in our land? Or is it his martyrdom after he was struck down by a treasonous coward just as he was ready to experience the conclusion of our greatest war?
Probably each of us who is endlessly fascinated with Mr. Lincoln has his or her own reason or reasons for that fascination. I am often asked during my lectures what led to my own fascination. The short answer is, I have no idea. My parents took me to his Birthplace Memorial in Kentucky when I was 4 or 5, a visit I don't remember. But I was "hooked" from that visit and remain "hooked" by the story and legacy of the greatest of our Presidents of the United States.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln. Thank you for your inspiration and leadership.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:53 AM