Thursday, June 25, 2009

In case you were wondering...

... I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. My absence from the blogosphere is due, in part, to other obligations. I've been tackling some long overdue projects at home and, quite frankly, many evenings I'm just too tired to blog. That must mean I'm getting old!

Still plenty of Lincoln news out there
There's still plenty of Lincoln news on the horizon - good books coming off the presses, events happening across the company and a general, all-around enthusiasm for Lincoln. I sure do wish I could write about each and every thing I hear of. Maybe someday I'll be able to find the time to do that.

In the meantime, I'll share what I can when I can. I am reading one very engaging Lincoln book now and have a whole stack of them to get to later. I listened to a book on tape a few weeks ago and still need to review it. And, I've got three more in the car to listen to over then next few weeks. You'll get to hear about all of them - eventually

Follow me on Twitter
Until then, please follow me on Twitter at

I'm tweeting and retweeting about:

  • Lincoln books,
  • Lincoln documentaries,
  • Lincoln events,
  • Lincoln sites,
  • Lincoln-related articles and
  • comments people make about Lincoln.

And sometimes, I'll retweet something simply because it makes me smile and I hope it can do the same for you, like the one about the little kid who thought the Gettysburg Address was where Lincoln lived.

Though I'd love to be writing about everything Lincoln that crosses my path, most days, I just can't. Twitter is a way that I can still keep you in the loop somewhat on Lincoln happenings. If you're not following yet, please do. I was at 300 followers yesterday, but seem to be down one today. Please join the other 299 who follow Lincoln Buff 2 to learn more about Abraham Lincoln.

Thanks for reading and come back soon. You never know when I'll get a few minutes to write or will run across a really cool story I just have to share. If the stars align as I think they will, there's a fantastic one coming very soon, so y'all come back now, ya hear?

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1 President + 2 authors + 43 Americans = Great book

In 1998, I wrote my first review of a Lincoln book. It was of Harold Holzer’s The Lincoln Mailbag: America Writes to the President, 1861-1865.

When I received the assignment, I didn’t know Holzer from Adam. I didn’t have any idea he’d have more than 30 books under his belt within the next decade and be one of the most recognized names in Lincoln scholarship. If you would have told me then that seven years later I’d meet the man, and four years after that, I’d consider him a mentor and friend, I’d have answered, “Yeah-h-h-h, ri-i-i-i-ght!”

But, he has, I did and he is. It’s funny how this crazy thing called life plays out.

Today, I want to tell you about one of Holzer’s latest books. Not because he asked me to. (He did not.) Not because he answers my questions, no matter how ridiculous they may be. (He does.) Not because he’s the chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. (He is – and he’s one fine spokesperson.)

I want to tell you about In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts because it’s a really neat book. But Holzer didn’t produce this one alone. As he’s done occasionally in the past, the author joined forces with another Lincoln scribe, Joshua Wolf Shenk. If that name is familiar, it’s because Shenk “wrote the book” on Lincoln and depression. It’s titled Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Changed a President and Fueled His Greatness.

A winning combination
The duo combined images of documents in Lincoln’s own handwriting with photographs and supporting artwork, then topped the creation with commentary from 43 Americans. And, these weren’t just any Americans. They included in their ranks all living former Presidents, a past Supreme Court Justice, leading Lincoln scholars, actors who’ve portrayed Lincoln, famous politicians and writers, big name film makers and more.

This diverse group presents an unprecedented look at the Lincoln legacy through a multi-faceted wall of windows. The book is even more unique in that some of the panes have since shattered. We’ll never again have an opportunity to get a fresh perspective on Lincoln from three commentators who recently passed away – the patriarch of Lincoln scholars David Herbert Donald, the great American historian John Hope Franklin and legendary author John Updike.

In Lincoln’s Hand serves not only as a valuable resource for accessing many of Lincoln’s most famous words and seeing them in their original form, complete with the emancipator’s strikeouts and edits. It’s also a very attractive, easy-to-read volume which would make a cherished gift or a great conversation piece on a coffee table. It’s meant to be looked at – often – and read and discussed.

But wait, there’s more

In Lincoln’s Hand is an official publication of the Library of Congress Bicentennial Exhibition, “With Malice Toward None.” Though the celebratory exhibit of original Lincoln documents is no longer on display at the Library of Congress, it’s hitting the road, stopping for a time in museum and libraries across the country. Check to learn the approximate dates the exhibit will be in a venue near you.

You can also learn more on the exhibit website.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

On the road to knowledge

You’ve gotta love audio books. How else can you learn while you’re driving?

I have a 30-minute commute to and from work each day, and I’ve grown to look forward to my classroom on wheels. Recently, I listened to two Lincoln-related audio books, though to the non-Lincoln buff, they might not seem so.

Illinois general turned president

The first of the two is Grant: A Biography (Unabridged) by John Mosier from the Great Generals Series.

A fellow history buff from Galesburg, retired Judge Harry Bulkeley, bears an uncanny resemblance to the great general, portraying him in Civil War Reenactments and even in two television documentaries.

I chose the Ulysses S. Grant bio for a couple reasons. I wanted to learn more about this Illinois icon my Galesburg acquaintance brings to life, and I knew I needed to know more about the general and his service to better understand Lincoln and the Civil War.

So what did I learn?

First, I learned how little I know about the Civil War. In corporate-speak, it’s my Lincoln growth area. But, I also learned more about the general, his life and his leadership style. Mosier paints a mural of Grant’s life and military accomplishments as vivid as those panoramic walls WPA folks used to paint in post offices across the country back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Through the book, the reader learns a lot about the often misunderstood Grant – a family man, an artist, a brilliant military strategist. Mosier also teaches about the battles of the Civil War and military leadership in general not only through the Civil War, but throughout history in the U.S. and abroad.

I really wished I were listening to this not in a car, but in a room with a timeline across the wall and a map of Civil War battlefields in front of me. Because I don’t know either of these nearly as well as I should, I felt at sometimes that I were sitting in a sidewalk cafĂ© in a foreign land, not understanding what was said around me. But every once in a while, I heard morsels in my native language so interesting that I couldn’t help but linger to hear more.

So, though much of the military strategy and Civil War specifics were foreign to me, I learned – tons. I have a much greater appreciation for Grant - the man, Grant - the General and Grant - the President, and I’ll listen to this again someday when I can visualize Grant standing on a battlefield and leading his men to victory. And, maybe, I’ll even read the book – that is, if I ever run out of Lincoln books. Alas, I don’t see that happening any time soon with a new one coming out each week.

The audio book has a very helpful introduction by Wesley K. Clark and is narrated by Brian Emerson, a comfortable voice to listen to any time of day.

Little stories with a moral
I also just finished listening to an unabridged edition of Aesop’s Fables, narrated by Jonathan Kent. I’m embarrassed to say that though I’ve started them numerous times, I’ve never before made it through all of these classic tales. This time, I did.

It was important to me that I understood them, as this was one book which Lincoln is supposed to have read early in life – and which is to have influenced him throughout life.

Many of the stories were familiar, of course. You just can’t go through life without being exposed to them and many of the morals are things I’ve heard over and over. I just didn’t realize they came from Aesop.

Though Kent’s voice is soothing to hear, there are some times when, in portraying a particular character, it’s more annoying than pleasant. That’s rare, though, and not a deterrent from the value of the book in general. And, for some reason, this particular copy was difficult to hear. I’m not sure if it was just a defect or what, but I had to listen at full volume. My husband just about blew us all out of the van when he popped out the CD to listen to oldies and we heard our first 60s song at the highest level on the dial!

More to come
I’ve also been turning the pages of several books (but not while I'm driving), so I’ve got more reviews to share in the coming days – this time of Lincoln books. Keep watching. I’ll try not to stay away so long this time.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 12, 2009

New Lincoln exhibit opens Monday

Though farming wasn't the career of choice for Abraham Lincoln, he certainly had connections to agriculture throughout his life. A new exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum shows this, and last night I got to see it at a preview reception for museum members. The exhibit, "How Vast and How Varied a Field' The Agricultural Vision of Abraham Lincoln," opens to the public on Monday, June 15.

Watch my blog for more on this fine exhibit and some of what the speaker had to say last night about Lincoln and agriculture. I'll write more in the next few days.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Emerson on Lincoln

Not Ralph Waldo though...

For the past few years, I've heard of this enthusiasatic young Lincoln scholar who stumbled upon a trunk of long lost Mary Todd Lincoln letters, dug much deeper than the letters and wrote a book, The Madness of Mary Lincoln. On Monday, I got to meet him.

Jason Emerson is a former National Park Service park ranger at places like Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Gettysburg National Military Park, and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Arch) in St. Louis. A short biography on his website says he was also a costumed interpreter at the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, NY, a professional journalist, a newsletter publisher and a freelance writer.

Emerson spoke at the United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, which last year hosted a visit from Lincoln scholar Joshua Wolf Shenk. Emerson's visit was sponsored by Illinois Central College (ICC) Community Programs for Adults, ICC Social Sciences Department and the church.

Leaving his legacy
Emerson is also the author of Lincoln the Inventor, a great little book about the device for which Lincoln obtained a patent. He's got three other projects in the works:

  • the forthcoming biography of Robert Todd Lincoln, upon which he was working when he stumbled on the lost letters,
  • the publication of a previously unpublished manuscript, The Dark Days of Abraham Lincoln's Widow, As Revealed by Her Own Letters, and
  • the introduction for a reprint of the classic W.A. Evans book, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln: A Study of Her Personality and Influence on Lincoln.

Dark Days and the Evans book witll both be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2010.

Emerson has also written scores of reviews and scholarly articles and even appeared recently on a Lincoln documentary. He made the big time with his Mary Lincoln book, and he's now given numerous lectures on his books, but I think that first documentary was a real high point for him. With that appearance he joined the "Society of Lincoln Talking Heads," a pretty prestigious group, if I might say so myself.

A few good laughs and a lot of substance
Jason Emerson is a pretty funny guy. He kept the audience laughing with his lecture Monday night, but he got serious when he needed to. Mary Todd Lincoln is a subject which calls for some serious research and some serious introspection and, as Emerson points out, people have written of her life from many different angles. Those views often oppose each other and paint her in a kaleidoscope of different lights.

What color is the lens through which Emerson sees her? It's not rose-colored, but it's not jaded either. This author has no agenda - not psychobabble, not feminism, not Mary-bashing. He's out to portray her time in a Batavia (Ill.) in the clearest light he can, and to look at the insanity case through the new view presented by Mrs. Lincoln's letters to and from Myra Bradwell.

If you ever get the chance to hear Emerson talk, please go. You'll enjoy it. And, by all means, read his books. I got my copy of Madness and also a copy of Inventor for my 11-year-old grandson, who was celebrating his birthday on the day of Emerson's talk. I'll be reviewing both here later this year, so watch for them.

Until then, keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you may learn of the next great undiscovered find in American history. The steamer trunk Emerson stumbled across is not the last repository of stories yet untold.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pursuing Lincoln

My blogging presence has been a little less lately, as I've been catching up on things at home. This week, I'll be on the road a couple days pursuing Lincoln, so I won't have as much time to blog, either. I'll try to fill you in on these events later when I can.

I get to meet Lincoln author Jason Emerson tonight and to attend a foundation members reception for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's exhibit, "Illinois Stories: 'How Vast and How Varied a Field,'" later in the week.

Emerson is the author of The Madness of Mary Lincoln and Lincoln the Inventor. He's currently working on a long overdue biography of Robert Todd Lincoln, which should shed new light on this much overlooked Lincoln son.

The ALPLM exhibit features the first John Deere tractor. (No, it wasn't invented in Lincoln's lifetime.) I'm really excited about that event, as my date for the evening will be my 11-year-old grandson. He's joining me as a belated celebration of his birthday, which is today. Happy birthday, fella.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lincoln Buff 2 featured by two other bloggers

One of the greatest benefits of sharing the legacy of Lincoln online is the fellow Lincoln buffs and all around really cool people you meet around the world. Two of them actually wrote about my blog this week. I am flattered and thankful.

Recently, I told you about Ed Newman's Ennyman's Territory blog. You'll want to check it out. He's an individual with amazingly brilliant and diverse talent - not only a gifted writer but an accomplished artist, as well.

Mike Kienzler of the Springfield, Ill. newspaper, The State Journal-Register, writes The Abraham Lincoln Observer (ALO) blog. In an article yesterday, he wrote about our mutual Lincoln friend, photographer David Wiegers, and added a few words about my interview with Newman. Coincidentally, about ten years ago, I occasionally wrote freelance book reviews on Illinois-related subjects, including Lincoln, for the SJ-R. My books page editor, the late Doug Pokorski, reported to Kienzler. Though we've never met, and I hadn't even exchanged emails with him until Doug passed away suddenly a few years ago, I'm grateful for the opportunity Mike gave me to get my words in print. Thanks, ALO.

Of course, I love it when people read my blog. That's why I write it. But, please, check out Ed's and Mike's, too. You'll be glad you did.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.