Christmas gift WIN. Sometimes parents give you socks (which are not to be despised, being so uncommon useful when one’s feet are cold). But sometimes they knock one out of the park. Exhibit A: this handsome 3-volume biography of Lincoln by Carl Sandburg.
I’m not normally one to get wrapped-up in nostalgia, or to imbue physical objects with emotional significance: media is media, digital or otherwise, and is replaceable. I nonetheless feel a certain something about this particular collection, since it came from the estate of my dear Aunt Nell, whom I didn’t know nearly well enough but held in great esteem as a kind, cultured, and well-read lady. Lincoln’s my favorite historical figure, and my reverence for him teeters on the brink of objectivity – indeed has perhaps fallen into a hopeless abyss of semi-religious awe.
I could gush about Lincoln at the same interminable length a teenage girl in the 60’s could for The Beetles. I honestly believe he’s the finest human being America has yet produced. No joke. He may be the most intelligent, wise, tough, cunning, indomitable, and moral individual to ever walk this continent. If not, he’s easily in the top-ten in all those categories. He’s an utter freak of nature – a Dungeons & Dragons character born with the maximum possible score for all abilities, who then levelled-up to 20. In fact, my respect for his faculties is such that I’ve occasionally wondered what the world would be like if he’d lacked his prodigious morality (which many consider his greatest characteristic). What would America, or the world for that matter, look like today if Lincoln had possessed a mediocre sense of right and wrong, or if – God forbid – he’d been outright evil, or a psychopath? The notion chills me to the bone. Napoleon’s failure can be traced to politics, geography, logistics, and perhaps hubris. Hitler was undone by megalomania and ideology, which drove him to micromanage military strategy in an inept fashion. But a malicious Lincoln might have conquered the world – such was his adroitness and lack of weak-points.
And so this feels a particularly fitting disposition of one of her possessions (whereas I’d feel most awkward accepting, say, a piece of jewelry or stock shares). Its monetary value is negligible, and I could literally torrent the entire work in epub format in the time it took to type this sentence – yet I look-forward to reading Nell’s copy with the liveliest anticipation. It’s a striking departure from my usual rationality in matters of this sort, but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. And small though my mind may be, I really dig these books.