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Clif Cleaveland, MD
12 February 2009
Today marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Fred
Kaplan's Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer (Harper 2008)
provides a compelling analysis of the influence that literature had
upon Lincoln's speeches and writing, and indeed his thinking on the
complex issues of his Presidency. Largely self-educated, Lincoln
read avidly - the Bible, Shakespeare's plays, Byron's poetry,
literary anthologies to which his step-mother introduced him.
In celebration of this day, I asked friends and colleagues to
suggest a single secular work, either fiction or non-fiction, which
they would nominate for the bookshelf of this and future
Robert Siskin: The Years of Lyndon
Johnson by Robert Caro. "He was one of the best persuaders in
the history of the Presidency. This tells how he gained power."
Lilli Wills: A People's History of the
United States, 1492-Present (2000 edition) by Howard Zinn. "It
tells America's story from the point of view of women, factory
workers, African Americans, working poor, and immigrant
Rick Govan: The Poisonwood Bible by
Barbara Kingsolver. "Although this novel is set in the Belgian
Congo in the late 1950s, it is timely in addressing many important
issues of today: poverty, green, justice, racism, wealth. Perhaps
the most significant theme is that of Western culture's often
misguided conviction that its way of life is, without question,
suitable for others."
Wes Moore: Quiet Strength by Tony
Dungy. "Some of my style is at the other end of the spectrum (loud
weakness). I hope to use some of Mr. Dungy's technique. Hopefully,
we can all tweak our style for the better through the great works
Sue Williams, Atlanta: What Are People
For? by Wendell Berry. "He believes so strongly in caring for
the land, in living in community, and in doing honest work toward a
sustainable future that he writes with convincing fervor and
Neil Williams: Hot, Flat, and Crowded
by Thomas Friedman. "The book is not only well written and
therefore a pleasure to read, but it takes on one of our critical
issues and suggests a win/win approach to addressing the
environmental challenges we face around the globe."
Tom Griscom: Democracy in America by
Alexis De Tocqueville. "The examination of the American democratic
experiment lays the foundation for the insights into equality that
frame this more than 150 year old work. Tocqueville examines the
underlying principles of democracy, casting out a long view as to
whether the American system of equality is better prepared to
withstand the pressures that toppled monarchies in the past. He
examines the fundamental tenets of the American experience and
offers his glances into the future of America and its peoples. His
comments on the failure of Native Americans coupled with the
abolition of slavery over time provide great insights into the
Gregory O'Dea: The Plot Against
America by Philip Roth. "This vital, sharply-realized
cautionary tale shows precisely how political ideology might affect
our day-to-day reality, and the subtle ways in which government can
cue and guide our deepest fears as well as our best hopes."
Pete Cooper: How Good People Make Tough
Decisions: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living by
Rushworth Kidder. "This gives a framework of ethical decision
making. It recognizes conflicts between alternatives that both have
value (right versus right). It discusses the decision-making
involved between truth versus loyalty, individual versus community,
short term versus long term, and justice versus mercy. While it
does not give answers, it gives a practical framework for helping
make ethical daily decisions."
Roger Brown: Miracle at Philadelphia
by Catherine Drinker Bowen. "It chronicles in dramatic and
flesh-and-blood realism the story of the Constitutional Convention
during the months of May to September 1787. Miracle at
Philadelphia demonstrates that the U.S. Constitution was
crafted through passionate debate and pragmatic compromise. The
miracle is that it has endured as a touchstone of justice and
freedom through crises and catastrophes undreamt of by the Founding
To be continued on February 26, 2009.