Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review-Team of Rivals

During my blogging hiatus I was fortunate to read a few really great books that I thought I would catch up writing a review on. I decided to read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin is a popular writer, but I have never read any of her books before, but because this one was on Abraham Lincoln I thought I would give it a try. I was pleased that I did. I found her analysis of Lincoln fascinating. I have read many books on Lincoln, but where this one made its mark was looking at how he dealt with other people. I came away from this book with a new appreciation of the man, and in fact I found that this book made me want to be a better person. Goodwin brilliantly documents how Lincoln had a knack of making enemies into friends. Instead of just getting angry at every slight towards him, and there were many; he found a way to get those making the slights to eventually support them. Bridges that most people would have burned down were not by Lincoln; so later in life he was able to cross them again for his own benefit.

I will give one example. Lincoln early on had difficulty getting along with his Secretary of War Cameron. Several times Cameron threatened to quite if he did not get his way, knowing Lincoln would never accept. Or so he thought. During one disagreement Lincoln accepted his offer by writing him a letter saying he had accepted and planned on nominating Cameron as ambassador to Russia. Cameron was crushed by the news and considered himself fired and worried what the public humiliation would do. Cameron had treated the President very badly while in office including publicly insulting him. Now that Lincoln had a chance for revenge, he did not take it. In letters to the press Lincoln set himself up for disgrace, taking all the blame on himself. He even brought Cameron in and asked his advice on his replacement. Cameron suggested Edwin Stanton, who Lincoln had already decided on, but let Cameron leave thinking Stanton was his idea. Cameron was a man who detested Lincoln, who was fired by Lincoln, yet as Goodwin writes, “Cameron would never forget this generous act. Filled with gratitude and admiration, he would become . . . one of the most intimate and devoted of Lincoln’s personal friends. He appreciated the courage it took for Lincoln to share the blame at a time when everyone else had deserted him. Most other men in Lincoln’s situation, Cameron wrote, “would have permitted an innocent man to suffer rather than incur responsibility.” Lincoln was not like most other men, as each cabinet member, including the new war secretary, would soon come to understand.” (Goodwin, 413)

This is just one example of the kind of man Lincoln was. He allowed himself to look foolish when it came to dealing with his leading General, George B. McClellan. As long as little Mac was the best man for the job, he would keep his job. It was not the constant insults that got Mac fired, it was his ineptitude on the battlefield. Lincoln was not a perfect man. In my own book and recent article I wrote about the Kentucky governor’s election in 1863, Lincoln restricted civil liberties to the point of being unconstitutional. It is hard to judge him, he was trying to save the nation. Goodwin bring to life this extraordinary president with her ability to tell a great story. The book is 755 pages, but reads easy and her writing style makes it easy to finish. In the end it was one of the more enjoyable book I have read. As I said it made me look at my own life and my dealings with people. If I could try to be more like Lincoln, life would be just that much easier.

One exciting note is that I believe they are making the book into a movie, possibly staring Daniel Day Lewis.  We are due for a good Lincoln book, but no matter how good it is you still need to read the book.  There is no way any movie can cover all the information.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm Back

Not that anyone but me cares, but I am back writing my blog. It has been much longer then I planned before starting again and I miss it. I have found blogging to be therapeutic, I feel like my brain is always on, never allowing any rest. What I have found is that if I write down what I am thinking I can move on. For anyone interested, let me explain why the long break. I graduated in 2008 and since then I have been on the job market. I have been a lecturer at my current University for the past five years. It has been an excellent opportunity to experience an entirely new culture in South Texas, but being a lecturer is only about one step up from slave labor at my University. While I have been on the hunt for a tenure tract position, I decided to stop blogging. It is unfortunate, but true that many in academia would not hire a new professor with conservative views. The bleeding heart liberal community of scholars who claim to be so open to everyone else’s views did not mean conservative views. I felt it was best to not advertise my political views.

Now, however, everything has changed. This week I was hired as an assistant Professor at a liberal arts University in Oklahoma. My family and I are very excited about the move. It is a small town but I like small towns and we are only half an hour from the city which is perfect. What I am most excited about is how much they seem to love me. I had to give a sample lecture to a group of faculty and students while I visited the University on my interview. When I met with the VP of academic affairs afterwards he told me I gave one the best lectures he had ever seen. About an hour after I got home the next day I received a call offering me the position. I was surprised how fast it came, but I was told they were so impressed and it was a unanimous decision of the committee that they did not want to wait. I am not sure exactly when we are going to move, but I am excited about the next phase in my family’s life. Our journey has taken us from Virginia to Arkansas to Texas and now we will begin our next chapter in Oklahoma.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I have had some requests to share my thanksgiving cooking experience. My family did something that I have wanted to do for many years, cook a full thanksgiving meal outside over the fire. Being in South Texas it is finally cool enough to be able to camp and with the kids having a few days break we decided to go camping. We drove five hours up to a state park

called Enchanted Rock, named after the large rock formations. It was a great place to camp and the kids had a lot of fun, but the important part was the meal. We did not want to skimp on anything, so we planned the full thanksgiving spread. The turkey was excellent; because of limitations we did not do a full bird. Our friends who came with us marinated the turkey breasts in basically 7up and soy sauce and slow cooked it over coals. The flavor and moisture were excellent with a smokey flavor. They also made the sweet potatoes by boiling them and making them into a puree. Melissa made her grandmothers mouthwatering stuffing and we cooked it using a Dutch oven. We made mashed potatoes on the camp stove, cranberry sauce, and roasted corn on the cob over the fire. For dessert we made a peach cobbler in the Dutch oven. The dinner was perfect, I do not think we could have done a better job at home in our kitchen. It was one of the best thanksgivings I have ever had. The work was not too difficult and in fact it seemed less stressful than normal and the clean up much easier. We even had leftovers for thanksgiving sandwiches the next day. Add our dinner to the whole camping experience and it was a trip that I believe we will try again soon.