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The best of 2013 - Rob Wick - 12-23-2013 09:42 PM

2013 was an annus horribilis for me in terms of reading. Of course, the other reason the year sucked (a little incident with my heart) had something to do with the lack of reading I completed this year. I have an account on Goodreads which keeps statistics on all the books I've read since I signed up. I only completed 17 books this year, although that represented slightly over 5,700 pages. Three of the books I completed were for my own book, and two were books I reviewed for the Lincoln Herald. A coworker and I keep tabs on what we've read over the year and then each select a book of the year. I generally try to get through 30 books a year, but she often reads as many as 60 or 70 and sometimes even 100 (and that's books no shorter than 300 or so pages).

So, the top five books for me in 2013 are as follows (#1 is my book of the year, and I only consider books I've completed, so The Bully Pulpit is not on the list)

1. All the Great Prizes by John Taliaferro. A biography of John Hay has been long overdue. John Taliaferro's is a fascinating read and provides a clear picture of the man. There are some irritating mistakes, such as Taliferro's promotion of Albert J. Beveridge to the vice presidency under Theodore Roosevelt (it was Charles W. Fairbanks), and I thought the history of Hay and John G. Nicolay writing their massive biography of Lincoln was too thin, but this will serve as the standard biography of Hay for years to come.

2. All in the Day's Work by Ida M. Tarbell. Had I not been writing about Tarbell, I doubt I would have ever read her autobiography. That would have been my loss. From a historian's perspective, Tarbell's autobiography serves sometimes more to conceal than to shine light on her thoughts, but it's important to remember she was writing long before tell-all's became the rage. Even in her dotage, Tarbell's writing remained powerful and sharp. Having her letters, it's easy to see what was left out (and why) but anyone interested in Tarbell must start with this necessary work.

3. Success Story: The Life of S.S. McClure, by Peter Lyon. In an age when the term "genius" gets thrown around too casually, Samuel Sidney McClure was the real deal. This older book, written by McClure's grandson, only occasionally drops into hagiography. The remainder of the time, Lyon is quite clear that for all of McClure's ability, the one thing he lacked, especially after he and John S. Phillips ended their business partnership, was a governor on his mania. Lyon details the good along with the bad, including McClure's philandering, which Ida Tarbell feared would take all the good she and the other muckrakers did and, should it ever become public, brand them as hypocrites in the public eye. Anyone who reads The Bully Pulpit should also read Lyon's book to get a more detailed picture of just who S.S. McClure was.

4. The Selected Letters of William Styron. At 700 pages, this was the longest book I read this year. When I first read Sophie's Choice (after seeing the movie) I was awestruck. Reading Styron's work is like savoring a fine wine. It's best done in small sips rather than big gulps. That is what makes reading his letters so effective. Much of the book is devoted to Styron's first novel, Lie Down In Darkness, a literary homage to William Faulkner, whose influence on Styron pervades the text. The evolution of such books as The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice make for interesting and poignant reading. Styron's legendary feud with Norman Mailer, which Styron later admitted was generally his fault, is detailed as is Styron's admiration for James Jones. Styron's letters to his father are deeply touching.

5. Lincoln's Humor and Other Essays by Benjamin P. Thomas. Michael Burlingame has done the Lincoln community a large favor by collecting these essays, many of which were previously unpublished. The only issue I found with this edition of the book was the poor binding, which seems to bedevil Burlingame's work as anyone who has tried to hold his massive two-volumes on Lincoln can attest to. Thomas's work clearly reflects his time, and some of his conclusions have been proven wrong, but the strength of this book lies in the exhaustive footnotes inserted by editor Burlingame.

An honorable mention has to go to Chicago's 1893 World's Fair by our own Joe Di Cola. I wish I had had this book when I read Devil in the White City. It was clearly a labor of love for Joe and deserves a place on every forum member's bookshelf.

Other books I finished in 2013 (in no particular order):

This Living Hand by Edmund Morris
Lincoln's New Salem by Benjamin P. Thomas
The Great Agnostic by Susan Jacoby
Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
The Best American Essays, 2012, edited by David Brooks
The Memoir of a Publisher by F.N. Doubleday
Forty-One False Starts by Janet Malcolm (the WORST book of 2013)
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin
Oak Ridge Cemetery by Edward Russo, Curtis Mann and Tim Davlin.
A Punishment on the Nation edited by Brian Craig Miller (reviewed)
Hoax by forum member Edward J. Steers Jr. (reviewed)

So, what did you read?


RE: The best of 2013 - RJNorton - 12-24-2013 06:12 AM

I am currently still working on Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination. I continue to be amazed at how much new information is in there which I had never seen in any other book. I have the pleasure of meeting Tom Bogar for lunch in mid-January, and my goal is to have every single sentence memorized by that time.

RE: The best of 2013 - Wesley Harris - 01-02-2014 09:05 PM

I read about 100 books a year, slightly over half American history. Here is some of my favorites read during 2013:

SAVAGE WILL: The Daring Escape of Americans Trapped Behind Nazi Lines by Timothy M. Gay

FOUNDING RIVALS: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights, and The Election that Saved a Nation by Chris DeRose

HUNTING CHE: How a U.S. Special Forces Team Helped Capture the World’s Most Famous Revolutionary by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer

BREAKING THE LINE: The Season in Black College Football that Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights by Samuel G. Freedman

BACKSTAGE AT THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford's Theatre by Tom Bogar

SHOT ALL TO HELL: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape by Mark Lee Gardner

FROZEN IN TIME: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES: Bunker Hill, the First American Army, and the Emergence of George Washington by Paul Lockhart

THE KINGS OF CASINO PARK: Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932 by Thomas Aiello

THE TWILIGHT WARRIORS: The Deadliest Naval Battle of World War II and the Men Who Fought It by Robert Gandt

MOBY-DUCK: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn

SULTANA: Surviving the Civil War, Prison & the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History by Alan Huffman

RE: The best of 2013 - Thomas Thorne - 01-03-2014 12:50 AM

My favorite books of 2013-most of which were published before 2013- in no particular order:

Charmed Lives by Michael Korda-The author relates how his Hungarian immigrant family came to dominate the British film industry

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo-Hugo's literary extravagances must have driven his editors insane but his characters are superb. Inspector Javert is a much more sympathetic character in the book than he is in the movies. Hugo's view of revolution is more nuanced in the book.

The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved by Jonathan Fenby. De Gaulle said his tragedy was "I respect only those who stand up to me, but I find such people intolerable." A fascinating multi layered man .

Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr. FDR and Ronald Reagan were conviction politicians who had the teflon ability to compromise without alienating their base. Seward had the velcro touch. His Southern enemies deemed him a dangerous fanatic while his "friends" thought he would betray their beliefs.

Gettysburg by Stephen W Sears-Name me a better 21th century Civil War battle chronicler.

Bloodlands:Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder-a truly ghastly but important story depicting whole nations being devoured by 2 of the greatest monsters in all history

The Cardinal-by Henry Morton Robinson-a famous 1950 novel depicting the career of a Catholic priest from a working class family. There are people in this book you would love to meet.

RE: The best of 2013 - Craig Hipkins - 01-05-2014 10:26 PM

I usually read about 20-30 books a year not including ones that I merely peruse looking for certain content. I finished 27 this past year and here are my favorites in no particular order.

Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk
Agincourt by Juliet Barker
Exodus to Arthur by Mike Baillie
Marathon by Clarence DeMar
The Shadow of his Wings by Gereon Goldman
Coronel & the Falklands by Geoffrey Bennett
The Somme by Martin Gilbert

I also re-read some of the great Sci-Fi novels of H.G. Wells. I had forgotten how good these were!


RE: The best of 2013 - Gene C - 01-06-2014 01:48 PM

Here are my favorites of 2013 that I would recommend

** Stanton by Benjamin Thomas ** my favorite

no particular order

Heart Mender by Andy Andrews (non Lincoln)
Tad Lincoln's Father by Julia Taft Bayne - a short book
The Darkest Dawn by Thomas Goodrich (Sandman)

Shiloh by Shelby Foote - a book for young adults
Father Abraham by Harold Holzer
Behind the Scenes at the White House by Elizabeth Keckley - a short book

Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln by Helen Nicolay
Lincoln Legends by Edward Steers
Lincoln and His Generals by Harry Williams

Honor's Voice by Douglas Wilson
Lincoln's Animal Friends by Ruth Painter Randal - a book for young adults, very good
Giant in the Shadows by Jason Emerson
Shadows Rise by John Walsh

RE: The best of 2013 - Eva Elisabeth - 01-06-2014 08:03 PM

Gene, you make me curious about that Stanton biography. Why exactly did you like it that much?
I, too, liked Tad Lincoln's Father", "Lincoln's Animal Friends", and "Father Abrahams Sons". My other top favorites in 2013 were
"Henry and Clara",
"The Trials of Mrs. Lincoln",
"The Madness of Mary Lincoln",
"Blood on the Moon",
"Lincoln and Whitman",
"One War at a Time", and
"Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination".
And I really enjoyed Mike's graphic novel "With Malice toward One". But I could easily extend the list.
Two of the non-Lincoln ones:
"The John Lennon letters", edited by Hunter Davies, and
"The Twelve Chairs" by Ilja Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov.
This satiric novel is really worth reading, especially for history fans!

RE: The best of 2013 - Gene C - 01-07-2014 12:38 PM


I liked the book on Stanton becuase:
*** It's very well written. ***
Highly recommended by other people on this site who's opinions I respect
Stanton is such a colorful and key figure of Lincoln's White House years and I knew very little about him.
It also covers the period of time after the assassination and Stanton's problems with Johnson that I knew almost nothing about.
Probably the most extensive and comprehensive book written about him. (lots of footnotes)
The same author has written an excellent biography on Lincoln

for additional comments about this book

RE: The best of 2013 - Eva Elisabeth - 01-07-2014 09:20 PM

Thanks, Gene! I've already read three books you once recommended, and have never been disappointed.

Stanton is an enigma to me. Could someone please fill me in:
- Did Stanton ever speak with of the conspirators?
- I think despite the reporters there was no civilian audience at the trial. Did Stanton or any other politician (Johnson?) attend?
- Did Stanton testify as a witness?

RE: The best of 2013 - Thomas Thorne - 01-08-2014 02:02 AM

As far as I know Stanton never met with any of the conspirators. We know he interrogated at least one witness,Louis J Weichmann before the trial whom he harbored suspicions about his role in the conspiracy. There were civilian spectators including ladies who were present at the trial. The most famous of the ladies may have been Mrs Elizabeth Custer, who accompanied her husband, Gen. George Armstrong Custer. I am unaware of any other VIP-with the possible exception of Tad Lincoln-who appeared as a spectator but I can't believe the Custers were the only ones. I am a bit dubious about the Tad Lincoln story. Stanton did not testify at trial. It was Gen. Grant whose testimony established a key part of the government's case,that Washington DC was a fortified military camp.

RE: The best of 2013 - RJNorton - 01-08-2014 06:11 AM

(01-08-2014 02:02 AM)Thomas Thorne Wrote:  I am a bit dubious about the Tad Lincoln story.

Like Tom, I am also dubious. On p. 224 of Lincoln's Sons Ruth Painter Randall writes, "On May 18 a newspaperman noted that 'Master Tad Lincoln was among the spectators at the conspiracy trial this afternoon.'" The author goes on to write, "It is painful to think of the turmoil in his passionate young heart as he looked at those who had plotted with the murderer of his father."

Lincoln's Sons is indeed a wonderful book. Mike Burkhimer includes it in his excellent 100 Essential Lincoln Books. The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop includes it in its Essential Lincoln Bookshelf. But it is not footnoted, so there is no way to know who the unnamed newspaperman is or from what newspaper it came from.

I would be curious if anyone knows of another source for this that actually includes a footnote citing the newspaper and date.

RE: The best of 2013 - Eva Elisabeth - 01-08-2014 06:37 AM

Thanks for your replies. Now that you mention it I recall reading somewhere about Tad in the courtroom (but not where), and I found it very strange, too.
I concluded there might have been no civilian audience because it was a military trial and due to these drawings:
There seems no place for an audience in the first one, so I would conclude if there were civilians, they were those seated on the few chairs along the wall (in the second one)?

I mainly came up with this because I wondered if Stanton followed the trial because he was so extremely eager and relentless in the persecution of the conspirators.

RE: The best of 2013 - BettyO - 01-08-2014 07:14 AM

Eva -

John and Barry would be the experts on the Courtroom - they would know the correct placement. But I've worked a bit on the courtroom as well and here is pretty much, I believe, what the courtroom looked like. I've modified the sketch somewhat to show the benches which the spectators sat on (we believe that there were 9 of them - 6' long - we're in the process of having them made.) There was also a table for the Commission's water cooler and glasses as well as a pot-belly stove. There was also a fireplace on the wall in front of the reporter's table.

Mrs. Surratt DID NOT sit in the dock, but to the side in the corner by the door through which the prisoners came in....

If John or Barry could chime in here..... Thanks!

[Image: oi7g.jpg]

RE: The best of 2013 - Eva Elisabeth - 01-08-2014 10:13 AM

So there were more than only few seats for an audience, that surprises me a bit. Another thing I wonder - who had the power to decide to put up a military trial instead of a civil one? Stanton (alone?)? Johnson? Who else was in favor of this decision? (I read Bates, Wells, and McCulloch, opposed it, and Speed in the beginning, too.)

RE: The best of 2013 - Eva Elisabeth - 01-08-2014 01:01 PM

Betty, (do you know) what exactly did the "boxes of assassins implements" contain? Were the contents visible to the spectators (e.g. through a glass lid)? Or why were they placed in this position rather than near the table of the commission?