Wednesday, September 12, 2012

LINCOLN by Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal just passed away, and I realized that I had never read one of his books.  I had a copy of Lincoln and decided that now was the time to tackle it.  Historical fiction has the advantage (or disadvantage, in some cases) of a known outcome.  We know who's going to win the Civil War, but getting there seems almost impossible, given the Union's paucity of capable generals, the infighting among political leaders competing for Lincoln's job, the leakage of military plans to the Confederacy, and the bogus intelligence about the size of the Southern forces from obviously unreliable sources.  The book is overly long, but then there's a lot going on, including the plot by local Confederate sympathizers to kidnap or assassinate Lincoln.  The White House residents were aware that they might have to evacuate at any moment, given their proximity to the seceded state of Virginia.  Lincoln's wife's extravagance and migraines add to Lincoln's woes that include attempts to depose him for incompetence.  Eventually his foes in Congress and in his own Cabinet realize that Lincoln is the consummate politician who is wily enough to outsmart them and powerful enough to push them out of his way.  Some of his plans never came to fruition, due to his untimely death.  His ideas of reimbursing the slaveowners and relocating the slaves to Central America were not popular with his colleagues, but I couldn't help but wonder if the Reconstruction era could have been even more chaotic if he had lived.  One thing that I found disconcerting was that the author switched subjects or perspectives rather abruptly, and I had quite a bit of difficulty keeping the long list of characters straight.  No matter.  This book reads like a novel and reminds us that issues such as the size of the national debt and the separation of church and state are not new.  Imagine our current problems compounded by war on our own soil.  This book gives a glimpse of what was truly a turbulent time.

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