Lincoln Bicentennial Madness

While most Americans are focused on the holidays and then the Inauguration, the book business is braced for Lincoln Bicentennial Madness on February 12, 2009, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Lists of Lincoln books are being promulgated by the national Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Kentucky commission, and doubtless many others. If you have a Lincoln book, it’s time to sell!
Though any calendar year now brings us a couple of dozen serious Lincoln books, the next two months will be clogged with new releases, beginning with Michael Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life, which clocks in at 2,024 pages, neatly divided into two volumes and discounted by Amazon to a tidy $110. Early reviews can only be described as orgasmic, but . . . damn, that’s a long book.
Low-key packaging!
A recent estimate placed the number of Lincoln books in print at 15,000, with another 50 queued up for current release. This abundance may account for some of the more bemusing titles, including Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, and Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture. At this point, there is no subject too small for the Lincoln publishing industry to examine.
Still, a few recent books seem particularly well-positioned for the coming glut. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is an excellent book and also has been cited by President-Elect Obama as instructive for his impending takeover of the reins of government. Also receiving an Obama-related bump is Harold Holzer’s recent Lincoln, President-Elect, which finds almost 500 pages worth of material in the four months between the election of November 1860 and Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861. (At that pace, Burlingame’s book would never end.)
The big events on February 12, 2009 will include a special joint session of Congress, statewide bell-ringing at noon in Illinois, and a birthday party in Springfield, Illinois (Gov. Blagojevich’s invitation has not gone out yet). I do question the event scheduled for Ford’s Theater in Washington — pretty tricky karma there.
Obscured by all of this excitement is the passing — noted only by me and a few lonely souls in Greeneville, Tennessee — of the bicentennial year of President Andrew Johnson, who was born into comparable poverty in 1808. I’m trying not to take personally this neglect of the Johnson Bicentennial, even though I have just finished a manuscript on Johnson’s impeachment trial. The book, IMPEACHED: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy,, will be released by Simon & Schuster in May 2009. I’m hopeful everyone will have slaked their thirst for Lincoln effluvia by then and will be wondering what the heck happened to the nation after the man died?
While the rest of the nation has turned its collective back on President Johnson’s milestone, the Rookie League Greeneville Astros have done their part. This summer they staged an Andrew Johnson Bicentennial night and passed out Andy Johnson bobbleheads to the crowd! I state with considerable pride that I possess a carton of said items, which will doubtless be a major item on E-Bay in coming months.


  1. klkatz on February 21, 2009 at 11:26 am

    i couldn’t believe how many publishers and organizations were contacting me asking me to promote their event or their new collection. It was amazing.
    As a teacher, I had the day off and was fortunate enough to go to the Union League here in Philadelphia (a short walk from my house) – it was amazing. It’s usually not open to the public. They’re collection of Lincoln artifacts and paintins were awe-inspiring. They had a floor to ceiling portrait of General Washington on his horse… quite possibly the coolest painting I’ve ever seen. (next to the first time I saw Prometheus being eaten by birds as a 10-year old kid.. that was cool too)

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