three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
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Adventures in Abe’s America

A-Land of LincolnAs a child in Illinois, Andrew Ferguson developed a fixation on all things Abraham Lincoln, taking great pleasure in visiting Springfield and riding the Lincoln Heritage Trail. Decades later, Ferguson, now a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, examines the Great Emancipator’s lasting influence on American history. What he discovers in his travels is always quirky, often disappointing, and laugh-out-loud funny—from high-dollar memorabilia collectors (Ferguson catches up with Louise Taper, a Beverly Hills aficionado who owns the bloody gloves and handkerchief that Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated) to a couple in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who offer corporate workshops based on Lincoln’s management style. Only the Lincoln Memorial, it seems, lives up to the author’s expectations as he travels the country searching for his ideal Abe.
Grove/Atlantic. 288 pages. $24. ISBN: 0871139677

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Ferguson’s story, a fascinating collection of his reporting, is about us as much as Lincoln. It is a vibrant and consistently surprising account that chases the wraithlike spirit of the Great Emancipator as it is incarnated or invoked by those around us, usually on less-than-hallowed ground." Art Winslow

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Land of Lincoln is not a history book as such; it’s more of a travelogue that rises to a level of humor that could well have been crafted by Lincoln himself—dry and knowing as he wisecracked around a cider barrel in an Illinois general store. While there are echoes of Sarah Vowell’s fabulous 2005 Assassination Vacation … clearly Land of Lincoln is an original companion volume that delves even more deeply into America’s national Lincoln fixation." Jack Ohman

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"In this vivid, beautifully written book he updates his personal pilgrimages and extends them, going to places where Lincoln worked, spoke and lived and where he is now, for the most part, honored. " Ernest W. Lefever

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Land of Lincoln is a nice encapsulation of how the passage of time, like a kaleidoscope, changes the images you see as you look backward toward the past. … [Ferguson] is affectionately sardonic about the stylistic and emotional excesses of the Lincoln buffs who are most deeply into their subject." Anthony Day

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s a sharp, funny, complex book. … His argument feels tacked on and underdeveloped." Joshua Wolf Shenk

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Ferguson’s cultural insights are vivid and penetrating. … The [book’s] major [fault] is the cynicism that pervades so much of Ferguson’s otherwise trenchant, sometimes laugh-out-loud narrative." Harold Holzer

Critical Summary

Abraham Lincoln has been the subject, by one count, of nearly 14,000 books. Chances are that none is funnier than Andrew Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln. Ferguson is at his best when writing the sort of good-natured, insightful observation that drives Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, or any of Bill Bryson’s books. At times, the humor devolves into cynicism and the argument loses focus; those passages work less well. In his attempt at separating the truth of Lincoln’s legacy from the fiction (or the history from the kitsch), though, Ferguson discovers a great deal about how—and how well—we honor our heroes.