Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On the path of Lincoln

I love to read, and like many people I've developed a list of my favorite authors who I like and the subjects that interest me. But I also like to pepper my reading list with some randomly found material. I figure, like art and music, there are tons of stuff out there I would like if I knew it existed. I've two ways to do this:

  1. I randomly pull books from the shelves in the library, no rhyme or reason. I break the adage of judging books by their cover, because thats the only criteria I have for this method. Occasionally I find something I really like and then I add to my list of authors/subjects that make my more planned reading list. Other times I can't wait to return the book.

  2. I look for books used in movies and TV shows, whether in references or quotes or actually shown on the screen. I particularly like the books lying on the coffee table or on the night stand that have nothing to do with the show/flick. I figure there must be a good reason the director put that particular book there where I can just read the title on the binding. I'll look them up and see if I think it would be a good read.
Method 2 just recently lead me to Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In an episode of Big Love Bill Henrickson has a copy of this on his seat in his truck. It's only shown for a few seconds, but it was long enough for me to take an interest. I've become quickly engrossed in the book. This is my first venture into Goodwin's work, and I can bet I'll be seeking out some of her other work.

This weekend I plan to travel to Pennsylvania to, among other things, take some pictures of the Strasburg Rail Road, where in 1861 Lincoln made a stop. It will be a fitting coincidence to the book I plan to carry along with me on the trip.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

History is written by the winners

American author Beau Riffenburgh wrote in The Myth of the Explorer: The Press, Sensationalism and Geographical Discovery of the injustice of attributing the finding of the Northwest Passage to Sir John Franklin rather than correctly to Dr. John Rae:

"Historians and geographers have agreed that what is perceived to exist or happen is equally as important as what actually exists or happens." He goes on to suggest that this is the case "because they could be designed for the consumption of select audiences - geographical societies, financial supporters, scientists, or the general public - bearing in mind little other than the benefit to the press and the explorers."

While Riffenburgh was writing of Arctic explorers, this same could easily be applied to the reasons and rationale provided at the time for invading Iraq. What is the truth but the rationalization of the actions you are about to undertake. If you are convinced you are correct in your conclusions, you'll find and cite the evidence that appears to strengthen your case. Only in hindsight do we have the data to determine if the "truth" was a convenient fabrication, and we'll judge the legacy of those who pitched us the truth appropriately.