Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan

Title: Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan
Published by: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
Published on: November 28, 2011
Page count: 220
Genre: Nonfiction, adult biography
My reading format: Advanced reading copy for Kindle through NetGalley
Available formats: Hardcover and Adobe Reader


My review:

Hogan, a Midwesterner, has written up her close study of how Abraham Lincoln is marketed today, and posited that how we perceive our 16th president today has changed over time from how he really was. She claims that we see a little bit of ourselves in Lincoln's modern-day portrayal, and says in the first chapter, "this is a book about the ways Abraham Lincoln is packaged and sold in the marketplace of American ideas." Hogan examines the marketing of today of Lincoln from several angles: memorabilia and presidential tourism, themes in his biographies, his portrayal in literature, television and film, from the perspective of modern-day politics and how he is taught in today's classroom. 

Hogan traveled around the Midwest while doing research for her book, and until I read Lincoln, Inc., I was not aware that so many sites existed across Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois dedicated to sharing parts of his lives with presidential tourists. Interest in Lincoln is increased right now with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and other events, and it seems like a good time reexamine our perceptions of this president. As Hogan traveled, she discovered that some of the the historic Lincoln sites take great liberties to make, she writes, "the tourist experience more pleasurable" (Chapter 2). Hogan writes, "...whether Lincoln adorns Mount Rushmore or a souvenir shot glass, the effect is the same. His name and image remind us of our shared ideals, the ideals Lincoln seems to have both embodied and died to preserve" (Chapter 2). However, Hogan poses the question that if we're using Lincoln to sell things, does this make us lose a part of his authenticity?

As far as Lincoln's portrayal in literature, television and film, Hogan analyzes the appearance of certain themes that reappear over the past 150 years, and she speculates as to why some themes are more explored now than previously (for example, his struggles with depression and questions about his sexuality). Lincoln is examined with regard to modern-day politics, including an analysis of President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign where comparisons were drawn between the two men. Finally, Hogan reasons that classroom lessons on Lincoln may teach the importance of having good character rather than reporting with accuracy the facts about his life.  

I liked Hogan's academic and balanced approach to her topic, as well as her writing style in presenting all this material in an interesting way. I've done relatively little reading about Lincoln, but this book makes me feel like exploring him a little more. As it's an election year and I've recently been doing some reading on former President Jimmy Carter, I ought to add more Lincoln to my reading list. While I'm a much more frequent traveler across the Southeastern United States, some day when I do make an extended trip through the Midwest by car, I'll have to be sure to check out some of the Lincoln sites she mentions for myself. 

I think all of these things are what Hogan is hoping for for her readers: that people will seek out Lincoln for themselves and in doing so, will see him as a man of the time in which he lived, but a leader who still have relevance and significance in today's world. I enjoyed this read and I liked that it got me thinking about some things that I might never have considered otherwise.

Four out of five stars

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