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Obama is inspired by Lincoln's writings

November 7, 2008 |  4:38 pm


During his first news conference as president-elect, Barack Obama answered many important questions -- about filling Cabinet positions, about jobs and the economy, about tax cuts. And about books.

The Chicago Sun Times' Lynn Sweet asked a four-part question, ending with a query for "what books you might be reading?" Obama's answer: "I have reread some of Lincoln's writings, who's always an extraordinary inspiration."

Lincoln was "the most successful of all presidential scribblers," Jack Lynch writes in his review of "Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer" by Fred Kaplan (online now, it'll appear in Sunday's paper). This new biography focuses on the literary aspects of Lincoln's life.

Honest Abe also found reading to be an inspiration. What inspired the inspirer? The Bible, "Pilgrim's Progress"  and the poets Thomas Gray, Alexander Pope, Robert Burns and Lord Byron. Edgar Allan Poe was a favorite. So was Shakespeare.

Lincoln also turned to the histories of the founding fathers Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography" and Mason Weems' "Life of Washington." He read Hugh Blair, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne.

In the review, Lynch writes:

Kaplan's page-one summary captures the spirit of the book as a whole: "For Lincoln, words mattered immensely. His increasing skill in their use during his lifetime, and his high valuation of their power, mark him as the one president who was both a national leader and a genius with language at a time when its power and integrity mattered more than it does today."

No matter what happens during the next four years, it's clear that Obama has begun his reading list in the right place.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: platinum print by George B. Ayres from 1860 Alexander Hesler glass negative, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Portrait Gallery.