Lincoln Was “Always Full of This Loneliness and Sadness”

(p. C6) What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I’ve read all these books about how Lincoln was hated, but I was still surprised by how disdained and disliked he was by so many of his contemporaries. Liberal Republicans thought he was too calculating, too quick to weigh public opinion. Democrats thought he was a tyrant, a rube, and was destroying the Constitution. I think a lot of this was airbrushed out of history after he was assassinated, when he became a martyr. But when you go back to that day and look at what people were saying, you get a stunning sense of what Lincoln was up against. There’s a lot of hostility from all sides. I’m not sure how he withstood it. I guess he was defeated so many times in his life, had been down so many times, that he was able to take almost anything.

And Lincoln is always surprising to me for his extremely peculiar qualities. He’s got this immense intelligence, and he’s always full of this loneliness and sadness. He goes up to the inauguration alone. He’s a strange guy. He has an ability to step outside himself and to view issues dispassionately. All of those qualities are seen in the book.

For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer. “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; Edward Achorn; For Lincoln, a Beginning Near the End.” The New York Times (Monday, February 24, 2020): C6.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date February 24, 2020, and has the title “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; 24 Tense Hours in Abraham Lincoln’s Life.” Williams’s question is in bold; Achorn’s answer is not in bold.)

Achorn’s book, that he discussed in the passages of the interview quoted above, is:

Achorn, Edward. Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Chinese Communist “Tradition” of Local Officials Lying to Please Beijing Central Planners

(p. A27) There is a tradition in China (and likely much of the world) for local authorities not to report bad news to their superiors. During the Great Leap Forward, local officials reported exaggerated harvest yields even as millions were starving. More recently, officials in Henan Province denied there was an epidemic of AIDS spread through unsanitary blood collection practices.

For the full commentary, see:

Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Why Is Data on Coronavirus So Limited?” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)

When Sleep Was Hard and Dangerous

(p. A15) Before the Industrial Revolution, no shortage of perils, real or imaginary, made for uneasy nights, from satanic demons to the unholy trinity of bedbugs, fleas and lice. A 17th-century verse sought deliverance at night “from sudden death, fire and theeves, stormes, tempests, and all affrigtments.” Worst in this age—before penicillin, before analgesics—was illness.

Less often, at least among propertied households, did beds themselves disrupt sleep, except when plush mattresses hampered one’s movements. Lower down the social scale, peasants who “hit the hay” at night enjoyed a measure of comfort unknown to paupers forced “to lie at the sign of the star.” Despite John Locke’s contention that tranquil slumber “matters not, whether it be on a soft bed” or on a board, the hard earth must have been agonizing for emaciated frames with minimal body fat for padding.

For the full review, see:

A. Roger Ekirch. “BOOKSHELF; How We Hit the Hay; A consideration of the bed—site of countless births, deaths and famous last words—as a prop with which to elaborate upon the “theater of life.” The New York Times (Friday, Oct. 25, 2019): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 24, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘What We Did in Bed’ Review: How We Hit the Hay; A consideration of the bed—site of countless births, deaths and famous last words—as a prop with which to elaborate upon the “theater of life.”)

The book under review, is:

Fagan, Brian, and Nadia Durrani. What We Did in Bed: A Horizontal History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

Harvard President James Conant Helped Develop Mustard Gas in WWI

(p. C7) With America’s entry into World War I, Conant took a commission in the Chemical Warfare Service. His task was to develop poison gases—first mustard gas, then an even nastier brew called lewisite. Conant had Quaker branches on his family tree, but he had no qualms: What, he asked, was the moral difference between killing soldiers with explosives and killing them with gas?

. . .

The subtitle of Conant’s autobiography was “Memoirs of a Social Inventor.” He had invented poison gas; he had managed the invention of the Bomb; he had helped invent the modern Harvard; and he aimed to reinvent American education as a whole. But his greatest invention was himself: a new type of social being on the American scene—the scientist-administrator-social engineer. His granddaughter’s biography is an outstanding portrait of a technocrat, at work and at home.

For the full review, see:

Steven Shapin. “Citizen Conant.” The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 27, 2017, and has the title “Review: Citizen Conant.”)

The book under review is:

Conant, Jennet. Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Boston Brahmins Invested in Western Industrialization

(p. A13) One of history’s ironies is that, even though New England birthed the abolition movement, many of Boston’s most prominent families offered less than total support for freeing the slaves. Their prosperity required a steady supply of cotton to feed New England’s growing textile industry. Even after slavery ended in 1865, wealthy Bostonians were reluctant to abandon their traditional business. Henry Lee Higginson, 30 years old and freshly discharged from the Union Army, bought with his partners a 5,000-acre plantation in Georgia with the goal of turning a profit by growing cotton. But the 60 former slaves living on the plantation thought the wages and terms offered to be grossly inadequate; the land they had worked in chains for generations, they believed, should belong to them. The enterprise soon collapsed.

As similar episodes played out across the South, Boston’s business elites looked for new places to invest their money. “They began to reenvision American capitalist development, not in modifying and salvaging the arrangements of earlier decades but in a far more ambitious program of continental industrialization,” Noam Maggor writes in “Brahmin Capitalism.” “They retreated from cotton and moved into a host of groundbreaking ventures in the Great American West—mining, stockyards, and railroads.”

. . .

Especially representative of the Bostonians’ transformative influence was Higginson’s next enterprise. Far removed from Georgian cotton, his interests landed on a copper mine in northern Michigan’s remote Keweenaw Peninsula. Copper had been discovered there 20 years earlier, but extraction had been small-scale and labor intensive; the high cost per unit meant that mining was profitable only for veins that contained at least 40% copper. In a short time, high-yield mines in the area began to show signs of depletion. But with Higginson’s capital—alongside investments from other Brahmins—large-scale copper extraction could take place as a continuous operation, making mining profitable on belts that contained only 2%-4% copper. In this way, Higginson’s Eastern capital transformed Western mining and launched a career that would make him one of Boston’s leading financiers.

For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. “BOOKSHELF; Enterprising Bostonians; Contrary to stereotype, the Brahmins of New England crisscrossed the continent and took bold risks in search of higher yields.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 26, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 25, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Maggor, Noam. Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America’s First Gilded Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.

Entrepreneurs Make Millions from Selling Cheaper Ice Cream

(p. A25) Curtis and S. Prestley Blake opened Friendly (the chain became Friendly’s in 1989) with a $547 loan from their parents in their hometown, Springfield, Mass., in the summer of 1935. With the Depression gripping the country, the brothers enticed customers by selling two scoops of ice cream for a nickel, about half the price their competitors charged (and the equivalent of about 95 cents today).

“Our customers didn’t have any money, and neither did we,” Mr. Blake told The Republican, a Springfield newspaper, in 2017.

Their shop was an instant success, with a line out the door on opening night. But it required constant labor.

. . .

Mr. Blake and his brother sold Friendly to the Hershey Foods Corporation in 1979 for about $164 million (nearly $580 million in today’s dollars).

For the full obituary, see:

Daniel E. Slotnik. “Curtis Blake Dies at 102; Built a Friendly Empire From Nickel Ice Cream.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 2, 2019): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 30, 2019, and has the title “Hong Kong Protesters Descend on Airport, With Plans to Stay for Days.”)