Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘political science

Reviewed “Lincoln’s Boys” at SBR Yesterday

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Sometimes, I get luckier than others when it comes to books I review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). Such is the case with LINCOLN’S BOYS, perhaps the most interesting piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year.


Well, LINCOLN’S BOYS is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s two young personal Presidential secretaries, John George Nicolay and John Hay. They saw Lincoln from a unique vantage point in two ways: first, because they worked with him for four-plus years, they saw him in nearly every imaginable circumstance. And second, they later were tapped to be his biographers by Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and were given access to all of Lincoln’s Presidential Papers in order to put out a massive ten-book biography, LINCOLN: A HISTORY.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly for a wide variety of reasons. Seeing Lincoln as a man first, able politician second, and transformational figure third was a revelation in and of itself. But seeing how Nicolay and Hay managed to craft Lincoln’s image at a time no one had even conceived of such a thing — and doing so in such a way that showed Lincoln as a man rather than as a demi-god or worse, a full-fledged Deity figure (as was already happening at the time they started work on Lincoln’s biography) — was also eye-opening.

As I said in my review:

Because Nicolay and Hay were honest men, they did their best to show Lincoln as a man. Full of talent, yes, and possibly the best President we’ve ever had . . . but still a man.

And because Zeitz is an honest biographer as well as an honest historian, he was able to show Lincoln in a brand-new light by showing Lincoln through the eyes of Nicolay and Hay.

So if you like history, politics, or have made it a point to seek out every word ever written with regards to Abraham Lincoln, this book is obviously meant for you.

But if you also like biographies that put the subjects of same into the full context of their time and shows them as living, breathing men with interests and goals and dreams all their own, you will adore LINCOLN’S BOYS . . . guaranteed.

Just Reviewed “Why Nations Fail” at SBR

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Folks, if you love history, political science, or economics — or if you’re a writer who wants to understand these subjects in a new and totally different way (which is the main reason I picked up the book in the first place) — you need to read WHY NATIONS FAIL by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which I reviewed tonight at Shiny Book Review.  Here’s the link:

WHY NATIONS FAIL discusses why some nations succeed, and why others fail — and it all comes down to one thing: politics.

You see, if a country has an “inclusive” economy — this is one like the United States, South Korea, or the United Kingdom — it fosters innovation and growth.  It also allows for something called “creative destruction” — which means some businesses will fail when newer ones come along (like the printing press, which greatly improved world literacy, but also put out of business many scribes and rag-paper makers) and this shouldn’t be impeded because the net gain is far more than the net loss.

But if a country has an “extractive” economy — like North Korea, or the former Soviet Union, or contemporary China — none of that happens, or at most, very little of it does.  Those countries are run by elites, for elites.  They don’t care about having a middle class, though one may arise anyway (the inclusive economies definitely want a middle class and foster one through progressive policies of taxation and legislation); they mostly care about perpetuating themselves and making the most money they can in the process.

Really, you owe it to yourself to first read my review, and then go grab WHY NATIONS FAIL as soon as it comes out on March 20, 2012, as my review barely scratches the surface of this interesting and important book.   (So what’s stopping you?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm