“Stealing Lincoln’s Body”

July 17, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Posted in History, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

It’s books like this that make me wonder why novelists take so many liberties with historical accuracy in their fiction.  When real history is as crazy as this, why make anything up?  Vivid settings, improbable characters, convoluted motives, and plots that defy rationality – if this were a novel, nobody would have believed it.  Yet it all really happened, and it’s backed up with rigorous documentation as well as pages of archival photographs.  Thomas J. Craughwell brings us a hidden piece of history that will never be forgotten again.

 

More people should read history.  I don’t say this because I have a bachelor’s in history; actually, it’s the converse that’s true.  History is the context in which our culture, our society, our language exists.  The study of history allows us to pick up a newspaper, flip through it, and say, “This sounds strangely familiar” – at each headline!  Recognizing the pattern in some of our less well-thought- out plans helps us realize we should switch to Plan B while there is still time.  The historical lessons in Stealing Lincoln’s Body involve political corruption, poor security, and scamming contractors, all still contemporary issues.

 

In the old days, studying history meant rattling off strings of dates, memorizing major battles and the reigns of various political figures.  It meant learning about the doings of powerful men.  It was dry, dry, dry.  The new trend is to focus on the lives of everyday people.  What did they do?  What did they wear?  What did they think about?  Popularizers such as Craughwell bring to life the more bizarre stories, resuscitating entire vanished ages.

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