Sunday, January 15, 2012

Adam Goodheart's 1861

This week I started reading Adam Goodheart's 1861, which examines American society and politics on the eve of the Civil War.

I am thoroughly enjoying Goodheart's approach, which mixes politics, social history, and vignettes about lesser-known figures who illustrate his themes. 

For instance, he has an excellent summary of the differences between the four contenders in the 1860 Presidential campaign, but he also has a lengthy discussion about the lives of slaves and free blacks in pre-war Washington (I was surprised to learn that slave auctions were actually still entirely legal in D.C., under certain conditions, in 1861).

No surprise here, but I'm especially interested in Goodheart's examination of Abraham Lincoln. Here's a terrific passage about the symbolism of split-rail fences in Lincoln's Presidential campaign:
Split-rail fences represented individual independence and private ownership, yet also a sense of community, since they were often constructed by groups of neighbors coming together to pitch in. They epitomized America's working class and its rural way of life. They were homely, yet strong - perhaps like Lincoln himself. Perhaps most important, the split-rail fence was a symbol of the West (mainly what today we would call the Midwest), since it was often the first permanent structure that a pioneer would build after clearing the land.
I like picturing, in my head, the Western frontier, with a group of people working together on a fence. I like the mix of individualism and collective effort.

510. How exactly do you make the split-rails? Goodheart says that you use a mallet rather than an axe, and it seems to me that you'd have to be incredibly strong and coordinated to strike the mallet correctly.

511. I love the photograph on the cover of the book. Where was it taken?

512. What's the most famous fence in history?  I'd say the Great Wall of China is the most famous property line barrier, but it's not a fence per se.

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Yesterday the 49ers beat the Saints 36-32 in an epic back and forth game in which Drew Brees threw a fantastic touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with a minute left and then Alex Smith topped him by driving the 49ers back downfield and throwing a TD to Vernon Davis (who burst into tears) with 9 seconds left.

Tuck was at the game (!) and he texted me just after it ended:
"Seriously might be the best live sports event I have ever been to. This place is going off the hook."
I like this painting of a split-rail fence.

This is a picture of Vernon Davis's catch yesterday.

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