Posts Tagged ‘civil war’

#CBR4 Cannonball 23: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little WomenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some people might read Little Women and think to themselves that it’s outdated, old-fashioned, and out of touch. I mean, the book is basically a morality play about how to be a good, little woman and support the men, and learn how to be a real lady with manners and tact.

I enjoyed every word of it.

Maybe that makes me old-fashioned and backwards and an enemy of feminism, but I don’t care. Little Women is a sweet book about growing up and learning the ropes of life and dealing with tragedy and just loving the people around you.

Alcott used her own family as the inspiration for the characters in her books. You can see just how close she was to everyone in her family, but especially to her sisters and mother. Some people today might think that the way Alcott glorifies women in the roles of homemakers and wives and mothers is downright primeval, but I found it sweet. We’ve lost a little something in today’s culture with our constant pursuit of MORE. Look, I’m thankful to have the right to vote and work in corporate America and crack jokes in the presence of men, but I’m also a little sad that there’s so much pressure to do those things to the exclusion of making our homes pleasant and welcoming places and staying home with our kids and enjoying books like Little Women.

louisa may alcott

Louisa May Alcott

I’m not ashamed to say that I found the close relationship between the March sisters profoundly touching (esp. in light of the fact that my sister just got married, and although we both want to stay as close as ever, things are bound to change and will never be the same again). I’m not ashamed to say that I cried many tears through the course of the book (although I am a little embarrassed that most of those tears cropped up at the most inopportune times, like on the elliptical machine at the gym and whilst working the exit door at the Hurley Warehouse sale — *sob* “Thanks for coming.” *sniffle* “Bye, now.” *watery smile* “Come back soon”). I’m not ashamed to say that the romantic bits thrilled my chaste, little heart.

I loved that the March sisters occasionally bicker, but learn to forgive each other quickly. I love the lack of teenage angst. One of the things I dislike most about YA books these days is the heavy cloud of angst that obscures everything. No wonder kids are so sullen these days. Everything they’re reading (or watching on TV) is encouraging them to indulge in their angst, to become brooding and introspective and consumed with thoughts of themselves and their own problems. THOSE ARE ALL FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, YOU BUNCH OF BABIES.

first world problems

You think the March sisters didn’t have problems? Their dad was risking his life in the Civil War, they were poor and nigh-on starving, and they lived in freezing-cold Massachusetts and had maybe TWO dresses each in their entire wardrobes. But instead of moping about and whining about how their troubles affect THEM, they try to make the best of it, and try to be cheerful for each others’ sakes. And they also find satisfaction in helping others wherever they can. Now, I know that this isn’t an antidote for everything, but it’s still better than whining.

Maybe others think that Little Women is antiquated, but I love it. I love its simple depiction of friendship, love, and family, and of many of the values idealized in it.

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PAJIBA!!!

I made it, Ma!

Imagine my surprise when I opened my Google Reader yesterday to find that my favorite Cannonball Read so far got the royal treatment: it’s an official review on Pajiba!!!

Now, there's a sight for sore eyes.

Thanks, Abe. I owe it all to you.

This is so exciting! I mean, I didn’t expect it to happen so fast!

Also: SQUEE!!!!

That is all.

Read the original review.

Read the review on Pajiba.

Cannonball 7: Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I finished this book a few days ago, but I couldn’t write the review without crying until now.

Team of Rivals deals primarily with Abraham Lincoln’s political savvy. He went from a hayseedlawyer on the fringes of the American consciousness to one of the greatest and most respected leaders in our nation’s history — in world history, even.

The book is about Lincoln’s shrewd leadership, but its heart is about his character. Lincoln was a political genius, yes, but it was his integrity and humility that strengthened him to stick to his political convictions. It was his knack for giving humorous illustrations to set his adjutants, friends, colleagues, and even his enemies at ease that earned the respect of the American people in the most difficult trial our nation has ever faced.

Goodwin carefully details the background of each member of Lincoln’s Cabinet. She doesn’t just set forth the facts of their biographies — she paints a picture of each man’s character and personality. She brings them to life the way only a truly gifted historian can.

She also gives the reader a feel for the zeitgeist of the era. We Americans have all studied the American Civil War in school. But textbooks and lectures can’t convey the emotional state of a nation in peril. She gives examples of Americans from many different walks of life — North and South, slave and free, rich and poor — to show a broad view of how the war affected every American. No one came through unscathed.

And of course Goodwin describes Lincoln’s own life and character in careful detail. What makes the book so powerful is Goodwin’s ability to take a subject of thousands of biographies and bring him to life afresh. The reader learns about Lincoln’s agony over the personal cost of the war to each American — Northern and Southern alike. We see his level-headedness in handling delicate situations involving indelicate men. We see the strength of his conviction as he graciously but firmly led his Cabinet while still humbly considering their counsel in every matter.

We see why the nation was so devastated by his assassination. To lose their leader at the end of its most difficult trial must have been a terrible blow to a nation already weakened by war. It’s a credit to Goodwin’s writing that we feel the grief of the nation as we read her account of Lincoln’s assassination and the aftermath. I wept as though I had lost a personal friend.

But, aside from Lincoln’s wife and sons, no one felt the loss quite as deeply as his Cabinet — the eponymous “team of rivals” that he assembled to give him a balanced council to advise him.

Secretary of State William Seward was nearly assassinated himself, and had to cope with his own recuperation as well as the loss of his friend, colleague, and President. Seward had bid for the Republican nomination in 1960, but lost out to Lincoln. After much hesitation and political maneuvering on Lincoln’s part, he finally reluctantly accepted the post of Secretary of War. He was the first member of Lincoln’s Cabinet to recognize the President’s genius. He was Lincoln’s most trusted friend.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton couldn’t say the President’s name without weeping for weeks after his death. He had his fair share of conflicts with the President — when they first met, he was called in to handle a case that was originally given to Lincoln. No one ever told Lincoln he’d been replaced, so he showed up to court. Stanton ignored his presence and proceeded to present the case. Afterward, Lincoln admiringly said that he needed to go home to learn how to become a lawyer. Stanton rather brusquely dismissed his ability to do so.

But he quickly learned that underneath Lincoln’s simple manner and unassuming demeanor was a quick wit and an uncanny ability to assess a critical situation, along with the patience, wisdom and self-control that it took to wait before making important decisions (and nearly all of the decisions he had to make during his tenure as president would be crucial). It was Stanton who uttered, “Now he belongs to the ages,” at Lincoln’s deathbed.

Oh, man, so much for a tear-free review.

It’s no easy task to write an extraordinary book about an extraordinary man who led a nation in an extraordinary time with a team of extraordinary men. But Doris Kearns Goodwin has risen to the challenge, driven by her passion for Lincoln and his legacy. Her work is, in a word: extraordinary.

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