Presidents’ Day: Carl Sandburg’s ‘Lincoln’ — Our best presidents are as close as the nearest biography

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Presidents Day: our best presidents are as close as the nearest biography

With biographies like Carl Sandburg’s ‘Lincoln,’ Americans can learn about past presidents on any day of the year.

Source: Christian Science Monitor,  2-20-12

Carl Sandburg was thought an unlikely choice by some to chronicle the life of Abraham Lincoln, but his lyrical prose still makes his biography on Honest Abe a compelling read today.

…With the arrival of another Presidents Day, perhaps now is as good a time as any to acknowledge our debt not only to Lincoln, but to Sandburg, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for the concluding volumes of his Lincoln biography. Sandburg, best known as a poet, seemed an unlikely biographer of the nation’s 16th president when he started the project in the 1920s….READ MORE

Sandburg, who died in 1967 at age 89, wrote biography with the kind of flourish that can seem quaint to modern ears, but his basic sense of how to tell a good story is a reminder that even writers who aren’t professional historians also have something to contribute to presidential biography.

His “Lincoln,” though perhaps little read today, is part of a larger tradition of presidential biography started by Washington Irving, the 19th-century writer who gained fame as the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” before turning to a mammoth life of Washington. Then, as now, Americans depended on popular writers to chronicle their commanders-in-chief – a practice that continues today in the able hands of David McCullough, Richard Reeves, and others.

Thanks to Sandburg and his successors, we can connect with the lives of our presidents on Presidents Day, and every other day of the year.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate and a frequent essayist for national publications, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”

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