Book Review–Lincoln in Indiana

Dirck, Brian R. Lincoln in Indiana. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017. 132 pages, notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos. ISBN 9780809335657, $24.95.

The newest title in the Concise Lincoln Library series is Lincoln in Indiana written by Anderson University history professor Brian R. Dirck. Dr. Dirck has written several other books on Lincoln and received the Barondess Award from the Civil War Roundtable of New York for his book Lincoln the Lawyer. Here in a few short pages, Dirck confirms his spot as a strong Lincoln scholar.

Slim in pages this book packs a pop when it comes to the understudied period of 1816-1830 when Lincoln was molded by his years in Indiana. As Dr. Dirck points out there is little material to work with on these years. Lincoln himself left a sparse 800 written words about this time. For other sources questions have to be asked. Are these memories correct, what biases and agendas might the person have had, and finally does martyrdom play a role in the views people put forth.

It is in the seeming wilds of Indiana that the anti-slavery Thomas Lincoln took his family in order to escape the peculiar institution, which he felt he could not compete against. Free whites could not compete with farmers who owned African slaves. It was here that Lincoln learned about hard physical labor; grubbing and   log-rolling were not what the young Lincoln ultimately wanted out of life however. He also learned of loss with the death of his mother, Nancy, due to milk sickness.

While Thomas did not fail as a farmer it can not be said that he was successful either. The farm teetered and Thomas used his marginal skills as a carpenter to bring in extra for the family.

As young Abraham grew up the bonds between father and son grew strained despite a good relationship with his stepmother Sarah. Thomas needed the young, strong Abraham to help provide labor. While education was important it was not a priority for the elder Lincoln. Abraham had an overriding interest in accomplishing more than his father. His lack of a formal education haunted Abraham in many ways as an adult.

By 1829 Abraham wanted out of Indiana. He was  tired of his labors supporting his father. Intellectually he was moving on as well. He became interested in politics and was often found at the local courthouse when court was in session. Despite his yearnings Abraham followed his family to Illinois where Thomas failed miserably. Within a year Thomas has returned in Indiana.

By this time Abraham was gone. The gulf between father and son had developed such that the younger Lincoln did not visit his dying father nor did he attend Thomas’s funeral in 1851.

Dr. Dirck has written a book that is easily readable and digestible. The length of books in this series make it easy to consume them in a couple of brief sittings. The research looks to be of high quality and the notes and bibliography are extensive for those looking to follow-up on source material.

Highly recommended for not just an introductory level work but even for those with a deeper knowledge of Lincoln. This developmental period in Lincoln’s life is important and this volume helps explain why.

Library Additions–February 2017 (1)

Dirck, Brian R. Lincoln in Indiana. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017. Index, notes, bibliography, b/w photos. 132 pages, 92 pages text. ISBN 9780809335657, $24.95.

Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky in 1809, moved with his parents, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, and his older sister, Sarah, to the Pigeon Creek area of southern Indiana in 1816. There Lincoln spent more than a quarter of his life. It was in Indiana that he developed a complicated and often troubled relationship with his father, exhibited his now-famous penchant for self-education, and formed a restless ambition to rise above his origins. Although some questions about these years are unanswerable due to a scarcity of reliable sources, Brian R. Dirck’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s boyhood sets what is known about the relationships, values, and environment that fundamentally shaped Lincoln’s character within the context of frontier and farm life in early nineteenth-century midwestern America.

Lincoln in Indiana tells the story of Lincoln’s life in Indiana, from his family’s arrival to their departure. Dirck explains the Lincoln family’s ancestry and how they and their relatives came to settle near Pigeon Creek. He shows how frontier families like the Lincolns created complex farms out of wooded areas, fashioned rough livelihoods, and developed tight-knit communities in the unforgiving Indiana wilderness. With evocative prose, he describes the youthful Lincoln’s relationship with members of his immediate and extended family. Dirck illuminates Thomas Lincoln by setting him into his era, revealing the concept of frontier manhood, and showing the increasingly strained relationship between father and son. He illustrates how pioneer women faced difficulties as he explores Nancy Lincoln’s work and her death from milk sickness; how Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush, fit into the family; and how Lincoln’s sister died in childbirth. Dirck examines Abraham’s education and reading habits, showing how a farming community could see him as lazy for preferring book learning over farmwork. While explaining how he was both similar to and different from his peers, Dirck includes stories of Lincoln’s occasional rash behavior toward those who offended him. As Lincoln grew up, his ambitions led him away from the family farm, and Dirck tells how Lincoln chafed at his father’s restrictions, why the Lincolns decided to leave Indiana in 1830, and how Lincoln eventually broke away from his family.

In a triumph of research, Dirck cuts through the myths about Lincoln’s early life, and along the way he explores the social, cultural, and economic issues of early nineteenth-century Indiana. The result is a realistic portrait of the youthful Lincoln set against the backdrop of American frontier culture.

Thank you to Southern Illinois University Press for sending a complimentary review copy.

Book Review–18 and Life on Skid Row

Bach, Sebastian. 18 and Life on Skid Row. New York: Dey Street Books. 2016. 431 pages, color and b/w photos. ISBN 9780062265395, $27.99.

While a new generation of fans may know Sebastian Bach from his Broadway roles in Jekyll and Hyde and Rocky Horror Picture Show or perhaps his work as Gil on Gilmore Girls, Sebastian Bach owes his fame to his time as front man for the band Skid Row.

In his new memoir 18 and Life on Skid Row Bach details his life from his early days, where he was influenced by his parents divorce to his hard rocking (and heavily drug and alcohol filled) days with Skid Row to his solo career to his reluctance to appear on Broadway, to the tragedy of losing his home to Hurricane Sandy.

Several themes popped out to me in reading this tale of life in the fast lane. First is that of excess. If Bach is to be believed it is amazing that he and his friends are still alive. The level of drug and alcohol abuse is a sad testament to the lifestyle of fame they were leading. Was there nobody who could rein them in? This is a story that has been told over and over; naïve young musicians who find fame, and they believe, fortune that they feel will be flowing forever. As with the majority of young musicians that pipeline of record label advances dries up and for Skid Row it slammed them hard when after a successful tour they ended up in the hole and owing the label money. Of course if you believe record labels are honest I have plenty of oceanfront property to sell you at bargain prices.

A second theme is that of loss, disappointment, and abandonment. Bach has suffered greatly in his life there is no doubt. The divorce of his parents was a terrible blow as was the death of his influential father at a young age from cancer. On multiple occasions Bach speaks of his hero worship for other musicians and yet at several times he was let down by these men despite Bach already having achieved a level of fame. Bach specifically calls out some of them including Ace Frehley of Kiss and his former band mates from Skid Row. Don’t mess with a musician and his song writing royalties. While Bach has certainly persevered and has had success post Skid Row, his firing from the band in December 1996 and ultimately being dropped by both his management and record label left a large gap in his life. For somebody who had spent their entire life wanting to rock the change in music fashion was a hard pill to swallow (OK, that’s a bad pun when you consider all the drug use recounted in the book).

Despite these triumphs and setbacks it appears that Bach is happy with his life. He says he is happily married to his second wife. He has kids with his first wife that he loves. He has a successful career as a musician, actor, and now author. And while there is no real mention of being clean and sober (thank God, I didn’t want to read a book about 12 step programs and the like) we can hope that the days of partying excess are behind him. Life really is much better sober.

If you grew up in the generation of bands such as Skid Row, Poison, Motley Crue at their best, Cinderella, and other hair metal bands (a term Bach despises by the way)  pick this one up. You will actually get to read about somebody with good things to say about Axl Rose!