Summer Reading Rec: Andrew Ferguson
Garin and I both contributed to Liberty Magazine’s summer books feature. My entry’s below.
Most of my summer reading is reserved for the classics I was too stupid to enjoy in high school. But here I’d like to alert you to the most underrated great American writer alive, in hopes that one day you will thank me with a burnt offering. His name is Andrew Ferguson and he writes for The Weekly Standard—where his byline is always worth seeking for the wiggle-quality pleasures sure to be found below it. Barack Obama, Fred Thompson, Alan Greenspan, and Bill Moyers are just a few of the notable subjects to have received his nonpareil literary treatment.
And now Ferguson, who looks like the love-child of Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens, has given us the 21st century Life on the Mississippi in his first full-length book: Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America. Only substitute for the river a parade of myriad Lincoln nuts, of whom Ferguson counts himself one.
As its title suggests, this book is more about America than it is about Lincoln (who can best be described by the phrase, “scholars differ.”) Ferguson ventures insightfully and hilariously into the many-splendored manifestations of Lincoln’s influence: lovers, haters, collectors, curators, “realists,” impersonators, worshippers, and more. Finally he makes his own poignant case in favor of Lincoln the icon.
Ferguson’s a first-rate wit and phrase-maker, but his most remarkable skill lies in narrative construction. His satirical work is done cleanly and quietly, leaving no traces, and he can sever a pound of flesh without drawing a drop of blood. (If he were around in the fictional Venice of 1500, Shylock might’ve died a Jew.) It’s a kind of humanizing satire which, rather than merely cutting its targets down to size, renders them more complex and interesting than they began. And the subtlety of it all lends the punch-lines more of that wiggle effect.
A review ought to quote examples from the book. But this isn’t a review. It’s an order. Follow it, and you’ll have no trouble keeping in mind that I like mine medium-rare on the rare side.