Monday, January 25, 2010

Why You Should Read What Lincoln Read

Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our most literate President, grew up as a voracious reader--often walking twenty miles to borrow a book from a neighbor. He read late into the night until his candle burned out and in the fields when he should have been working. What were Lincoln's primary sources? The Bible and Shakespeare. He committed many passages to memory and could draw, at will, on their descriptive language and rich cadences.

Wonder where the Gettysburg address came from? Lincoln's deep reading in classical texts. It's just ten sentences. If only all modern communication could be so brief and so remarkably effective.

The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

One of my resolutions this year is to follow Lincoln's reading list. Less television, less contemporary fiction, less business books and articles on how to use the latest social networking tools. Sure I'll read them. But I'm going to focus on The Bible and Shakespeare. It's easier than ever...I can carry them around in my pocket on my iPhone or iTouch. Or even my new Apple Tablet. I don't have to walk 20 miles to borrow a copy. Which eliminates a lot of excuses.

I have no illusions of writing anything like the Gettysburg address. But I do believe I'll have a better view of mankind, both good and bad, when I'm done and, hopefully, be more articulate, concise and engaging. After all, how can I go wrong with The Bible and Shakespeare?