Book Review: From the Pews in the Back edited by Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens

Author: Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens
Title: From the Pews in the Back
Publication Info:  Collegeville, Minn. : Liturgical Press, c2009.
ISBN: 9780814632581


This excellent collection of essays allows young women to focus on their lives and identity in the Catholic faith (Full disclosure: I know Jen Owens from when we both part of the same church community in Boston).  29 women share their stories which are rich and diverse despite many of them coming from similar backgrounds (all but one of the writers are “cradle Catholics”).  They reflect on growing up Catholic, putting their faith into service and social justice, the call to vocation, and the importance of liturgy, the sacraments and Catholic identity.  They also tell how they deal with the conflict of the official Church teachings on things like women’s ordination and sexuality and how they’ve dealt with questions of faith and doubt.  This is a beautiful and powerful work and really left me thirsting for more.

Favorite Passages:

The thing about Catholic school, about growing up Catholic, is that it prioritizes the sacred, the ceremonious, the ability to create something holy out of otherwise profane time.  What we are taught as easily as biology, as matter-of-factly as mathematics, is a sense of wonder, that there is a transcendent and overarching God at play, that love is what propels the universe. – p. 39, Sarah Keller

Ironically, I am almost grateful to a church for inadvertently shaping me into a strong-willed feminist.  By simultaneously encouraging me to use all of my gifts and then barring me, and many other women, from doing so, the church provides exactly the right blend of factors to motivate me to action. – p. 143, Kate Henley Averett.

Recommended books: The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas, The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, and Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether.
Rating: ****


Book Review: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican by Rosemary Radford Ruether

Author: Rosemary Radford Ruether
Title: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican
Publication Info: New York : New Press, c2008
ISBN: 978-1-59558-406-9


This short “manifesto-style” book is a call for a more authentic experience of church in the Catholic tradition.  The author  – a scholar, activist, and feminist theologian – compiles a half-dozen essays that tell her life story, explore the experiences of women in Catholicism, critique the inconsistencies of the post-Vatican II papacy, and set forth an alternate vision to the Vatican’s paradigm.  The book is uneven and a lot of the essays could and should be explicated into a longer work, but this book serves well as an introduction to progressive Catholicism.

Recommended books: Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory and Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong

Author: Karen Armstrong
Title: The Battle for God
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2004), Edition: Abridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0060591870


Karen Armstrong explores fundamentalism in the three monotheistic churches – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Some of the material covers the same ground as her later book (which I read earlier) The Case for God and follows the same approach of taking an historical approach to the theology and practice of these churches.  Armstrong asserts that although fundamentalism is often knocked as “medieval” it is in fact a modern practice and things such as literal understandings of scripture in Christianity or the requirement of women to wear a veil in Islam are relatively recent innovations.  Fundamentalism also uses modern tactics even as it attempts to confront modernism.  Armstrong focuses on the history, development, and rise to political power of fundamentalists among Christians in the United States, Muslims in Iran and Egypt, and Jews in Europe and Israel.  It’s a fascinating if chilling portrait of how we got to where we are.  I’ve enjoyed and been informed by both Armstrong books I’ve listened to as well as interviews and articles so I expect I will be reading more of her work.

Rating: ***

Ten Years @ The Library

Ten years ago today I began work at Baker Library at Harvard Business School, my first library job.  Ten years later I still work in the same building albeit I have had three different jobs (officially), survived a two-year renovation working in a windowless warehouse-like interim building, and find myself 21 out 53 staff members in seniority.  I’ve worked in 8 different offices and may be the only person to have office space on all four floors of the library building.

Here’s my progression of work:

…I started as an Access Coordinator, a position that involved both the grunt work of checking ID’s and bags but also a good introduction to  ready reference and bibliographic instruction.

…After a year & a half I moved into the Interlibrary Loan/Document Deliver office and learned the wonders of OCLC Passport and making lots and lots of photocopies.  I still worked a lot of hours on the desk  providing access and ready reference.  And I worked on Saturdays supervising the casual staff.  The Tue-Sat schedule helped with library school internships albeit it made life exhausting.

…In the summer of 2003, the library was closed for renovation and ILL was folded into something Article and Book Delivery Unit which provided access to print resources stored offsite.  My new digs were in a musty warehouse that also housed the university police rifle range and a kiln for the ceramics club.  My desk time was curtailed significantly and I spent many hours anonymously hidden in the stacks pulling books and journals.  Fun times.

…Moving into the renovated library in 2005, I resumed ILL/DocDel work and public service desk shifts but added more reference activities as a liaison to the reference team.  This included verifying citations for the faculty research division, creating a reference interview training program for my Access colleagues, and responding to email reference questions.

…In the summer of 2008, I made biggest job change yet joining the Information Lifecycle Management team taking care of the school records storage programs and working in the metadata and taxonomy team.

…Just over a year ago after the departure of the Information Lifecycle Manager and some budget considerations ILM was merged into the Archives.  I began reporting to the Archivist and taking on many new archival responsibilities including reference and processing.

I’ve been fortunate in that whatever my official job duties I’ve had the opportunities to learn new things.  While working full time I went to library school at Simmons College greatly eased by tuition assistance and release time.  Following a somewhat circuitous route I’ve found myself working in archives which is where I was interested in going from my earliest days in the field.


New England Archivists Spring 2010 Meeting

Last week I attended the New England Archivists (NEA) Spring 2010 Meeting at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  I’m a brand new member of NEA and this was my first Meeting (and only my second professional conference after the 2007 ALA Annual Conference).

I drove out on Saturday morning (later than intended due to a faulty alarm clock) and arrived during the keynote address by Jackie Dooley of OCLC Research and the RLG Partnership.  Despite sitting at a table in the front of the auditorium I had trouble understanding what Dooley was saying for which I blame poor amplification.

The sessions were much better.

I attended:

SESSION #2: Maximal Processing

In response to the popular adaptation of the More Product, Less Process (MPLP) in archives, Rob Cox of U-Mass, Amherst counters with a Maximal Processing model.  The MPLP model originated with a 2005 American Archivist article by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner which suggested limiting the amount of time archivists spent on processing new collections to prevent backlogs and allow researchers to have more immediate access.  While on the surface a good idea, MPLP means there’s less description of archival collections which leads to less discovery and thus less use.  Cox’s Maximal Processing model aspires to maximum processing archivists can do within the confines of the resources available.

Speakers at this session included Cox himself, Lucy Barber of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and Jim Gerencser of Dickinson College with Nanci Young of Smith College as session chair.  It’s interesting that MPLP and Maximal Processing are not as diametrically opposed as they may appear.  The main problem with MPLP is that some archives are applying minimal processing to the extreme which results in costs passed on to researchers, less application of our special knowledge as archivists, and degradation of the archives’ public image.  Cox’s idea is to process and describe collections as much as possible and then continually and strategically revisit collections and revise descriptions.  As Gerencser noted a finding aid is a living document not the final word.

Maximal Processing as Cox and his colleagues described appeals to me greatly.  I like that we as archival professionals should aim high and avoid basing practices on something called “minimal.”  I also like that it is an ongoing continuum, do as much as you can and keep working on it.  It means a lot more to be an archivist and have that kind of input and relationship with the public.  I also liked that Cox’s slide show was almost entirely photos of cats, especially since they had nothing to do with the subject at hand.

SESSION #5: Repurposing Metadata

Anything with metadata in the title usually causes my head to spin – and this was no exception – but it was an interesting session nonetheless.  I like to think that frequent exposure to things I don’t understand will help things to click, eventually. Sibyl Schaefer of the University of Vermont served as session chair for this discussion of creative ways in which metadata can be repurposed.  Mike Rush of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University spoke about using XSLT style sheets to create outputs from their EAD finding aids.  I was particularly impressed by how it automatically generated box labels since I spend a lot of time typing those things up, but Rush spoke many other “crosswalks” that allow metadata to cross among standards.  Anne Sauer of Tufts University talked about the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” approach by entering metadata into a central database and exporting it for many other purposes.  Finally Mark Matienzo of Yale University’s Manuscripts and Archives introduced me to the concept of linked data which has to do with the Semantic Web and I didn’t quite grasp but basically is a way to link better. DBPedia is an example as it is the linked data version of Wikipedia.  Matzienzo spoke of using linked data as another was of furthering archival description and outreach.

SESSION #8: Archivists as Web 2.0 Consumer

The final session was more my speed as I already make use of a lot of Web 2.0 tools in a professional context.  Kate Theimer of ArchivesNext told us her personal story of creating one of the top blogs in the profession and how that’s benefited her career as well as sharing some of her favorite social networking tools.  Heather Soyka of the University of Pittsburgh gave a presentation entitled “RSS: Feeding the Starving Archivist” including a link to her Bloglines feeds which might make even a frequent rss user like myself overstuffed.  Rachel Donahue from the University of Maryland talked about the advantages of using Twitter and other social networking tools to maximize conference attendance (ironically, the U-Mass wifi network was not public access so I just put my laptop in the car at lunch time, but apparently other people were tweeting away on mobile devices).  Session chair Christie Peterson of Bates College also spoke about building an online personal space for professional networking.  This included making lists to increase privacy on Facebook and best professional practice for Twitter.

Outside the sessions I felt surprised to see lots of people I know or sort of know.  Colleagues from my library and Harvard naturally, but also teachers and students from Simmons and a great number of people I’m following on Twitter and blogs.  The archives community in New England is small.  I can’t say I’m a great networker but I did chat with some nice people and the food was good.  It was also a beautiful Spring day so I’m glad I was able to slip out at lunch for some sunshine.  I look forward to future activities with NEA.

Book Review: The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Author: P. G. Wodehouse
Title: The Inimitable Jeeves
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2000), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0786199032


Two things marred my enjoyment of this otherwise fine collection of Wodehouse stories.  First, the audiobook narrator employed an obnoxiously high-pitched voice in his characterizations of Wooster and Jeeves and with little nuance or finesse at that.  Second, I’d seen many of these stories performed by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the TV series, and for some reason the first way I hear a story always feels like “the right way.”  Silly thing, I know.

This book collects together several short stories and weaves them into a single narrative to create a pseudo-novel.  Almost all of the stories focus on Bertie’s friend Bingo who is constantly falling in love serving as a satire for the overly-romantic.  All of the stories capture the foibles of the decadent leisure class of aristocratic England and gambling is frequent.  My favorite part is when a contest is established to bet on which of the local pastors will preach the longest and most boring sermon.

All an all, an entertaining if not great work, probably better read than listened to.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Gardner Heist by Ulrish Boser

Author: Ulrich Boser
Title: The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft
Publication Info: Smithsonian (2009)
ISBN: 0061451835


For the 20th anniversary of the theft of 13 priceless art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, I read this book detailing the heist. The first chapter gives a blow-by-blow of all the known details of the heist itself in the early-morning hours of March 17, 1990.  Next, Boser introduces Harold Smith, an art detective who dedicates many of the remaining years of his life gathering clues and following leads about the heist.  After Smith dies in 2005, Boser himself picks up Smith’s casebook and begins immersing himself in the case to the point of obsession.  The trail of the crime leads Boser to look into various Boston underworld characters such as a noted art thief, Whitey Bulger and his mob cronies, and even the Irish Republican Army.  At one point the obsession gets ridiculous as Boser visits a town in Ireland thinking he’ll be able to pick Bulger off the street.  In the end, there’s no solution yet for the mystery of missing art, but Boser gives some interesting insights into how art theft is perpetrated and how that art may hopefully be returned.

Recommended booksDead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama, Legends of Winter Hill: Cops, Con Men, and Joe McCain, the Last Real Detective by Jay Atkinson, and  Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Young Children and Spirituality by Barbara Kimes Myers

Author: Barbara Kimes Myers
Title: Young Children and Spirituality
Publication Info: New York : Routledge, 1997.
ISBN: 0415916550


This book disappointed me mostly because it was not what I expected – namely a book that would help me as a parent understand my child’s spiritual needs.  This book is more of a psychology and childhood development book.  Kimes Myers has a broad definition of spirituality within the realms of family life, community, school and multicularism.  It’s an interesting book, but not being in the author’s intended audience I didn’t find it easy to comprehend or apply to real life.

Rating: **

New Tumblr Blog

My social networking presence continues to grow as I introduce my new Tumblr blog Portals of Discovery.

Why another blog?  I think it’s going to fill a few needs I’ve not been able fulfill elsewhere:

  • I use Twitter mainly for networking and trends in archives, records management and libraries but sometimes I want to post something silly or political or more than 140-characters.
  • Yet, those silly/political/more than 140-characters things are not substantial enough to build a post on Panorama of the Mountains.
  • I also like to tag articles on Delicious, but sometimes I want to say something about that article as well.  Twitter doesn’t give enough space to link and comment on articles.  I annoy my friends if link too much on Facebook.  And Link of the Day was a pretty dull feature on Panorama of the Mountains.
  • Finally, I like the way that people can make communities on Tumblr by following a la Twitter, and liking a la Facebook, and re-blogging, like, well blogs.

If you’re on Tumblr, follow me and see what we can make of it.

March Madness?

I’ve read on several blogs and new sites about a recent study that apparently links research behavior at American universities with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. According to this study by Charles Clotfelter, after Selection Sunday when the tournament teams are announced, the number of articles viewed on JSTOR drop.  What is really frustrating me about this study and all the people passing it along as a done deal in correlation is that it does not take into consideration one important factor.

Clotfelter doesn’t mention — and I haven’t seen anyone ask — what effect that Spring Break has on research behavior.  Think about it.  Every March colleges and universities have no classes for at least a week and many students leave campus for recreation, volunteer service projects, and job recruiting activities.  Of course they’re not looking at JSTOR during Spring Break.  Even upon returning to campus, many students aren’t going to head straight to the library, especially if their mid-terms were before Spring Break.

So yeah, college students may be watching basketball, but maybe Professor Coltfetter needs to revisit his assumptions.

Top Ten Irish Books

Today’s Christian Science Monitor lists the Ten Best Books About Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.  I’ve read three of these (Ulysses, How the Irish Saved Civilization, and The Commitments) and am very intrigued by The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims which I’ve never heard of before.  Here’s my own top ten list of my favorite books by Irish authors and/or dealing with Irish topics (in no particular order).

  1. Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney
  2. Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks
  3. A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
  4. The Trouble With the Irish by Leonard Wibberley
  5. Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Irish America: Coming Into Clover by Maureen Dezell
  8. How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
  9. Every Inch of Her by Peter Sheridan
  10. Sweet Liberty by Joseph O’Connor

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Worst Night of the Year…Redux

Daylight Savings Time begins today meaning that we will have a greater risk of on-the-job injuries according to Scientific American.  And The Christian Science Monitor reports that changing our clocks will cost us money.  The Monitor rightly asks why is that we spring forward again?

Ugh!  Join me in hoping that this silly — and dangerous — tradition will end someday soon.

Related posts:

Tour of Symphony Hall

On the second Saturday of the month, the Boston Symphony Orchestra offers free public tours of Symphony Hall.  I’m working on a walking tour of the Avenue of the Arts for Boston By Foot and have never been inside Symphony Hall (although I have been to Tanglewood), so my co-lead Megan & I took the opportunity to visit.  Despite miserable, wet weather a larger crowd than I expected turned out.  The tour went beyond all expectations as well.  Our guide had a sonorous voice that amply demonstrated the performance hall’s fine acoustics.  His tour lasted nearly two hours and took us to all parts of the building.

View of Symphony Hall from Backstage

In addition to the concert hall itself we visited the orchestra library and talked with the orchestral librarian.  Her work space has a large collection of vintage scores and a great view of the Christian Science Plaza.  Her job includes marking all the scores for each of the musicians.  Definitely not something they teach you at library school.  Our tour also took us back stage – a rather humble spot considering all the famed conductors and performers who’ve stood there – and down into the bowels of the building beneath the orchestra level.  The elevator used to remove the seats from orchestra seating and bring up tables for Pops performances is not quite what I imagined, but impressive nonetheless.

I learned a lot on this tour, including:

  • The difference between the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra.  The Pops are the BSO minus the 12 principal performers stepping out.  Everyone in the orchestra moves up a chair and the 12 empty seats are filled with freelance musicians.  The Esplanade Orchestra is entirely made up of freelance artists because the real BSO is at Tanglewood in July.
  • Symphony Hall’s perfect acoustics are aided by the niches along the walls and the compartments on the ceilings.
  • The exterior of the building is rather plain because construction went over budget with all the decoration and design of the interior.
  • The first woman member of the BSO was a harpist and lack of a women’s dressing room on tours meant she had to change clothing inside her harp case.
  • Saturday night performances are broadcast live on WGBH’s All Classical station 99.5 FM!

This tour is definitely a hidden gem in Boston and I highly recommended taking it.  Now I just need to experience a performance at Symphony Hall.

Crazy Dream

I had a dream the other morning in which I attended a performance of the musical Grease.  Except:

  • It was just the songs from Grease, none of the dialogue, performed as an oratorio, and
  • It had been re-scored by the by band Yo La Tengo, and
  • The music  was performed in Renaissance style, and
  • The choir singing the music were all dressed in mouse costumes.

It should be noted that these costumes were not like Mickey Mouse or team mascot costumes but eerily realistic as if they were human-sized mice.  In tweed coats and hats.

To pile on the weirdness, in the dream I remembered the mouse-costumed choir being frequent performers at my elementary school in Stamford, CT.  This of course is not true-to-life but I’m sure some freaky performers did visit my school as a kid.

Related posts:

Book Review: The Case For God by Karen Armstrong

Author: Karen Armstrong
Title: The Case for God
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0307702375


From the title this book appears to be an apologetic approach to theism.  Close but not quite.  Karen Armstrong in fact writes an history of religious belief and practice (and the parallel growth of atheism) from prehistoric cave paintings to postmodern philosophers.  While mostly focused on Western thought – and Christianity within that – Armstrong manages to incorporate a lot of world religion which makes a massive topic for a short book.  And yet it’s chock full of fascinating tidbits and connections I’ve never made.

Armstrong’s main points in this book are that literalism – both that which is insisted upon by religious conservatives and railed against by their anti-theist opponents – is a relatively modern phenomenon.    Historically practice trumped belief and our fore-bearers would not comprehend the all-or-nothing approach of today’s religious adherents.

I’m not going to admit that I understood it all, but I did enjoy Armstrong’s writing and ideas and would like to read more of her work.

Favorite Passages:

A good creation myth did not describe an event in the distant past but told people something essential about the present. It reminded them that things often had to get worse before they got better, that creativity demanded self-sacrifice and heroic struggle, and that everybody had to work hard to preserve the energies of the cosmos and establish society on a sound foundation. A creation story was primarily therapeutic. – p. 16

Fundamentalism — be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim — nearly always begins as a defensive movement; it is usually a response to a campaign of coreligionists or fellow countrymen that is experienced as inimical and invasive. – p. 271

Thus the cosmologist Paul Davies speaks of his delight in science with its unanswered, and, perhaps, unanswerable questions …. Davies has confessed “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion, science offers a surer path to God than religion.”  He is still asking the primordial question: Why is there something rather than nothing? – p. 310

The ideal society should be based on charity rather than truth.  In the past, [Gianni] Vattimo recalls, religious truth generally emerged from people interacting with others rather than by papal edict.  Vattimo recalls Christ’s saying, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst of them,” and the classic hymn, “Where there is love, there is also God.” – p. 314

Recommended books:
Rating: ***

Left Ahead Podcasts on Transportation

One of the local blogs I read regularly – Marry in Massachusetts – is written by a man who also participates in the Left Ahead podcast.  I don’t listen to this podcast regularly but I did download the latest two episodes since they deal with an issue near and dear to my heart: public transportation.  The first episode interviews Massachusetts Lt. Governor Tim Murray and the second is a talk with former Governor Mike Dukakis, two leaders who seem to get the importance of public transportation.  I highly recommend listening to these two podcasts.

Book Review: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Author: Nick Hornby
Title: Juliet, Naked
Publication Info: Riverhead Hardcover (2009)
ISBN: 1594488878


This novel is about three people: Duncan an English man-child obsessed with an American singer/songwriter who abruptly quit show business in the 1980s, his long-suffering girlfriend Annie who is realizing that she may never have children, and the retired musician himself Tucker Crowe who is trying to raise his six-year old son after failing to be a good father to four other children.  Annie & Duncan break up after Duncan’s infidelity and at the same time a review Annie posts on Duncan’s internet message board attracts the attention of Tucker.  Annie & Tucker develop an online correspondence and soon – surprise – he has reason to visit England.

This novel has a lot of the same themes of Hornby’s other works – music, geeky obsessions, muddled relationships, parenting, and recognizing one’s own mortality.  I really couldn’t get into to at first because the characters were annoying me especially since they kept talking about a fictional musician.  80 pages in, when Tucker finally appears, I started to warm up to it.  For all his flaws, I like Tucker for his relationship with his young son (albeit if that son doesn’t seem to act 6 years old).  But then the book just falls apart with far too many unlikely happenings and the characters not responding in a real way but more like sitcom characters.

Yes, I’m harsh on this book.  It is an entertaining, quality brain candy read.  On the other hand I know Hornby is capable of much better.

Rating: **


Book Review: Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Author:Joseph O’Neill
Title: Netherland
Publication Info: Pantheon (2008)
ISBN: 0307377040


This is a novel written by a Dutch man Hans who marries a English woman Rachel and together move to New York for business.  There they have a child and their marriage begins to crumble.  The September 11th attacks prove to be a catalyst for Rachel to demand a separation, returning to England and leaving Hans alone in New York.  The novel is the story of the three years Hans spends adrift in New York.  Two things are prominent in this time – Hans renewed love for playing cricket with Carribean and South Asian immigrants in Staten Island and Hans’ odd friendship with Trinidadian entrepreneur/thug Chuck Ramkissoon.

The novel is non-linear and jumps between ruminations on Hans’ loneliness in New York with memories of his childhood in Holland and marriage with Rachel.  Hans seems to be a man with no passion for anything, unable to make friends in any traditional manner, and easily lead about by Chuck on his various schemes.  The book is also peppered with wonderfully humorous and seemingly random vignettes.

This is a slow-moving book (in a good way I think, although I could see how someone could find it boring) with a focus on the interior life of the troubled narrator.  There are no easy answers or resolution either although the time of exile does come to an end and some revelations are made.  I enjoyed this well-written book and it may end up being on my list of favorites for the year.

Recommended books: Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball by Ed Smith and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Where? On Huntington Avenue by Rudolph M. Morris

Author: Rudolph M. Morris
Title: Where? On Huntington Avenue : a narrative of Northeastern
Publication Info: North Quincy, Mass. : Christopher Pub. House, c1977.
ISBN: 0815803575


More research for my walking tour.  This book offers a chatty, irreverent and detailed history of Northeastern University.  It details the growth of the school from an evening offering of the YMCA to a large private university.  Interesting enough, but I don’t see this book having much appeal unless you’re doing research or have ties to Northeastern.
Rating: **

Book Review: Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell A. McClintock

Author: Russell A. McClintock
Title: Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
Publication Info: The University of North Carolina Press (2008)
ISBN: 9780807886359


From our perspective the Civil War seems inevitable as soon as the southerns states declared themselves seceded from the Union.  McClintock thesis is to examine from a Northern perspective of why war was necessary against this insurgency.  There were other options such as a negotiated peace with concessions made on one or both sides or the Union could have just let those states go.  Similarly, the Union could have acted preemptively to suppress succession movements or gone to war immediately after secession, but did not.  McClintlock paints the picture of the political scene in the North in the time between Lincoln’s nomination and the first shots fired at Fort Sumter.  First, the Republican party itself at that time was a loose coalition of former whigs, Free Soilers and more radical antislavery elements that Lincoln had his hands full trying to keep them together.  Then there were Northern Democrats like Stephen Douglass who had their own ideas of how the crisis should be handled.  Broad opinion across the North ranged from conciliatory to retributional.  And Lincoln himself couldn’t do much about it during the time between his election and inauguration.  The Buchanan administration had their own problems and weren’t up to the task.  Lincoln would bumble and hesitate and try every option to keep the Union against war and eventually would make the decisions that would help the inevitable war begin in a way that would unite the Union behind the cause.  Despite Lincoln’s name in the title this book focuses on a much wider canvas of political figures and ideas of the time.  It can be a bit dry at time but it tackles some interesting questions with fascinating results.

Rating: ***