I was at the grocery store the other day and ran across Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies: The Real West, the companion volume to the ten-part TV series. O’Reilly’s name is in the title, but the cover lists David Fisher as writer, so I’m assuming Fisher did the heavy lifting. Anyway, it’s selling like crazy.
Nobody in their right mind should expect a glossy, heavily illustrated TV companion book to be a model of scholarly rigor. But it looks like O’Reilly/Fisher really phoned this one in, even by the lackadaisical standards of pop history.
Check this out (sorry about the pic quality; snapped this on my phone in the store):
Yep, that’s Wikipedia on a list of “especially trustworthy” websites. Wikipedia, for crying out loud.
Now you can all rest easier, knowing that your kids’ middle school research papers meet the same benchmarks as bestselling history books.
…over at the Abraham Lincoln Institute blog, in case anybody’s interested in reading them.
Renowned commentator Bill O’Reilly talked to Peter Boyer about his upcoming book on the Lincoln assassination.
“In this time when we’re struggling for leadership—and whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you know that we are struggling with leadership in America—we need to go back to a guy like Abraham Lincoln and understand what made him great,” O’Reilly says.
If you’re going to understand what made Lincoln great, the assassination is the place to start. Something about the way he slumped forward in that chair was eminently statesmanlike.
O’Reilly, now 62, says Americans are ill equipped to make wise decisions (“History in the public-school system now? Forget it”) in choosing their leaders, and that a dose of Lincoln—“the gold standard of leadership”—may help. But he has not gone suddenly egghead. Killing Lincoln is not a work of original scholarship or of breakthrough insight; it is meant to be a page-turner, modeled after the thrillers of John Grisham. “That’s the kind of books I like,” he says.
Good. The last things I want in a history book are original scholarship and breakthrough insight. If I want to learn something, I can always watch Ancient Aliens.
He mostly succeeds in that regard, in the sense that if Grisham wrote a novel about April 1865—a tiny span densely packed with history, from Appomattox to the Lincoln assassination and the hunting down of John Wilkes Booth—it might well read like Killing Lincoln. O’Reilly and Dugard collaborated on the project via email and telephone and wrote it in six months. If it sells, O’Reilly says, he plans a series of such books.
I’d say six months sounds like an adequate amount of time to write a book on the Lincoln assassination. All my previous concerns about this book have melted away, like marshmallow Peeps in the noonday sun.
…but you can already pre-order your very own copy of Bill O’ Reilly’s Lincoln assassination book, which will doubtless sell nine hundred bazillion copies.
Despite early indications that this was going to be another harebrained conspiracy account, along the lines of the 1977 book which falsely implicated Stanton in Booth’s plot, I was hoping against hope that O’Reilly and his co-author wouldn’t strike out into the tall grass of pseudohistorical nonsense.
I mean, it’s bad enough when websites and sensationalized documentaries foist that sort of stuff off on the public. Put it in the mouth of a well-known media personality like O’Reilly, and then picture the madness that would ensue. For decades, anyone giving a Lincoln lecture or site tour would end up fielding questions about whether members of Lincoln’s administration plotted to have him whacked. History blog comment sections would overflow with the rantings of crackpots, accusing all doubters of perpetuating a 150-year-old cover-up.
It would be one of the biggest boons to spurious history since Glenn Beck started dabbling in Native American studies. We’d never hear the end of it. Indeed, we’d be up to our armpits in it.
Now take a look at the promotional copy:
In the spring of 1865, the Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of incredibly bloody battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. One man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.
So here we go again. Gird up thy loins, ye public historians who specialize in Lincoln. Your job just got a little bit harder.
I was quite pleased (but not at all surprised) to hear that Michael Burlingame will receive the Lincoln Prize for his two-volume biography. This was an award that was very much deserved.
I think it’s going to be interesting to trace this book’s trajectory in the coming years. Scholars seem to have accepted it as the definitive bio for this generation, and I have no doubt that it is. Still, I wonder if its heft and price tag will intimidate interested readers. Unless a trade publisher brings out a paperback edition, David Donald’s one-volume work may remain the go-to life of Lincoln for those who simply want to get to know the man.
Speaking of Lincoln books, check out this item from the Abraham Lincoln Observer (a blog you should be reading regularly if you aren’t already). Apparently Bill O’ Reilly is working on an assassination book which offers “startling new information.” His co-author is a sportswriter with far too much time on his hands.
ALO speculates that it might have something to do with the pages torn from Booth’s memorandum book, the same memorandum book from which Booth himself tore pages to be used as notes. It doesn’t need explaining.
So not only will we be subjected to another conspiratorial history book, but one probably based on a non-issue and written by non-historians. The last time this happened, a chemist tried to convince us that one of Lincoln’s own cabinet members orchestrated his murder. We need another Lincoln conspiracy book like we need another teenage vampire movie.