The Book of Abraham Captures The Civil War

   The Book of Abraham is a book put together by Joseph DeStefano, a long-time Civil War buff. His love of history and of the great writing of the time of the Civil War combines with other great writers from the Bible to Homer to Shakespeare among others. As he states on the book jacket:
   “Here they all are, Lincoln and Davis, Lee and Grant, Jackson, Sherman, and Forrest, and Frederick Douglass, and Mary Todd, and many more besides. They are all in the situations and crucibles that brought them and the whole nation through them into clearer definition. The situations are not so much made to seem biblical in proportion here, but simply recognized as so. And here they all are, too: Catton, McPherson and Foote and Joshua Wolf Shenk, Ibram X, Kendi and Sara Bakewell, all interlaced with Shakespeare and Homer and the Hebrew prophets. Rumi and Whitman and Martin Luther King, Jr., all in the same way make the living spirit seize upon and reanimate what greatness it discerns. Borrowing from the past to bolster the present, The Book of Abraham is fundamentally a prayer for the future of our world and a reinvestment of faith in a distinctively American purpose and ideal.”
   In a note to his professor in the class Bible as Literature at Washington University in St Louis, 1994, DeStefano explains, “Initially I intended to write a paper on the limitless power of interpretation, on “the omnipotence of theologians… But I decided against that paper. Why should I merely state a belief and not test it? Therefore, I gave my theory a try: I wrote a biblical history of the American Civil War, appropriating a new god, creating a new “spiritual” context. I used several quotations (not all of them from the Bible) in the context of my own choosing, which posed some problems, but nothing a “theologian” couldn’t handle.”
   DeStefano acknowledges his influences for his book. “Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk, if not my primary resource here, was certainly my inspiration for this new effort. It did for this project what Whitman claims Emerson did for him: ‘brought me to a boil.’ Shenk’s work is totally different from my own, but, aside from providing a compelling and inspiring portrait of Abraham Lincoln, it, more importantly, reminded me of the responsibility that has always been for me, so much a part of the impulse of study. All of a sudden, that old college paper had a solid, driving heartbeat, and only I could attest to it. And because of Shenk’s example, I had to.
   In the least, I hope my effort encourages others to read Shenk’s wonderful book, or any of the many other works I have tapped into, The Bible most especially, Whitman’s Leaves, everything and anything touched by Shakespeare, and, of course, the actual words of those who both navigated and directed the war, themselves. Without exception, every book I use is magnificent, and if I could escort you to it or to another, to Foote, Catton, McPherson, or Kendi, and to the help it provides me presently, I would feel very much fulfilled in this endeavor.
   Whatever I have achieved, I am perfectly aware it could not have been done without the love and support of my family and friends. Thanks, especially, to my mother and father for their help, and inspiration. To Chad Gordon, this would all still be a bunch of notes in a box in my basement if not for his example and help. Thank you. To my wife Suzy, your belief in me is the call I strive to answer in everything. Thank you for your encouragement and patience. And, of course, to my favorite teacher (—to everyone’s favorite teacher) Professor David Hadas, every word of this project is a tribute to you. Thanks for encouraging me to write my own kinds of papers.”
   The Book of Abraham flows and is easy to read even though the topic is difficult. Here is an excerpt from the 28th Chapter:
   …On September the first, of 1864, the People seemed collectively to say to Abraham Lincoln: “Was it because there were not enough graves in the South that you have taken us there? Is this not the very thing we told you before, ‘Let us alone?’ For it would have been better for us to have been slaves ourselves than to be dying like this.”
   But Lincoln begged the People for patience: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish. The struggle of today is not altogether for today, don’t you see; it is for the vast future also. I, too, long for the day when peace will come and come to stay; but it must come so as to be worth the keeping in all future time.”
   Back in the Great Hall, at the podium, Lincoln spoke:
   “In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which many, but not nearly all of us have enjoyed all our lives.
   Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. No personal significance or insignificance, can spare one or another of us.
   The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor to the last generation, whether we will nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope on earth.”
   Of course, The Book of Abraham makes us realize that the times we are going through now are not too unlike the times that our ancestors endured during the Civil War. Give the book a try. You will enjoy it. To order a copy, go to Amazon. The link below will take you directly there.
   Joseph DeStefano teaches high school English in Littleton, Colorado, where he lives with his wife and children. He is the author of several books of various genre, including A King of Infinite Space (A Journal), The Day the Earth Stood Up and Walked, One Day in the Life of Charlie Wilkins, A Cuckold’s Song, and Yes! (A Comparative Study of Walt Whitman and Friedrich Nietzsche). DeStefano also frequently publishes poetry in Birdy Magazine in Denver, Colorado.
Reader’s Review:
   Joseph DeStefano gave me a copy of the book he arranged — he wasn’t looking for any recognition or credit here. I read the book last weekend, looking for something to fire me up on the Civil War — this is a magnificent reworking of the events of the Civil War through the words of Walt Whitman, Lincoln, Homer, Shakespeare, and the Old Testament. He artfully and masterfully weaves all these voices into an incredible narrative. It is written in the words of the time and seems to me to be a combination of an Old Testament prophet, a Johnny Cash song, and the soaring oratory of a MLK! I have to highly recommend it. It’s a manageable two-day read. Check it out. Dave Collins

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