Abraham Lincoln’s Shock and Awe

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropWithin weeks after being sworn in as President, Abraham Lincoln and aging war hero and current General-in-Chief Winfield Scott had envisioned a blockade of all southern ports and points west, to be followed by an advance down the Mississippi River to cut the Confederacy in two. Opponents widely derided the plan as overly passive—they mockingly named it the “Anaconda” plan after the large constrictor snake. At the onset of the war the plan was also impractical, given the lack of Union naval vessels needed to enforce it. Ultimately, it would mirror the eventual means by which the North won the war.

Before the plan could be implemented, the first battle caused shock waves in the capital. On July 21, 1861, the first Battle of Bull Run (sometimes called the Battle of Manassas) was fought between Union and Confederate forces merely 25 miles from Washington, D.C. Incredible though it seems today, hundreds of carriages carrying picnickers streamed out from the city to observe what both sides expected to be a quick and decisive end to a short-lived war. After initial gains by Union forces under General Irvin McDowell, Confederate forces led by General P.G.T. Beauregard and reinforced by General Joseph Johnston counterattacked, stimulating a panicked retreat of McDowell’s forces back to Washington. Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson famously stood his ground, forever earning his sobriquet, Stonewall Jackson.

With Union forces in disarray and proximity to the capital a grave concern, Lincoln was understandably apprehensive. But Confederate forces were also shocked by the brutality and casualties of battle and could not further attack the city. Both sides realized it would be a long and drawn-out war.

[Adapted from my book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Brilliant But Bonkers

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BrilliantFranklin was brilliant. Everyone agreed.

But…

Napoleonic in both stature and demeanor, Franklin, quite frankly, was enigmatic. His presence was anticipated long before he walked into the room, both by the tell-tale sound of his strutting gait and the cloud of chain-smoke that preceded him. Occasionally a disembodied voice, godlike except for its high-pitched squeal, would trundle down the hallway through the open door long before any physical manifestation arrived. Franklin was deep into conversation without knowing whether anyone was even present to hear him.

But he was brilliant. Everyone agreed.

But…

Was he? Sure, Franklin could be brilliant, as can we all. Perhaps he was brilliant more often than the rest of us. Perhaps he simply had no outside activity to distract him from constant study of his profession. Perhaps it was a ruse to cover deep-seated insecurities.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Rain Man, a film about an autistic savant played by diminutive Dustin Hoffman. Not that Franklin was a savant, mind you, far from it. Perhaps somewhere else on the autism spectrum, in the range of what used to be called Asperger’s syndrome.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the brilliance that everyone saw was merely our own social bias. Rather than accept Asperger’s, we unconsciously translated oddity into omniscience, eccentricity into excellence.

Perhaps we’ll never know. Quite. Franklin.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Reading Time – 2017

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library-1When I’m not writing, I’m reading (or traveling). In fact, reading seems to have become how I procrastinate writing, but that’s fodder for another post. For now, let’s talk about my reading.

In 2017 I read 116 books, ten more than the 106 of 2016, which was 10 more than the 96 of 2015. That streak will probably change next year, but for this year it meant a lot of time spent wrapped up in books, mostly real, physical, old-style books with a sprinkling of e-books.

As always, books about Abraham Lincoln dominate my reading list. This year I read 31 books on Lincoln, about 27% of my total. And one of them was the book I wrote called Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America. That book came out in late summer and has been selling well in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide.

Other Lincoln books included the second volume of Sidney Blumenthal’s political life of Lincoln called Wrestling With His Angel (see links for book reviews), which was just as good as the first volume that came out last year. Also among Lincoln books was Guy Fraker’s installment in the “Looking for Lincoln in Illinois” series, this one on Fraker’s area of expertise, Lincoln’s time on the 8th Judicial Circuit. I read two books on Lincoln’s interactions with photographer Alexander Gardner: Shooting Lincoln by Nicholas Pistor and The Photographer and the President by Richard S. Lowry. Though they largely covered the same topic, the two books are very different in their emphasis and style. I recommend reading both.  I read many more about Lincoln, both new books and classics.

The majority of books I read were non-fiction: 81 of the 116, about 70% of the total. In addition to Lincoln-related I read non-fiction books on writing (9), biography/memoir (10), travel (6), science (13), and miscellaneous other non-fiction (12). These included What Happened by Hillary Clinton, Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Best Travel Writing – 2010, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Included among the science books was If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face, a wonderful book on science communication by Alan Alda.

Fiction books included some Science Fiction/Fantasy like The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Tesla’s Frequency by L. Woodswalker (a wonderful follow up to her earlier Tesla’s Signal), and Curse of the Jenri by real-life rocket scientist Stephanie Barr. I also read Kafka on the Shore, a metaphysical reality (aka, magical realism) book by famed author Haruki Murakami. “Normal” fiction included the surprisingly wonderful The Last Child by John Hart, Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (which I read while in Australia), The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer, and Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.

In an effort to diversify my reading I slogged through Walt Whitman’s saga of a poetry book, Leaves of Grass. I also read one pure humor book, which I found to be completely unfunny. Maybe I’ll read one of the books on Lincoln’s humor next time.

In all I read about 36,000 pages in 2017. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, so feel free to check out my Goodreads author page where I also have links to my own books.

You can also join my Facebook author page for updates and links to interesting articles.

So how many books do I read in 2018? This year I set my challenge goal at 75 books, but blew past that even before a big travel period in the fall so raised it to 100. Since I’ve gone beyond 100 in both 2016 and 2017 I’m tempted to set my goal to 100 for 2018. But here’s the rub. If I do that then I will feel it psychologically necessary to pass that goal. That would be fine except I also have two books I’m writing, plus a third I will be editing, that need to be done in 2018. So with that in mind I’ll keep the challenge goal at 75 to avoid my usual problem of using reading as a procrastination tool when I should be writing.

Either way, I’m with certainty going to be reading a lot of books. Feel free to connect with me on Goodreads and Facebook to keep in touch. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Proclivity to Procrastination

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writer stuggleI meant to write this article last week. Or maybe the week before.

If there is one thing I am good at it is putting off until tomorrow what I planned to do last week. Of course, “tomorrow” is in the Biblical, or even the geological, sense. Tomorrow could be the day after today or, as is often the case, tomorrow could be next month, next year, or never.

Here’s the thing: Those of us with a proclivity to procrastinate really don’t need to hear you tell us to “just do it.” We know that. We’ve been told a million times before, half of those by ourselves. We get it.

We just can’t do it.

At some point we begin to take pride in how good we are at procrastinating.* “I put the ‘Pro’ in Procrastination!” “At least I’m good at something.” “I’ll get to it; you don’t have to keep reminding me every six months.”

Yeah, I know, I’m procrastinating again.

I’ve addressed this topic before in Tentative Writing Group and the ever-popular My Precious. [“We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious,” said in my best Gollum voice.]

And still it remains.

Proclivity to procrastinate has a nice alliteration, doesn’t it?

Darn. There it is again.

I’m writing this in response to a writing prompt. But it’s really just another way to avoid working on my next book.

Which I suppose I better do.

 

*We don’t actually, but we have to rationalize this away somehow.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Cherish the Holidays

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Happy Holidays Science Traveler 2017

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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An Honest Calling

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropSometime during his law career, before he became famous, Abraham Lincoln gave advice to young lawyers.

Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief—resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

An honest calling. If you can’t be an honest lawyer, choose a career where you can be honest. This applies to every career and every calling. Above all, resolve to be honest. Many haven’t heeded that advice.

Like Lincoln, I was taught humility, perseverance, hard work, and honesty by my parents. Not by any overt lesson plan or diktat, but by their daily example. Rather than accumulate financial rewards by any means, they focused their lives on raising a family, instilling a sense of integrity in their children, and proving themselves to be worthy of the esteem of their fellow man. They didn’t lecture us on how to be honest; they lived it and we learned by observation.

Again like Abraham Lincoln, I was stimulated by a more intellectual calling than my parents and their siblings. I was given opportunities that weren’t available to them, often by pure luck. I regret that I didn’t always take advantage of some of those opportunities, especially in the immaturity of youth, but I feel comfortable with my accomplishments to date. Like my parents, I sought more than simple financial reward. I sought experiences. I sought to live with integrity and honesty.

No one is perfect, of course, and I faltered many times. We all do. But I learned from my parents how to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward. Whether I get to where I’m going is less important than the journey.

And that is an honest calling.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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