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Lincoln on MetaEzra (and MetaEzra on Lincoln!)

For those of you out of loop, a couple months back Michelle Moody-Adams selected the Putlitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills as this year's summer reading assignment for new students and all other interested Cornellians.

Moody-Adams commented on the book at the time:

The book should be potentially as enriching for non-American readers who may have little knowledge of American history as for American readers looking for a deeper understanding of their national history, Moody-Adams said.

For the many incoming students who will be engaged with the details of the national election this fall, "Will's discussions of the dynamics of politics should prove especially insightful," Moody-Adams said. The book "offers no simplistic analyses and no easy answers. Instead, it asks the reader to reflect on the complexities of political life and political agency, and to resist the tendency to think in terms of simple dichotomies or absolutes divorced from the contingencies of political life."

I think the reading of this book is important for two reasons:

-- The role of the Civil War era in helping to usher in the founding of Cornell University. If you read Carl Becker's The Founders and The Founding, you will know it's not a coincidence that the year the first "modern" war ended, the first "modern" university was founded -- 1865. Other "modern" universities -- Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Stanford -- were founded quite a bit after Cornell was founded. It's also not a coincidence that Cornell was founded as a place for pragmatic knowledge in an era that was desperate for such forms of thought, and that Cornell would readily admit women and minorities immediately after a decisive war that forced the country to rethink the role of women and minorities in society.

-- The insights we can learn about today's political contest -- an election oft-cited as critical and that will probably prove to be an inflection point in the course of our country -- from the past. For the past several years Cornell has been assigning a work of fiction, but I think a non-fictional text on the issue of politics and social change is appropriate given the nation's current state. Besides, I had to read the non-fictional Guns, Germs, and Steel, and I was better for it. It's certainly seems more worthwhile than reading The Great Gatsby , which it seems like everybody needs to read in high school, international students outstanding.

It's also interesting to note that the author, Garry Wills, is also noted for writings on his Catholic faith.

Here at MetaEzra, we're excited about this book as well, and just checked it out from our local library. We encourage all of our readers to do the same. The University has also set up a blog (featuring an awful pun), which we will frequent over the course of the summer.

Andy is also in the process of setting up our very first reader's panel on MetaEzra to discuss the book, featuring a handful of young alumni who are currently active in the national political scene. Expect the panel to debut at the start of freshmen orientation, serendipitously coinciding with the national conventions taking place in Minneapolis and Denver.

If you're interested in getting involved, get in touch, and let us know how you think you can contribute. Otherwise stay tuned for much more excitement this summer!

N.B. We also noticed that another finalist for the book project was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which would have been a wonderful choice, especially given Cornell programs in agriculture and food science, and Ithaca's reputation as a hotbed for vegetarianism. Alas, it's an election year. But let's keep our fingers crossed for next year.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on June 27, 2008 (#)

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