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Abe Lincoln's Legacy of Laughter: Humorous Stories by and about Abraham Lincoln Paperback – July 15, 2007
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Abraham Lincoln used his jokes and stories to illustrate a point, sway opinion, and to sustain the national morale during a momentous crisis. Lincoln told many stories based on his own experiences, but much of his material came from other sources and was familiar to his audiences. His contribution to these borrowed stories was his celebrated style of delivery-his performance rather than his invention. To many, his anecdotes resembled the comfort and support of an old shoe.
Abraham Lincoln's Legacy of Laughter, a substantial revision of P. M. Zall's 1982 classic, Abe Lincoln Laughing, consists of stories, jokes, and anecdotes on a wide range of topics by and about Abraham Lincoln before and after he became president. Establishing which tales are authentic and which are frauds and delusions, Abraham Lincoln's Legacy of Laughter includes stories derived from Lincoln's writings and speeches; writings by others up to April 1865; post-Civil War writings by those who knew him; and writings by others about Lincoln in later decades, including a sample from the twentieth century. Within each group, entries are arranged in the order they appeared in print. The volume contains notes, a bibliography, an index of the entries by section, and a subject index.
As the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial approaches, many are focusing on Lincoln's ideals and contributions to America and the world. Abraham Lincoln's Legacy of Laughter will remind readers of another distinctive, timeless trait that marked him as nearly unique among our political leaders: his quick wit and the wry sense of humor that helped him lead the nation during one of its darkest periods.
P. M. Zall, professor emeritus of American studies at California State University, is a research scholar at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Among his other books are Mark Twain Laughing and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: A Genetic Text.
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Top Customer Reviews
Professor Zall quotes the late Steve Allen for saying that there is no such thing as an old joke. How so? For the people who hear it for the first time, a joke is always new. Lincoln knew that. While there is no doubt that the president had a deep and genuine sense of humor, and the ability to create funny remarks of his own, here it is demonstrated that he too was a student of the art. He sought out funny anecdotes wherever he could find them. And just like the names and faces of the constituents he courted, he had the uncanny ability to recall those stories and to adapt them to the needs of the moment.
The book is very thoughtfully put together. The first section includes anecdotes that appear directly in Lincoln's own writings and speeches. The second is devoted to stories about Lincoln that were recorded before the president was killed. The third section recounts additional stories attributed to Lincoln by people who knew him well, but who recorded them after 1865. The last section, and obviously the least reliable, includes anecdotes attributed to the president after his death by other people not well-known in the White House.
I have one big complaint. This book is too short. I wanted to hear more- more about where and how the stories originated, or from where they were derived. But mostly, I just wanted to read more stories. So many of them are just so warm and funny. But more importantly, they bring out the humanity in a man who was a very warm human being.
Most Lincoln joke books tell us his stories without the story behind the story, but this book tells us the incident that lead up to Lincoln telling a particular story.
"I am not simply a story-teller; it is not the story itself, but its purpose that interests me."
In my thinking, Lincoln's most powerful personal quality, in his quest to overcome his modest beginnings and in his rise to political fame, was his humble ability to tell stories. He used stories as a tool to quickly and dramatically connect with people.
As Lincoln himself said, "A story is the shortest path between a stranger and a friend."
This is a thoroughly researched and nicely written book.
I also recommend The Humorous Mr. Lincoln and my own humble volume How Abraham Lincoln Used Stories to Touch Hearts, Minds, and Funny Bones.