Mayor's Book Club Befriends Lincoln

Our 2016 read is Stephen Harrigan's A Friend of Mr. Lincoln

Stephen Harrigan
Stephen Harrigan (Photo by Sandy Carson)

In what may well be called a politic choice for the Mayor's Book Club, Hizzoner Steve Adler has made the annual tradition's 15th selection a tome about the 16th president – or rather, the ambitious young attorney who eventually became the 16th president: A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan.

That the book has a special resonance during a presidential election year might give Book Club participation a bit of a boost, and that it paints an understanding, even sympathetic portrait of a man deep inside the machinery of government and the electoral process might also inspire a smidgen of compassion for the mayor himself when the gears of our own municipal mechanism start grinding. But it also never hurts for the Book Club to spotlight a local author, and Harrigan has long been one of Austin's most respected and admired writers.

In A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, Harrigan does readers the service of showing us an Abraham Lincoln stripped of the thick varnish of myth, when he was still on the Illinois frontier, toiling away in his Springfield law practice but spending every spare minute inside party politics, working his way up the ladder of power and influence. He's fiercely ambitious in the way of young men, believing he can do good and that he has a destiny to do so, but he's also impossibly tall, deeply insecure, and socially inept. His native intelligence and eloquence are balanced by his passions for morbid poetry and dirty jokes. He's a fascinating character in that you see the seeds of greatness within him and a mental instability that threatens to sabotage any achievements he might make. Mayor Adler is quoted as calling A Friend of Mr. Lincoln a "masterful novel" and "a compelling look at one of America’s most well-known presidents.”

As usual, the Austin Public Library and the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation have put together some ancillary programs to not only get Austinites reading the Mayor's Book Club selection, but talking about it, too.

The first public program, in which Harrigan discussed the process of researching and crafting works of historical fiction, took place last Saturday at the library's Twin Oaks Branch, but fear not. The author will also read from A Friend of Mr. Lincoln and discuss the novel with KUT's Jennifer Stayton in a program Sunday, May 15, 2-3:30pm, at the Faulk Central Library, 800 Guadalupe. Copies of the book will be available for sale, and Harrigan will be signing them. In the meantime, you might consider reading our interview with the author.

Other events include:
A free screening of Steven Spielberg's 2012 film Lincoln
Monday, May 2, 6-8:45pm
Windsor Park Branch, 5833 Westminster, 512/974-9840

The Path to the Presidency: From Lincoln to the Present
Tuesday, May 10, 7-9pm
Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress

A discussion of American presidents and their ascension to the Oval Office with:
H.W. Brands, UT history professor and author of Reagan: The Life, TR: The Last Romantic, and Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times;
Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library and author of Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency and Destiny of Democracy: The Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library; and
Matthew Dowd, political analyst for ABC News and chief strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune will moderate, with Harrigan and the mayor in attendance. Reception to follow, with libations and light fare.

For more information on the Mayor's Book Club, visit the Austin Public Library website.

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Mayor's Book Club, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, Stephen Harrogan, Steve Adler, H.W.Brands, Mark Updegrove, Matthew Dowd, Austin Public Library, Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, LBJ Presidential Library, Bullock Texas State History Museum

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