Picks and Pans Review: Dear Mr. Lincoln

updated 05/16/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Compiled and edited by Harold Holzer

Harold Holzer makes his living as a publicist. But his obsession is the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. After writing eight volumes about the nation's 16th president, does Holzer have anything left to say?

Yes, thanks to a clever idea. Letters by Lincoln have been published aplenty—but what about letters to him? The result is a perfect browse. The editor of a newspaper for New York City's Germans solicits Republican advertising with the Lincolnesque injunction, "Men are born to assist each other." Grace Bedell, 11, urges candidate Lincoln to grow a beard ("All the ladies like whiskers"). A weatherman promises the President fair skies, whereupon Lincoln tartly notes, "It is raining now and has been for 10 hours—I cannot spare anymore time to Mr. Capen." An "inventor" of a purported perpetual-motion machine is written off even more briskly as a "crazy man."

Most striking is how direct the contact once was between government and its of-by-and-for people. The folksiest moment: Lincoln's predecessor. James Buchanan, asks Honest Abe to forward some books that were accidentally left lying around the White House. (Addison-Wesley, $26.95)

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