Photo: Courtesy of Claire Shipman; Illustrated by Austin Watts.
"This one is easy for me! Gore Vidal's Lincoln
. I reread it recently, after he died, after a group of us gathered to watch The Best Man
in his honor. I love the portrait of a disturbed, deeply in debt Mary Todd Lincoln, and that of the dirty, gritty Washington, D.C. of the mid-1800s, teeming with seedy establishments, disease, and the smell of rotten animals and worse, which often drifted up to the White House from the canal.
Vidal is better known for skewering political figures, but he clearly admired Lincoln, who is drawn as charming, but also shrewd and pragmatic. As he ages, and sees the cost of his ventures, his increasing melancholy is palpable. I've read it three or four times now — I suppose I pick it up about every 10 years! It's worth at least one read by anyone interested in Washington or U.S. history or politics. Vidal is simply a brilliant storyteller — and it's a reminder that history was and should be a good story, really."
Lincoln, $17.32, available at Barnes & Noble.