"Idiot's Guide" Simplifies Lincoln's Complex Legacy

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Abraham Lincoln's story has been told in plays and movies, in poems and multi-volume biographies. Now it's being told in a guidebook for idiots.

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Legacy of Lincoln" promises readers a review of his life, presidency, oratory and impact on modern life — all in 332 pages chock full of bullet-points and info boxes.

Author Pamela Oldham admits the idea of an "idiot's guide" to such a complex, important figure sounds a bit odd. But she thinks it serves a legitimate purpose.

"I've written this for people who want to know more about Lincoln without having to slog through a thick, academic book," she said. "Once they've tasted the breadth that is offered in my book, they will likely want to delve further into it."

Each chapter opens with an outline of what will be covered and ends by recapping the basics under the heading "The Least You Need to Know." Topics range from Lincoln's youth to abolishing slavery to establishing public universities.

Terms such as "oratory" and "habeas corpus" are defined in "Lincoln Lingo" boxes. Other boxes offer bits of Lincoln trivia or discuss myths and misconceptions.

The guide provokes a mixed reaction from Kim Bauer, curator of the historical collection at Illinois' Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

"It's a very good starting point," Bauer said. "The problem is that you have to worry about people taking this as the be-all and end-all — 'Once I've got this done, I know all I need to know about Lincoln."'

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Mr. Hellmann - 10/12/2005

Use BLACK ink, NOT gray.