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Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him To The Presidency (2018).

Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on March 26, 2019 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (6)

By: Dan Abrams and David Fisher

Reviewed by: Bob Taggart

This is a fascinating, mostly-true, story of Lincoln's last murder trial in the stifling hot summer of 1859 in Springfield, Illinois. Springfield then was a small, bustling town of about 5,000 people where everybody seemed to know everyone. The state capital had a large contingent of capable lawyers, and Lincoln was simply the most famous of them. Having litigated more than 3,000 cases, including 27 murder cases, Lincoln was an experienced attorney, able to represent all sides in a large variety of situations.

We know what occurred in the State of Illinois vs Peachy Quinn Harrison case because the court stenographer, Robert Hitt, took copious notes during the trial. By pure chance, his transcript was found in an old shoebox in the garage of the defendant's relative in Fresno, California in 1989. The transcript showed Lincoln at his lawyerly best, getting the defendant off after the man had knifed his attacker, killing him. Lincoln and his previous mentor, Stephen Logan, succeeded in building a case of self-defense. It was a difficult case because the victim had not been armed, though he had attacked Harrison with his fists. They won the case because of Lincoln's careful attention to the witness statements and his persuasive style with the judge and jury.

Lincoln used logical and plain-spoken arguments, in a folksy, friendly manner that won the jury over to his side. His dry wit, colorful storytelling and strong sense of justice made for a masterful presentation. He would use his well-known honesty and ability to see himself in the defendant's place, while using any emotion necessary, to persuade the jury that the defendant was trapped into forceful action that could not have been avoided.

Robert Hitt sent his transcriptions daily by telegraph to a major Chicago newspaper which was passed on to readers in all major cities so they were able to follow the trial. Lincoln was already famous because of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, also described by Hitt. This belies the book's subtitle, because Lincoln was already being "propelled" by his own actions, including the speeches he was about to give in Ohio and New York. However, he would have been hurt politically if he had lost this case, so the positive result of the trial definitely enhanced his fame. The current reader may wonder whether Lincoln really proved his client's innocence, but his skillful presentation style convinced the jury as he would also convince a wider audience at the upcoming Chicago Republican National Convention in 1860. Lincoln was famous for a good reason. After all, as Hitt wrote, "winners win".

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on November 5, 2018 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By T.J. Stiles

Reviewed by: Roy Lopata

T.J. Stiles has provided us with a biography that truly deserves the label “epic.” This is a classic and lengthy life and times tome that includes all the details of Cornelius (“Commodore”;) Vanderbilt’s remarkable story from birth in Staten Island, New York in 1794 to death in 1877, spanning the history of the United States from the age of George Washington to that of John D. Rockefeller. In describing his times, Stiles makes sure the reader understands that Vanderbilt lived through and significantly shaped a nation that changed from a rural, agricultural, and essentially colonial to a society becoming increasingly urban and dominated by an industrial and corporate economy.

Stiles begins his portrayal with Vanderbilt’s Dutch ancestry in Colonial New York and his early days as a local boatman providing ferry and freight service in small two-masted vessels from the small ports throughout post-Revolutionary New York harbor. His business acumen and dedication to hard work were quickly demonstrated as he adapted to the arrival of the steamboat by continuing to run his own sailing coast-wise service while captaining steam powered schooners for other ferry entrepreneurs. As a result, he became a participant in one of the earliest and still crucial U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding inter-state commerce (Gibbons vs. Ogden) that arose from the efforts of local steamboat men like Vanderbilt to break shipping monopolies granted by the New York State legislature. The Court established the principle that the United States government regulated interstate commerce, not the individual states. And this Supreme Court case, as Stiles notes, set a pattern for Vanderbilt as he began to establish his own steamboat businesses that ruthlessly cut costs, as Vanderbilt would have put it, “to destroy monopolies,” which ironically resulted in many instances with the establishment of his own.

In the meantime, Vanderbilt married (in 1813) and started what would turn out to be a large and at times difficult family. Stiles is particularly good at showing how Vanderbilt’s hardheaded and at times ruthless business practices did not translate well to raising his growing brood of thirteen children nor to happiness between Vanderbilt and his wife, Sophie.

As America grew during the years of the early Republic, Vanderbilt expanded his horizons beyond New York and began to provide steamboat passenger and ferry service from New England to the Delaware Bay. He soon saw too that the coming of the railroads provided an opportunity and a threat to his growing empire. So while he continued to expand his steam powered sea-going vessels to provide the fastest links from the East Coast to Gold Rush crazed California in 1849 by developing steam ship service to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Nicaragua and overland connections between these coasts, he also started to invest in the small railroads that had were expanding from New York City to New England, to Albany and to points south.

By the start of the Civil War, Vanderbilt had become one of the nation’s richest men by seizing control of many of the burgeoning transportation industries that provided the impetus and the economic links for the industrial revolution that spanned America’s 19th Century. Stiles notes, in particular, how Vanderbilt embodied the age’s Jacksonian spirit of hard work and laissez-faire government while, at the same time, set the stage for the growth of giant business by improving service, driving down costs, and, thereby, eliminating competition. Stiles labels Vanderbilt, “. . . the selfish revolutionary, the millionaire radical . . .” who, “helped shape America's striving, competitive, productive society.”

In the final segment of his biography, Stiles provides an excellent description of the post-Civil War railroad consolidations and the restructuring and refinancing that led to Vanderbilt’s acquisition of the New York Central that became a model for corporate organization and management ever since. Stiles notes how Vanderbilt, and the other titans of the Gilded Age economy who followed his lead, uprooted rural America and created our national economy, linked by steel rails. In the meantime, Vanderbilt rose from a very wealthy and successful New Yorker to the richest man in the nation, symbolized by the construction of the Grand Central Depot in Manhattan that would eventual become Grand Central Station – the largest passenger station in the nation at the time of its opening in 1871. By the time of his death in 1877, as Stiles explains, Vanderbilt’s could look back on a life that had significantly contributed to America’s transformation from an economy of small farms and crossroads village markets to a continental-wide corporate world of huge businesses and national markets. In sum, a great read that tells a remarkable story.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup

Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on November 5, 2018 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

by Sharon Creech

Reviewed by: Molly Shay, aged 10

The world would not be right if Sharon Creech hadn’t written Granny Torrelli Makes Soup. In this book, Rosie tells her Granny Torrelli problems with her blind friend Bailey as they make soup and pasta. I love how Granny Torrelli tells stories of what had happened to her with her friend Pedro to help Rosie deal with what is happening. Granny Torrelli always has something to tell Rosie that helps both her and me think. And after I heard about Rosie learning Braille, can you guess what? I decided to learn Braille, too!

Every single book seems to have a happy ending where A) they find the child, B) they find the parents, C) they get out of the basement, D) they get married, or E) they stop being so sad about their brother’s death. Granny Torrelli, with two parts, two stories, and two endings, has more to it. The stories aren’t resolved; the characters resolve it themselves. When Granny Torrelli goes off to the bathroom, it gives Rosie time to think, time to think about what she should do, what she has done, and you hear those thoughts and think about them. Only Sharon Creech can pull this off, making readers think about not just the book, but real life, their lives. Everybody reading can relate to Rosie somehow, think about something that she should do, think about something that they should do.

Granny Torrelli pulls off something that we can all admire. She tells stories of her life that don’t always have happy endings, but always have a moral, and always have to do with the problem. She tells them while making soup, while making pasta. Subconsciously, the soup and the pasta and how they make it lines up with the story and makes it flow smoother. You can tell that the cooking helps mellow out Rosie, helps her think, helps her talk, helps her listen, helps her understand. This made me think about what I do that helps me think, that helps me talk, that helps me listen, that helps me understand. Whenever I have a problem, whenever I need help, whenever I feel like I am going to scream, all I have to do is think back to this book, and all is well.