In this heartfelt moral tract about the state of the nation and the challenges confronting it, former New York governor and sometime presidential aspirant Cuomo argues that the nation needs "an overarching grand concept" and "a vision worthy of the world's greatest nation." Cuomo finds them in the words and endeavors of our 16th president. The Rail Splitter's life and moral strength are, he believes, especially relevant today, when, says the author, we've wandered from our truest paths and no longer follow the best angels of our nature. Cuomo would have us adopt public policies, both domestic and international, that are "more compassionate," "more generous" and "more inclusive." If this seems like a Democrat's agenda, it is-but a centrist Democrat who, while candidly acknowledging that he hopes people will consider what he says in preparation for the 2004 election, is not sharply critical of the Republicans. Cuomo even offers an imagined address that Lincoln, if alive, would deliver to Congress this year. The problem is that while Cuomo clearly admires Lincoln, it's not self-evident why Lincoln's wisdom, laid out here effectively if tendentiously, is any more apposite to today's issues than, say, Washington's leadership, Jefferson's ideals or FDR's efforts to create international order. One could just as well take as a life motto Lincoln's celebrated admonition that "we must disenthrall ourselves" and that each generation must follow its own way and not one laid down in the past. So one comes away from this book modestly educated about Lincoln, nicely uplifted by Cuomo's intentions, but confused about why, precisely, Lincoln should be our guide.
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This distinguished politician, a three-term governor of New York, raises his eloquent voice here, not in a shout but in a song--to celebrate the political wisdom demonstrated repeatedly and resonantly by our sixteenth president. Cuomo presents what his own extensive reading of Lincoln's collected writings have taught him about his hero's thoughts on a variety of topics at issue back in Lincoln's time and now of current public concern, such as war, civil rights, religion, and race. Further, and more to the specific point of his book, Cuomo issues a strongly stated admonition for both political parties to refrain from simply laying claim to Lincoln as the spokesperson of their ideals and instead to conscientiously use his political and social concepts not for show but as guidance for formulating a policy for the direction in the world the U.S. should be taking in these confusing times. As he sees it, "we hunger for larger, better answers than we are receiving from our leaders." Patriotic without being schmaltzy, Cuomo packs a high thought-per-page ratio into his book, which every concerned citizen should examine. Brad Hooper
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