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Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud

Overview

Before Sigmund Freud made dreams the cornerstone of understanding an individual’s inner life, Americans shared their dreams unabashedly with one another through letters, diaries, and casual conversation. In this innovative book, highly regarded historian Andrew Burstein goes back for the first time to discover what we can learn about the lives and emotions of Americans, from colonial times to the beginning of the modern age. Through a thorough study of dreams recorded by iconic figures such as John and Abigail ...

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Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud

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Overview

Before Sigmund Freud made dreams the cornerstone of understanding an individual’s inner life, Americans shared their dreams unabashedly with one another through letters, diaries, and casual conversation. In this innovative book, highly regarded historian Andrew Burstein goes back for the first time to discover what we can learn about the lives and emotions of Americans, from colonial times to the beginning of the modern age. Through a thorough study of dreams recorded by iconic figures such as John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as everyday men and women, we glimpse the emotions of earlier generations and understand how those feelings shaped their lives and careers, thus gaining a fuller, multi-dimensional sense of our own past. No one has ever looked at the building blocks of the American identity in this way, and Burstein reveals important clues and landmarks that show the origins of the ideas and values that remain central to who we are today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This quirky, episodic 200-year gambol explores the development of the American Dream by unpacking Americans’ dreams…. Burstein’s elegantly crafted nightstand tome demonstrates that dreams “reflect a distinctly... human desire to chart time via stories.”—Publishers Weekly

 “An acclaimed historian dives headlong into the dreams of some iconic Americans.” –Kirkus reviews

Lincoln Dreamt He Died provides a compelling perspective on America's collective psyche. Readers will gain new insight into luminaries including Benjamin Rush, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson, but will likely gain just as much pleasure from the vividly-drawn and lesser known dreamers: a spurned lover in New Orleans, a Norwegian-born sailor in Manhattan, a Civil War soldier and the young woman he left behind in Ohio. Burstein has given us a first-rate cultural history, ‘from the inside out.’”—Amy Greenberg, author of A Wicked War

“Andrew Burstein is one of the most original and readable historians in our midst.”—Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College and two-time winner of the Lincoln Prize

"I don't know anything more troublesome than . . . those people who are eternally pestering one with recitals of their dreams," complained Henry Laurens, onetime president of the Continental Congress. Two days later, he anonymously printed his own dream in a newspaper. With a keen eye for such fascination and ambivalence, Andrew Burstein has written a compelling history of unconscious America. For much of our past, Americans slept; dreams filled their hours and shaped their identities. Yet rarely have historians looked at the nation asleep, or at the lingering of dreams in daylight. Burstein, one of our most creative and perceptive scholars and writers, awakens us to the significance of dreams—powerful, peculiar, and elusive—in the lives of such figures as Washington and Lincoln, Thoreau and Twain, and in the broader culture of the young republic.”—T.J. Stiles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

"Quite apart from the mythic dream of upward mobility, America in past centuries has given rise to myriad visions. In this absorbing volume, not only does Burstein explore the nocturnal fantasies of famed politicians and philosophers, but we also learn of ordinary citizens with extra ordinary imaginations. Rarely has a work of history so skillfully probed the American psyche.”—A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past

 

“For anyone who thinks that dreams are trivial, Lincoln Dreamt He Died provides a bracing historical corrective.  Burstein's guided tour of America's nocturnal imagination shows that many prominent Americans, from Benjamin Rush and Joseph Priestley to Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain, took their dreams quite seriously and shared them with others as a source of amusement, inspiration, and enlightenment.  This fascinating book reveals a deep current of dreaming curiosity that has shaped American culture from its earliest days all the way into the modern era.”—Kelly Bulkeley, author of American Dreamers and Dreaming in the World's Religions

 

Publishers Weekly
This quirky, episodic 200-year gambol explores the development of the American Dream by unpacking Americans’ dreams. Historian Burstein (Madison and Jefferson, coauthor) interweaves dense cultural history and cutting-edge research to argue that dreams—“a combination of impulse and art”—are crucial in the formation of an individual and national identity (in the case of America, one that would, in the 20th century, become obsessed with psychologically categorizing and distinguishing itself). The book opens with Founding Father Benjamin Rush, who, in true Enlightenment fashion, eschewed superstitious interpretations of dreams in favor of an examination of what he deemed their “obvious physical principles.” George Washington followed skeptical suit, though contemporaries like John and Abigail Adams treasured dreams for their emotional resonance. Later on, Lincoln’s take on dreams epitomized a postromantic acknowledgement of what one scholar called “a submerged half of one’s being.” Then came Freud, whose theories filled in the gaps left by the eventual rejection of claims “that dreams were either meaningless noise or the result of gastrointestinal distress.” Whatever the interpretive mode, Burstein’s elegantly crafted nightstand tome demonstrates that dreams “reflect a distinctly... human desire to chart time via stories” both personal and social. 20 b&w illus. Agent: Geri Thoma, Markson Thoma Literary Agency. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
An acclaimed historian dives headlong into the dreams of some iconic Americans. Had Burstein (History/Louisiana State Univ.; Madison and Jefferson, 2010) written a book about a small selection of famous people and their documented dreams, it would have been much more interesting than this book. The author provides an occasionally intriguing but mostly tedious history of how dreams were interpreted throughout the 19th century in the United States and the changes in the importance they were afforded. Often, dreams were discounted as just superstition or a result of indigestion. They reconciled the past with the present and anticipated the future, usually reflecting the journey of life. Thomas Jefferson thought of dreams as fallacious, inconsequential thoughts. Still, there were those who studied and lectured on dreams--e.g., Jefferson's friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, though he thought of them as a low grade of delirium. There were also those who collected dreams, notably Ichabod Cook, who interviewed countless people. Many of his acquaintances came to him often with their dreams. Does knowing someone will listen increase the animation in one's dreams? The evolution of dream importance and interpretation may be an interesting topic for many readers, but the narrative here is too scattershot. Other significant figures profiled by Burstein include the titular Lincoln, John Adams, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas De Quincey and Louisa May Alcott. Readers who believe dreams are predictive will likely enjoy this book, which is really only saved by the author's talent as a writer. Burstein should drop the dream interpreting and stick to the history of our forefathers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137279163
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 940,532
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Burstein is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at Louisiana State University, and the author of The Passions of Andrew Jackson, Jefferson's Secrets, and Madison and Jefferson, among others. Burstein's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, and Salon.com, and he advised Ken Burns' production "Thomas Jefferson." He has been featured on C-SPAN's American Presidents Series and Booknotes, as well as numerous NPR programs, including Talk of the Nation and The Diane Rehm Show. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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