Must Read Book

Jaffa, Harry, Crisis of the House Divided (1982).

What a good idea it is to let historians talk about their favorite books. My guess is that most of them--us--will cite books outside the discipline, however, because the methods they--we--bring to bear on the archive are usually derived from works that aren't normally classified as history. A case in point is one of my favorite books of all time, Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided, which is a close "Straussian" reading of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It's a work of political philosophy rather than a straightforward chronicle of the event, even though it engages in dialogue and argument with leading historians of the Civil War era. I've never read anything that is so scrupulously fair to the objects of critique--here these are Stephen A. Douglas and the historians who subsequently couldn't see any appreciable difference between him and Lincoln on the issue of slavery--and, at the same time, so passionately committed to the ethical principles involved.

Recommended by James Livingston, Rutgers University - New Brunswick

James Livingston teaches at Rutgers University, where he offers courses in American and European intellectual history. From time to time, he teaches a course called Cartoon Politics: The Principle of Hope in Popular Culture, which is also the title of a book he's working on. His most recent book, just out from Routledge, is Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy: Rethinking the Politics of American History.