Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Burstein's "Lincoln Dreamt He Died"

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

Lincoln Dreamt He Died is a smorgasbord of compelling and seldom-seen examples of very personal dream accounts reaching far back into our country's past. However, it stretches much further than that by tying those dreams into the very fabric of early American history.

What makes this book stand out from other dream books I've read (such as Brian Hill's Gates of Horn and Ivory) is that it is not an anthology. Instead, it is an intense and in-depth look at how Americans perceived their dreams, and how that viewpoint changed over the years as the country grew and matured.

Drawing from journals, letters, and various publications either recounting dreams or discussing opinions about dreams, author Andrew Burstein excerpts and synthesizes the widely varied material into a thread which follows the life of dreams in the minds of early American women and men.

How did early Americans respond to dreams? Did they dream, overall, similarly to how we dream today? Did dreams have real effects on their world?

As an amateur historian and folklorist I found this book absorbing. It represents a refreshing new outlook on the roots of the American viewpoint. You can tell how deeply Burstein immersed himself in the project by the way he occasionally refers to themes and patterns that aren't obvious on reading chapters for the first time -- and speaking personally this is not a drawback, as I'd rather go back and reread sections to really get a grasp on what the author’s point is, than to read the book once-through on a surface level only (which so many of those dream anthologies are delightfully geared to allow).

If you are interested in early American social history, and curious about how the internal world of dreams tied into and reflected the external world of centuries past, by all means, pick this book up. It is a fascinating window on the tandem worlds of the inner and outer lives of our predecessors.