When the Russian tanks finished pounding my family’s apartment building, a grand piano lay on top of the rubble; a music teacher had lived on the third floor. The image has grown into an icon in my mind and will never leave. Budapest, November 1956. The revolution had been defeated, and my father said that the country would stay Communist for the rest of my life. “Leave. You have no future here. Go to an English-speaking country.” I was sixteen years old.
I was born in Hungary during the Second World War and born again in South Dakota, a free man. There I put myself through a small college, doing such executive jobs as washing dishes to working in the fields. Along the way I discovered Lincoln. He helped teach me English—and much more. I wrote my first term paper as a sophomore on his economic views. Years later it became my first book, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream .
When people used to ask, “Why Lincoln?” I would reply that I merely followed my instincts. I chose to study Lincoln the way I chose to drink my coffee black or marry a girl with big blue eyes. Now, after thirteen books on Lincoln and the Civil War era (and thirty years of marriage), I know better. All along I was looking for the heart of America. And I have found it. Of course, such a journey holds both great advantages and great dangers for a historian.