Illinois Fifth Graders

Illinois fifth graders do a Skype interview of Dan Van Haften (May 2011):

Fifth Grader: What gave you the ideas to write this book?


Dan: In mid-2007 we decided to write a book about Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer. We both had an interest in Abraham Lincoln.  My co-author, David Hirsch, had co-authored an article for the American Bar Association Journal on Lincoln and technology. David observed that law practice did not change much from Lincoln’s time to the early 1970’s when David began practicing law in Iowa.


Fifth Grader: What inspired you to write about Lincoln?


Dan: I attended several three day Lincoln seminars in Springfield in the 1990s. At these seminars I listed to nationally-known Lincoln scholars and learned about the Lincoln Legal Papers.  These seminars increased my understanding and interest in Abraham Lincoln.


Fifth Grader: How long did it take you to complete the book?


Dan: We started on the manuscript in November, 2007 and finished it in March, 2010. We then worked with our editor to make changes prior to publication in November, 2010.


Fifth Grader: Where did you do your research? 


Dan: Many libraries - I spent the most time in Founders Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, as well as the Northern Illinois University law library. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield and the Library of Congress were very useful. The Internet was also useful.


Fifth Grader: Did you visit the historic Lincoln sites? 

Dan: Yes, I visited Springfield, Gettysburg, and Washington.


Fifth Grader: How did Lincoln incorporate geometry in his speeches? 


Dan: Six elements build on each other to form the structure of a Euclidean proposition.  Each element performs a specific function. The order of the elements is important.  Post-1853 Lincoln used these six elements to create the powerful, logical structure for many of his speeches and letters.


Fifth Grader: How did you find the connection?


Dan: In many books we found the statement that Lincoln studied the first six books of Euclid so as to learn what it meant to “demonstrate”. Nothing much more was said about this in the 16,000 books and pamphlets about Lincoln. David always told me mathematics and English were the two most important subjects for a lawyer to study prior to law school. He always thought there was a connection between math and speech. David told me to study the first six books of Euclid, and do what Lincoln did - figured out what it means to “demonstrate”. I studied Euclid’s Elements. In parallel I read Proclus’ commentaries on Euclid. Proclus was a fifth century Greek philosopher who described the six elements of a Euclidean proposition. I then found these elements in Lincoln’s speeches and letters.


Fifth Grader: What was your first published book?


Dan: Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason is my first published book.


Fifth Grader: What were the challenges working with a co-author?


Dan: We collaborated very effectively on the book, using a system called Scrivner to manage the text as the manuscript was written. We both worked on all chapters, with “ownership” transferring back and forth. The biggest challenge was managing the manuscript before David discovered Scrivner. Fortunately, we began using  Scrivner relatively early in the development of the manuscript.


Fifth Grader: What did you each bring to the process?


Dan: David brought a legal background based on his experience clerking for an Iowa Supreme Court justice after law school, followed by 30+ years as a trial attorney.  David also had experience editing and writing for American Bar Association publications. I brought a mathematics and engineering background. With my retirement from Alcatel-Lucent in November, 2007, I had time to do much of the research for the book.


Fifth Grader: How many revisions did you do?


Dan: We did not keep track, but it seems like we did at least 20 revisions for each chapter.


Fifth Grader: What schools did you attend?


Dan: I attended elementary through high school in Midland, Michigan, where I met co-author David Hirsch in first grade.  I attended Michigan State University and Stevens Institute of Technology.


Fifth Grader: What books did you find interesting in grade school? Junior High? High? 


Dan: My favorite books were  history books.  The area I liked best was American history.


Fifth Grader: Will there be a sequel to this book? What is your next project?


Dan: We are planning another book that will build on Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason.



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