Forget ‘Team of Rivals.’ Did this Brown prof inspire ‘Lincoln’?

A Brown University professor is at the center of a debate about whether his book was the real inspiration for the movie “Lincoln” and its acclaimed screenplay by Tony Kushner.

The New Republic’s Timothy Noah first made the case that Kushner’s main source wasn’t Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling “Team of Rivals” but a much less famous work: “Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment,” a 2001 book by Michael Vorenberg, associate professor of history at Brown.

Vorenberg is surprisingly sanguine about Noah’s suggestion. “Films don’t have to have footnotes, and it’s hard to imagine how film makers could pay everyone who happens to have contributed to knowledge about a particular subject,” the professor said.

Noah wasn’t satisfied: “Clearly Kushner is well within his rights to help himself to narrative details that he found in ‘Final Freedom’ and elsewhere. Nobody owns history. But even if Vorenberg isn’t troubled, I find it (on his behalf) a bit disappointing that neither Kushner nor Spielberg has acknowledged what a valuable resource they had in ‘Final Freedom.'”

As for Kushner, the playwright eventually acknowledged to TNR that he read Vorenberg’s “fantastic” book but also argued it wasn’t the key source that Noah thinks it was. Either way, Vorenberg says he doesn’t mind: “If my book helped add accuracy to the film,” he told Slate, “I can take some pleasure in that.”

​(photo: Brown University)

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