Lincoln Biographies

Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.

These thoughts passed through the mind in a moment’s flash,
Then that mind turned to business.
It was the calling
Of seventy-five thousand volunteers.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Commenter Greg Mockeridge asked my recommendation for a Lincoln biography.  The above video shows the Lincoln tower of books, a 34 foot tower of books about Lincoln located at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education and Lincoln.  The tower includes books about Lincoln as of 2011.  The number of books written about Lincoln are estimated to be approximately 16,000.  No one of course has read all of these books, nor should they.  Life is too short for such monomania, and in any case most of the books would be greatly repetitious and many of them mere hack work of little intrinsic value.  Here are the books I recommended:

1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.
2. Michael Burlingame’s recent massive two volume bio is great for looking at the more recent Lincoln scholarship.
3. T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals still remains, after more than six decades, the best look at Lincoln as commander in chief.
4. James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.
5. Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President views Lincoln as a thinker, a surprisingly overlooked aspect of Lincoln as he first and foremost was a man of ideas. Lincoln had the ability of taking abstract and complicated concepts, stripping them down, and presenting them in his writing and speaking in a straightforward manner. He makes it all look easy, which perhaps detracts from what a powerful mind he possessed.
6. Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is the best book on Lincoln in years. First rate scholarship directed at Lincoln’s religious views, a perennial subject of vitriolic debate in Lincoln Studies. Mansfield details the difficulties of making iron clad assertions about Lincoln on many topics because Lincoln often kept his cards tucked against his vest, and contemporary accounts by people who knew Lincoln often disagree about the most basic items.
7. Stephen B. Oates’ With Malice Towards None, stands out as perhaps the best one volume bio of Lincoln.

I have been reading about Mr. Lincoln for the past half century.  Not a month goes by that I do not learn something I did not know before about the man who led such a consequential life that only Christ and Napoleon have had more books written about them.

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Published in: on March 8, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln Biographies  
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