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on November 29, 1999
Though it is dated in some of its facts and assessments,Lord Charnwoods classic study of Lincoln remains one of the dozen or so greatest books ever written about our greatest President.What sets it apart from most other studies of the sixteenth President is the attention it gives the intellectual and spiritual underpinnings of Lincoln's life and actions. It is, in short a work of philosophical history, not a dry recitation of facts. Charnwood is interested in the moral meaning of democracy and the scope and limits of democratic leadership. He performs his task beautifully. I , for one , found his old-fashioned Victorian prose a joy to read, and a relief from the cliche' ridden jargon that too often passes for literate prose today. A great book by a foriegn observer of America, fully worthy of being placed beside Tocqueville and Bryce.
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on January 22, 2005
There is something about the British and their outlook towards American politics which is quite enjoyable. They bring a refreshing civility and admiration for political thought and history that is more often than not absent in today's North American biographers. In this biography of Lincoln Charnwood delves deep into the political atmosphere in which Lincoln rose to power and saw America through one of its most trying hours. The author delivers a deep sense of what a thoughtful and kind man that Lincoln was. It is an an unflinching look at Lincoln's spiritual side in which in comparison to today's commander-in-chief is quite startling for their similarities and differences.

His dissection of the politics of the era is simply fascinating. This is a book for anyone who has a keen apreciation of politics and history. Charnwood's unflinching directness in his portrayal of Lincoln leaves the reader with the sense that not only does the author have the deepest respect for Lincoln but that that Lincoln deserved every bit of it. My copy of this book is a beat up 1950's paperback I found in a thrift store to accompany me on a trip to Louisiana and I would recommend to anyone who can get their hands on one.
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on July 22, 2013
Lord Charnwood's history of Lincoln and the American Civil War was intended for a British readership. So he explains America and American Law to the British. I just finished Stephen Oates' book on Lincoln, and I have to say, Lord Charnwood's effort stands up well by comparison.

Charnwood speaks to the central issue that was Lincoln: "As to the man, perhaps the sense will grow upon us that this balanced and calculating person, with his finger on the pulse of the electorate while he cracked his uncensored jests with all comers, did of set purpose drink and refill and drink again as full and fiery a cup of sacrifice as ever pressed to the lip of hero or saint." (page 167/168--Cardinal Edition, 1960) Lord Charnwood presented in those words an excellent summation of Lincoln.

It is easy to overlook the hit or miss of the Civil War. Had the 1859 election been between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, Douglass would have won with more than one million votes. And American History would have been vastly different. The Southern Generals outclassed the Northern General in tactics. The tide of war did not change until the July 1863 Southern defeat at the Battle of Vicksburg and the North taking control of the Mississippi; and when Lee tried an incursion into the North, only to be defeated by Meade in the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. With those two victories, Lincoln could run in the 1864 election on strength. Charwood writes: "But if McClellan had had all he demanded to take Richmond and had made good his promise, what would Lee have done? Lee's own answer to a similar question later was, "We would swap queens'; that is he would have taken Washington. If so the Confederacy would not have fallen, but in all probability the North would have collapsed, and the European Powers would at the least have recognized the Confederacy." (page 328/329)

McClellan was seen as not willing to engage the Southern armies, apparently lacking confidence that the Northern armies could best their opponents. McClellan was further seen as someone temporizing on emancipation of the slave. There were those who felt he had Southern sympathies. Lincoln finding Grant was the impetus to change the course of war from Northern defeat to Northern victory. When McClellan ran against Lincoln in 1864, he ran on a party platform that would have the North surrender to the South without outlawing slavery or emancipating slaves. And while McClellan disavowed that stance, still it was the Democratic Party platform he ran on.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 was made knowing full well that he could alienate the Northern slave holding border states who would then move to the Confederate side. The passing by the House of Representative the 13th Amendment--the topic of Spielberg's movie--based on Doris Kearn Goodwins' TEAM OF RIVALS--in January 1865, Lincoln knew such an amendment was required to actually abolish slavery in America; left to the Southern states, slavery would still be allowed.

Sherman's 1864 March through Georgia points to the ultimate strength of the Northern forces. The North had a preponderance of potential soldiers. That march saw almost 99,000 Union soldiers to Johnston's 42,000 Rebel soldiers. The Rebel forces were ill-fed by then, ill-supplied, stretched thin, and surrounded by a preponderance of Union armies well fed, and well supplied.

To me, the American Civil War captures a sense of the Transcendent, the absolute that the Transcendent is. Lincoln's Gettysburg address in few words states something about that Transcendence. Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" speaks to that Transcendence. People should hear slashing swords when they hear that song; that truth of the righteousness of the cause to abolish slavery can brook no other interpretation. That the South also used the song to defend their position, only speaks to the reality of such a thing as 'demonic parody' of truth, religion, or righteousness; people who simply don't get it. And that attitude about the sanctimony of a needed war, would support America's entry into World War II to defeat the Nazi maw which saw fit to destroy 6 million Jews in factories of murder. And America responded having the moral righteousness of the American Civil War as part of a collective mindset, a collective world-view about necessity for a moral war.

Lord Charnwood's ABRAHAM LINCOLN is an excellent read by any standard of historical documentation.
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on April 5, 2007
Lord Charnwood's 1916 volume remains one of the finest portraits of Abraham Lincoln yet produced. Charnwood offers nuanced insight into Lincoln's mind and his character, probing much deeper and more convincingly than later authors were able. Charnwood's brief treatment of Lincoln's complicated religious faith (tied in with the section on the Second Inaugural Address) was particularly poignant.

I suggest William E. Gienapp's "Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America" (2002) for learners who are new to Lincoln or have lost touch with him since 9th grade history class. Gienapp synthesizes all the latest research and criticism within Lincolnian studies into a brief yet surprisingly thorough 240-page book.

After that, step up to Charnwood. It is truly great historical writing (almost literary in moments) and one of the best character studies published of a truly incredible human being.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 25, 2014
Lord Charnwood (Godfrey Benson) was a respected British scholar and politician, born the year before Lincoln's assassination. He was not born of nobility but was made a Baron by King George V in 1911, five years before this book was published. His scholarship is apparent in this impressive biography of Lincoln.

Although "Abraham Lincoln" was written by an Englishman for Englishmen (Charnwood's own words) and his admiration of Lincoln is apparent from the beginning, the book is an objective, fascinating history that Americans can appreciate. The book was written in the historical "sweet spot"- decades removed from the tragedy of the American Civil War and Lincoln's assassination but not so distant that memories had faded and historical records vanished. In fact, Lincoln's son Robert had just been named ambassador to England.

This is not a lightweight biography; but an intelligent, comprehensive look at not only Lincoln but also other great personalities of his times as well as US history. The second chapter of the book alone is an interesting history of the early US prior to Lincoln. Spending time to give context adds greatly to our understanding of the man.

Americans learn about Lincoln in grade school so it is not surprising that the stories of Lincoln tend to be simple. Later studies of American history focus more on the American Civil War and the fight to end slavery than Lincoln the man and his overall philosophies. As a result many of us have a child's view of Lincoln with a simple acceptance of him as an icon/hero. Lord Charnwood's biography gives us a deeper view of Lincoln the man, the politician, his core beliefs and personality. Charnwood shows a man of great intellect and ambition, who was remarkably pure of heart and crude of taste. A man befuddled and shy of women but a champion of women's rights from the beginning of his career. A man who was admired for his honesty and humor but who suffered from chronic depression. A man who abhorred slavery from his youth but whose driving motivation was preservation of the Union above all else.

The true greatness of an individual is often obscured by anecdotes and myths that surround them. Abraham Lincoln is a classic example of this. I much prefer the hero Charnwood reveals to a one dimensional myth.

As a final note, this kindle version is very well formatted but there is a "trick" at the end. After the final chapter, appendix, biographical note and chronology, the book seems to end. Go to the table of contents and you can follow links to more content including Lee's opinion of the war and correspondence between Lee and Herbert Saunders.
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on February 14, 2014
Lord Charnwood, born in England during the American Civil War, nears the end of a distinguished journalistic career when he writes this elegant, well-reasoned and researched book about Lincoln, fifty years after his death. The book follows Lincoln from his impoverished youth to his great triumph, holding the Union together during its deepest crisis. His sympathies are always clear but his case for them is eloquently stated and precisely argued. This book benefits by being from another country. The writer is not partisan, he is not dependant on the results of his book. He is won by the man Lincoln, as anyone who considers him fairly will be.
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on March 29, 2013
I had no idea what to expect when I chose this one. Lord Charnwood's ability to present facts is exquisite and beautiful. Stay with him for 100 pages so you fall into step with his stylistic and poetic use of language. You will find a new level of pleasure in reading books of this type.
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on June 20, 2013
First published in 1916, ABRAHAM LINCOLN is a fascinatingly detailed account of Abraham Lincoln's life and contribution to the development of nineteenth-century America. Its main claim to fame lies in its detailed depiction of Lincoln's spiritual side; he was a committed Christian who believed that everyone was equal in God's eyes, while he as President had to carry out God's word in ensuring that America could live at peace. This was no easy task: Charnwood shows how mid-nineteenth century America was a turbulent place, racked not only by Civil War but by fierce rivalries among the political classes. One of Lincoln's greatest achievements was his ability to maintain support from colleagues with completely different views to his own. This was done through a combination of charm and sheer persistence. ABRAHAM LINCOLN is very much a product of its times; there are extended comparisons between Lincoln's achievements and those of the great leaders of the British Empire. In common with Victorian politicians such as Gladstone and Palmerston, Lincoln worked hard to create national unity. Charnwood's treatment of the emancipation issue is inevitably colored by the prejudices of the early twentieth century (African-Americans are still represented as second class citizens). Nonetheless this is both a detailed and an even-handed account of a great man's life.
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on March 19, 2014
This book was written 100 years ago by a British historian.

Its time proximity to both the Civil War, and to America's founding and the problem of slavery, provide a unique perspective. Such perspective is rarely found in any contemporary writing about Lincoln, about the Civil War, about Republicans vs. Democrats, about the role of the Constitution, about what informed the American character that was willing to persevere, and put down the rebellion.

That it was written by a Brit, who both respected the US and what it represented, as well having a remarkable ability to define the man that Lincoln was in 1830, and had become by the time of his death, provides an additional dimension to the man, the period, and even to the price we pay today for the so-called Peculiar Institution. But it was not, and is not, for lack of many good people trying, then and now, to overcome the problems that were left in its wake.

And we will just have to overcome the fact that much about the racial issue has been driven backwards in the last five years.
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on April 28, 2014
Charnwood writes from a British aristocrat's view. But before he gets into Lincoln's political career as President, he engages in an extended discussion of the checks and balances built into the original Constitution He also has interesting things to say about the balance between state and federal government power. It's a very useful discussion, and worth considering in our modern times.
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