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130 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Abe on the Down Low
Speaking as someone who admires Abraham Lincoln to a very deep degree, I found this small but powerful biography to be a beautiful addition to my collection of hefty Lincoln tomes.

The book itself in hardcover is a joy to hold with its compact size, readable typeface and bound-in ribbon bookmark. Whoever worked on this project obviously did it as a labor of...
Published on December 2, 2008 by J. M. Jacobs

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72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Overview of a Truly Great Man
One thing's for sure: this is a very short book. Not only is it a mere 65 pages, but the pages themselves are rather short. I read this in one sitting, and it took me less than an hour and a half (I would say that I read at a moderate pace).

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading a...
Published on November 26, 2008 by Brandon J. Smith


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130 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Abe on the Down Low, December 2, 2008
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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Speaking as someone who admires Abraham Lincoln to a very deep degree, I found this small but powerful biography to be a beautiful addition to my collection of hefty Lincoln tomes.

The book itself in hardcover is a joy to hold with its compact size, readable typeface and bound-in ribbon bookmark. Whoever worked on this project obviously did it as a labor of love. They worked the details on this one.

You can't honestly compare this work to others like Carl Sandberg's "Lincoln" or "With Malice Towards None" or even my nice coffee table book of photographs taken of Lincoln. This work COMPLEMENTS those more comprehensive volumes. That said, it is not incomplete. It does an excellent job of hitting the hundreds of high - and low - points in Lincoln's too brief life. The pace moves quickly and precisely along so that you never have the feeling that you're being 'written down to' if that's the phrase I'm looking for. This one has NOT been dumbed down for the reader.

Personally I see this smaller volume as an 'annual read' to remind me of just how special Lincoln was as a man and as our nation's leader. He was willing, even at great personal cost, to do the right thing on the toughest, most entrenched issues in our nation's history to that point. Through all that he had to work through, he never lost his sense of empathy towards all who were involved. He knew personally what it was like to lose in what he thought was a good cause.

And I guess that's what stands out most about this very brief work. As you read along, you still get the sense of Lincoln as a man and as our finest President, and you do it in such a short time! What's that worth these days?

This would make an ideal first book on Lincoln OR it would make a fine addition to a collection of works on Lincoln... and it won't take you four score and seven years to read it.
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72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Overview of a Truly Great Man, November 26, 2008
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This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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One thing's for sure: this is a very short book. Not only is it a mere 65 pages, but the pages themselves are rather short. I read this in one sitting, and it took me less than an hour and a half (I would say that I read at a moderate pace).

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading a magazine article or a chapter in a larger book about the great American presidents. I felt at times that rather than seeing a concise account of Lincoln's life, the author just breezed through the telling, i.e. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. Rather than painting a full picture of Lincoln, the book zeroes in on how a man from Illinois came to win the Civil War and free the slaves. No doubt, that's the driving force of any Lincoln biography, but to devote merely a couple of pages to Mary Todd is to ignore the fact that Lincoln married and lived with a woman with deep psychological problems. Lincoln's own depression is glossed over. And there is no mention, for example, of his premonitions regarding his own death. While the Big Events are accounted for here, the "poetry" of his life is completely ignored.

On the other hand, I wasn't in the mood to sit down with a massive, 800 page biography of Lincoln. It was refreshing to read about him and not get bogged down in every last detail of every Lincoln/Douglas debate or of every Civil War battle. And, as I mentioned, I read this in one sitting. This is written in clear, concise language, and the story itself is among the most compelling (if not THE most compelling) in our nation's history. McPherson does not talk down to the reader, too. He speaks of the Dred-Scott case, and the suspension of habeus corpus, and if you aren't familiar with these things, you'll just have to look it up for himself. His analysis of the Gettysburg Address requires that you already know it, because only his paraphrase is presented.

Overall, I think the "short book" notion was taken a little too far. What was done in 65 pages could have had a little more flavor at perhaps 100 pages without losing the integrity of a "short account." But the goal of the book was achieved: As a brief overview of arguably America's greatest president, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life succeeds.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can a 65 page biography do Lincoln Justice?, November 27, 2008
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T. J. Mathews (Livermore, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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Many noted authors have written countless volumes about the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. When I read that Civil War historian James McPherson had attempted, in only 65 pages, to capture the essence of the man who shepherded our nation through its greatest trials I was curious to see how well he could do.

I had my doubts at the first. When the first sentence starts out with "Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809..." I started to worry that there would be no more substance than a high school term paper. Fortunately, McPherson soon soothed my misgivings. After a somewhat dry synopsis of Lincoln's early life, McPherson briefly and with great insight touches on each and every key facet of Lincoln's career. He addressed the debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's election and subsequent efforts to prevent secession, his role in the war, his relationship with his cabinet, his personal and official views on slavery and emancipation, and his attempts to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy.

In every chapter, McPherson's admiration for our sixteenth president shines through, even when discussing Lincoln's questionable suspension of habeas corpus. I found this part especially interesting in light of recent events. The Bush administration used the same arguments that Lincoln put forth to justify its suspension of civil liberties. One could argue that, justifiably or not, Lincoln opened a Pandora's Box that subsequent less-scrupulous presidents have taken advantage of.

I have read a great deal about this period in history and yet, on a page-for-page basis, there are few books that can shed as much insight into the heart and mind of our greatest president. I highly recommend this book.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pithy, Precise and Timely, November 25, 2008
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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This delightful small volume from Oxford Press written by one of the eminent Civil War historians of our time pays tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th and arguably most revered President of the United States of America.

Every element of this book pays tribute to Lincoln, right down to its brevity, which echoes the terseness of the Gettysburg Address which itself lines the internal covers.

This volume, timed to release with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln, couldn't be more timely as America welcomes it's 44th President and the first beneficiary of the office Lincoln held from those oppressed classes whom he freed. The timely reminder being that leadership can make a difference and can guide a nation at war and struggling with its identity.

While that message can only be inferred and is a happy coincidence of timing, it is a timely message nonetheless and masterfully reflected in McPherson's brief book which can easily be read in one sitting.

This is a worthy volume for anyone's library to return to for inspiration and a reminder of what made us great in the past in terms of vision and drive. There are certainly more thorough volumes to be read on Lincoln, but for catching the salient elements that arise time and time again to remind us of this great man, there are none better.

5 Stars

Bart Breen
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a 65-page work of brilliance; a natural and perfect Christmas stocking stuffer, December 1, 2008
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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This is a very short book printed in large type on a topic that has been covered in hundreds of books. And it's a joy. It is the perfect stockng stuffer. It presents the full story of Lincoln's growth to leadership, the evolution of his beliefs and commitments, and his leadership as President. In general, this is achieved in such a short space and so vividly by letting Lincoln's own words -- speeches, letters, drafts -- do the work. They move the narrartive ahead while also bringing out his extraordinary and often breathtaking magnanimity, vision and tenacity. The compressed space shows better than most biographies the inner moral and political debate within hiself concerning slavery. Abolition and social justice were at his center, but he was also Presidential at the core, too; the slender narrative shows this aspect of honor and duty above self superbly.

This book is a small marvel.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Concise and Well Thought Out, November 26, 2008
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This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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It took Abraham Lincoln less than 300 words to explain the Civil War. This essay is only somewhat longer. In under 70 readable pages, McPherson gives us the life of Lincoln, with a focus on his attitudes toward slavery and his Presidential ambition and accomlishments.

"Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life" is a well-conceived project, and McPherson accomplishes more in his brief essay than many popular historians do in two-inch thick tomes. His prose is clear and spare, his thoughts well-reasoned and carefully explained. Our appetite is whet by Lincoln's legend and his broad historical context, but our curiousity is not fully satisfied. The book is not enough (unfortunately) to help us understand the intricate historical drivers of the period or the implications of Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus or the debate over the constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclaimation. It is also not enough (quite fortunately) to explore new diagnoses historical-hypens may have of Mrs. Lincoln's personal despairs.

The brevity requires intensive focus on a limited set of issues and questions, but McPherson, focusing on slavery and unity, chooses well. For other aspects of Lincoln's life, such as the formation of the Republican party, his attitude toward territorial and economic expansion, and his personal affairs, we will have to mine other works. What McPherson covers, however, he covers well, and he is particularly adept at weaving wonderful selections from Lincoln's finest speaches into his explication.

McPherson's essay is a workmanlike product of a professional historian. He sheds no new light on the era or man for a well-informed reader, but he does give us a wonderful little overview and a bit of perspective. I would love to see High School history classes pick up a book like this in lieu of the lengthier but more questionable popular histories or the laconic and insipid texts often favored. Likewise, a foreign reader looking for an introduction would have trouble doing better without devoting several days of reading rather than a couple hours before dinner.

My review now exceeds the length of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's under-300-word explanation of the Civil War. Incredible brilliance and insight is achievable without undue length. McPherson's essay is capable and useful, but not either groundbreaking or profound. A solid 3 stars, and a recommendation to read it as a nice appetizer before some other full meal.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Important Little Book, December 3, 2008
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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I admit being surprised when I received my copy of Abraham Lincoln for review. It was the size of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and even shorter than the fourth edition of that work. But it's impact is in inverse proportion to its size.

I read the book's 77 pages in a single afternoon, and barely set it down until I was done, and then only because of duty to family. It is without doubt the best introduction to the life and career of Abraham Lincoln that I have ever read.

Again and again, McPherson hits the critical points on the head, presenting in concise terms his view of Lincoln, whose name, he asserts, "more than any other American," has gone down in history.

Beginning with Lincoln's birth in 1809, McPherson takes us through the trials and tribulations of Lincoln's youth, his career as an attorney, his troubled personal life, and follows him from there into his public career, first in the state legislature and then Congress, before his election as president.

He moves with equal grace through Lincoln's wartime years, discussing not only his conduct of the war, but his trials with his cabinet, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation and even Lincoln's plans for Reconstruction.

It is a truly remarkable book, one that everyone interested in Lincoln should own. And I dare say that anyone who has not read a biography of Lincoln, once opening this book, will feel compelled to correct that error by reading one of the works discussed by McPherson in his excellent bibliography.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln in 65 Pages Reviewed in 65 Words, March 14, 2009
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
McPherson fits A. Lincoln into 65 pages, covering all the main points. Rejecting backwoods life, preferring King James and Pilgrim's Progress, learns law, loses love, marries, fights mosquitoes, opposes war in Congress. Wins by losing to Douglas, addresses Cooper, wins presidency. Fort Sumter attacked, generals dither, proclaims emancipation, promotes fighter Grant, represses Copperheads, consecrates Gettysburg, wins war, is murdered, martyred, sainted. Now United States `is'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise, Amazingly Complete, the Essence of Lincoln, November 27, 2008
This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Hardcover)
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This tiny biography totally amazed me. I am giving it a 4 Star rating not because it is the most complete biography on Lincoln, but because the degree of difficulty in putting together such a work (65 pages) from the unbelievably documented life of Lincoln is tremendously high and McPherson accomplishes it remarkably well. The bibliography is well written with additional insight into other works on Lincoln. These few pages are worth having this book in my library.

At first it seemed like an encyclopedia article, but McPherson was able to incorporate the feelings, direction and inner working of Lincoln that are not seen in any encyclopedia. The selection of quotations, facets of life and how it is condensed into this tiny compendium is very satisfying. The final chapter is a gem. With tight wording, not one wasted, McPherson gives us a shiver up our spines as to the fragility of the United States as the 1776 experiment continues into time.

After reading "Team of Rivals" (the only Lincoln biographical book that I've read), I thought that this small writing would have nothing to add to that 700 pages; how wrong that was. I am now fully attentive to the many works that will be coming out in the next year to celebrate Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Only someone that is thoroughly familiar with everything about Lincoln could have completed this task. My hat is off to McPherson for accomplishing such a terrific, concise and easily readable biography of this great President.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, June 13, 2011
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This review is from: Abraham Lincoln (Kindle Edition)
I have great respect for James McPherson, but I cannot make heads nor tails of this derivative, scanty offering. It reads like a long high school report. There are no new insights, no fresh speculations, no depth whatsoever. An interested reader can find the same information on the Internet for free.

Perhaps my problem is that I've read a number of histories and biographies pertaining to Lincoln and the war between the states, and thus come to the table with a certain knowledge kit. But because it is McPherson writing this piece, I eagerly bought it, expecting the same caliber of his other works. I don't know why he even bothered to write this. It honestly reads like a chapter in an encyclopedia. He bypasses scholarship that offers explanations for certain enigmas McPherson brings up, such as Lincoln's break up with Mary Todd, followed by a period of hellish depression. Some historians contend that Lincoln believed he had contracted syphilis [he sought out a treatment used in his day to treat the disease around the time of his break up with Todd] and had to wait the one and one half to two years doctors advised to be sure the condition had resolved itself. Now THAT is an interesting tidbit of information. McPherson, however, goes with the conventional theory that Lincoln was conflicted about Todd. That may be so, but Lincoln DID resume their courtship approximately two years after the break up. The things that make an historical biography exciting are the things that humanize their subject, that cause us to commiserate. I did not find any of that here, in this "biography".

This is off-topic, but I feel Amazon reviewers should be made aware of a certain phenomenon centered upon "negative" reviews. Apparently there are reviewers who flag negative reviews of books they like to the Amazon police as being inappropriate. At some point Amazon blocks reviews by readers who have been flagged a number of times. I learned of this from an excellent reviewer, whose existing reviews are intelligent, incisive, and valuable, negative or no, and who has been blocked from posting new reviews. Some readers are moved to effuse over books they like. Other reviewers, such as myself, are moved to write when books disappoint. I just wanted to give a heads up to other reviewers who might be targeted.
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Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln by James M. McPherson
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