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Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths Paperback – March 15, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060924721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060924720
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Stephen B. Oates recreates the life and world of Lincoln with the skill of a master painter." -- Christian Science Monitor

From the Back Cover

An essential book for any student of Lincoln and American history, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths is acclaimed Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates's unique exploration of America's sixteenth president in reality and memory. In this multifaceted portrait, Oates, "the most popular historical interpreter of Lincoln" (Gabor S. Boritt, New York Times Book Review), exposes the human side of the great and tragic president—including his depression, his difficulties with love, and his troubled and troubling attitudes about slavery—while also confronting the many legends that have arisen around "Honest Abe." Oates throughout raises timely questions about what the Lincoln mythos reveals about the American people.

More About the Author

Stephen B. Oates is the author of sixteen books, including The Approaching Fury; With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln and Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the latter two books winning, respectively, the Christopher Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award. They have been translated into several languages.

Oates was a consultant and "talking head" in Ken Burns's Civil War series on PBS, and is a recipient of the Nevins-Freeman Award of the Chicago Civil War Round Table for lifetime achievement in the field of Civil War studies. A teacher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he is now writing the concluding book of the Voices of Storm trilogy, about the years of Reconstruction, 1865-1877.

Customer Reviews

I had bought this after I saw the movie and really enjoyed it.
Cynthia A. Watson
It did; however, it was sometimes confusing as the author switched from one to the other quickly, leaving me confused at times and going back for a re-read.
Preston L. Johnson
This is very well written and has managed to hold my attention better than some historical books.
Barbara L. Carpenter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By ah618@rgfn.epcc.edu on April 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
We invented Abraham Lincoln. Not the man, of course, but the myth, that solemn and statuesque giant memorialized eternally overlooking the Capitol mall. The power of that myth and the quiet dignity of its personage dwarfs us all. But the myth is not the man. Myths never are. Stephen Oates in his _Abraham Lincoln, The Man Behind the Myths_, does not seek to diminish the man but rather to clarify him, separating the mythos from the mortal. And it is not an undaunting task, it seems, for overly soon after Lincoln's tragic end the mills began to churn. The public's shredding of the White House interior for mementos while Mary Lincoln lay debilitated in the next room seems symbolic of the wolfpack mentality in Washington even today. And every new memoir published by another family acquaintance of the Lincoln's almost always got it wrong, and tore anew at the heart of the family. We may not have memorialized and glorified our modern-day tragic heroes to such an extent, for we have simultaneously tried to scandalize them. But the tabloid trade it seems has always been a yellow paper. Even Lincoln was vilified in his time and after. He was, Oates, reminds us, one of the most unpopular living presidents of our history. But though the legacy ballooned to heroic proportions after his passing, the man seems to have been lost in it all, remaining only in the hearts of the family leaving quietly and unattended down the steps of the White House never to return.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on June 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this small but valuable volume, Oates explores the reality beyond the two sources of Lincoln myth: the primary myth of a saintly and folkloric Lincoln of Carl Sandburg and a secondary myth of the 'white honky' Lincoln of the 1970's revisionists. Oates emphasizes that Lincoln drew deeply upon the "spirit of his age", which was a profoundly revolutionary time across the world. Oates relates how Lincoln absorbed one of the core lessons of America from the example of Henry Clay: : "in this country one can scarcely be so poor, but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably".

That slavery was the cause of the Civil War is beyond all doubt. As Oates explains, however, the North did not go to war to free the slaves. In the standard phrasing, the North went to war to 'preserve the union'. Oates explores Lincoln's fears that the spread of slavery in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision would lead to the destruction of democratic society. The debate then still raged on the world stage whether a republican form of government could last. Lincoln rejected the "ingenious sophism" that states could freely leave the Union. "With rebellion thus sugar coated [southern leaders] have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years." Secession posed nothing less than a final challenge to popular government. If a minority could destroy the government any time it felt aggrieved, then no government could endure. Thus the war had to be fought to preserve not just the American Republic, but the possibility of republican government.

Lincoln did in fact oppose slavery from early on. His views on racial matters apart from slavery became more fully progressive over time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Studge on July 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
This was a great book, a must-read sequel to With Malice Towards None. The Man Behind The Myths is only about 200 pages, but it's packed with crucial information about Lincoln. It exposes and refutes the myths that have evolved around him, most particularly, the scandalous myths, showing how Lincoln has been misunderstood and mscharacterized by some authors, like Vincent Harding. Professor Oates educates the reader by showing how important it is to examine Lincoln's attitude on slavery and race in its proper historical perspective, in order to understand how progressive, daring and caring this man really was. Towards the end of the book, Professor Oates exposed and convincingly refuted the fraudulent thesis that Secretary of War Stanton was somehow in cahoots with John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts. Thumbs up to Professor Oates!

As expected, the book itself was a smooth and thought-inspiring manuscript, and it was backed-up with meticulous notes and primary sources.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M Quigg VINE VOICE on January 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Abraham Lincoln was a great man but between the time of his murder and now, people have made him a myth. However, Lincoln was a man and human, and he was not perfect. Many people judge him by his mistakes, and more revere the myth, but Lincoln grew as a man and leader. His views evolved for the betterment of both himself and his country. Judgement based on his myth or his faults are not valid. Oates' book shows Lincoln in his true human form with all his warts and abilities. My admiration of Lincoln grew with the image of him passing his weaknesses and errors and becoming a strong leader.

This is a nice read about a true American hero. The author's book shows Lincoln in all his human ability. During the year celebrating the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, this is a great book to read and understand the true Lincoln.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B. Broughton on August 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
I had a very difficult time trying to locate this selection. A professor had recommended this particular selection for an upcoming class. I am a senior citizen and since as a retired teacher I am dedicated to lifelong learning, I enrolled in an Osher Lifelong Learning class on the Roaring 20's. At the conclusion of the class, the instructor recommended this particular selction on an upcoming class on Abraham Lincoln. Amazon came to my rescue and now I am prepared for my class and a closer look at our 16th president. It is a marvelous, introspective read.
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