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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 1998
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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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2006
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. Lincoln, however, hoped that slavery would slowly melt away in a losing competition with free labor and that liberated slaves would resettle in Africa. It is part of Lincoln's greatness that he later gave up these views. Oates explores this evolution in his thinking. Oates debunks the notion that the Emancipation Proclamation was unimportant in liberating the slaves. Oates also refutes the notion that Lincoln would have favored an easy hand during Reconstruction. On the contrary, the evidence strongly suggests he would have led the so-called Radical Republicans.

Highly recommended for any reader with an interest in Lincoln, the Civil War era, or really pretty much any American.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2011
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
VINE VOICEon January 8, 2009
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2013
What an astonishingly great book this is. Every word of it is absolutely fascinating, from beginning to end. Stephen Oates not only writes about perhaps the most fascinating man in all of human history, but writes so very if he is as good of a writer as Abraham Lincoln himself. I just wish I could give this book six stars instead of just five. I look forward to reading his other books.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2009
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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on July 25, 2013
July 19, 2013
A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln, The Man Behind the Myths.

I downloaded this work from Kindle and it is one of the better biographies of Lincoln, though limited to, many of the common beliefs and misconceptions about the life of Lincoln. Oates wrote this book in 1984 while teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His Part one deals with the popular myths about the man, namely the people's man and the arch villain. It contrasts his reputation in both the North and the South. Oates does a great job in presenting the reasons for much of Lincoln's mood swings and his preoccupation with the strategy of the war.

Lincoln's idea's about slavery are one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts of his political life and Oates presents these in a dispassionate form. I believe from reading this part, that Mr. Lincoln was always, in his heart of hearts always an abolitionist though many continue to argue about his motives regarding slavery. Oates paints the best conclusions I have read in the many biographies I have read about Lincoln.

All of his leadership efforts are clearly aimed at the preservation of the Union to include his personal belief that the rebel states continued to remain part of the United States. This idea, I believe, motivated his posture on reconstruction as the war was winding down. Evidence of this is clearly manifest in the position of his commanding general US Grant.

It is very clear to the reader that Lincoln's assassination created an increased difficult time for the White southerners and equally a curse for the newly freed slaves.

I recommend this short book, which is well outlined and commented upon as a balanced biography and one which every student of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln should add to his collection of must reads.

I was very happy to give five stars to this book.
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on March 12, 2013
I'd give this 5 stars if it weren't for the mediocre eBook implementation of a great book.
The back-matter includes "References", which are actually endnotes for sources not otherwise indicated within the text itself (no means is given to track back from the reference to its occurrence in the text).
Chapters have asterisk'ed endnotes, but there is nothing to distinguish the first asterisk'ed item from the second, third, etc. Again no means is given to track back from an endnote to its occurrence in the text.
The paper edition's index appears as an unlinked "Searchable terms" list. A bit of thought reveals that many times the paragraph referenced by the index might not even contain the word used to convey the notion that is indexed; searching on the index term will miss indexed occurrences and will get hits for paragraphs that contain the term but were not relevant enough to be indexed. A "searchable terms" list in no way replaces an index.
C'mon eBook-makers, discover hyperlinks!
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on December 20, 2012
Excelent writing and interpretation of historiacal events and their results. Mr Lincoln was a neutral in religion which allowed him to be unbiased on slavery. Almost always in history, events are begun out religious or moral differences. Abe Lincoln knew which side to be on and it seem to the political side for accomplishing what he wanted to happen and not necessarily what he truly thought was right. He believed slavery was wrong, but knew also that it break up the states and the country.
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on December 20, 2012
In this compelling biography, the author separates the historical Lincoln from the mythical Lincoln, and reveals a man who was neither a political messiah nor a demon. The reader encounters a vividly portrayed President Lincoln in Oates account. I particularly appreciate how the author demolished the contention that Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War, was in anyway involved in the assassination of the President. I highly recommend this book.
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