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Freedom - A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Hardcover – July 28, 1987


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1125 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (July 28, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038515903X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385159036
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 2.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Do national security concerns supersede guarantees of individual liberty? Does strict adherence to the principles of freedom prevent a free government from defending itself effectively? Does the minority have the right to dissolve a democracy? Was the Civil War inevitable, given the fundamental split over slavery, or was it brought on by a combination of well-meaning and greedy Northerners who wanted to dominate the South? Can a majority rule over a subjugated minority and remain a democracy? These are among the vital, timeless issues that Safire deftly grapples with in a prodigious, 1152-page work that is more history than fiction. That he succeeds in relaying the confusion, anguish and excitement of this critical period in American historythe 20 months from Lincoln's assumption of the presidency to the signing of his Emancipation Proclamationis a measure of his supple writing style and dedication to veracity. With its analysis of intricate legal, political and military issues, this is demanding fiction, but so assiduously documented that it will interest Civil War tyros and scholars as well as buffs. Safire censures Lincoln as a leader who "as the war went on . . . grew more easy with the use of dictatorial power." He also emerges here as shrewd, manipulative, depressed, stubborn, determined to preserve the Union and majority rule at all costs, a ruthless president who conducted a purposely bloody war. His gradual turnabout from a policy of tolerating slavery where it existed to the bold emancipation of slaves in rebel states, as a strategy to sustain the fighting spirit of the North, is carefully chronicled. In a 130-page "underbook," Safire separates fact from fiction and keenly judges various historical controversies: Was McClellan an overly cautious general, or was he acting according to his dovish Democratic political conscience? Safire vivifies the complexities and paradoxes of the era through such real-life characters as border-staters Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland, a well-connected pamphleteer, and John Breckinridge, a former vice-president and Kentucky senator turned Confederate general, whose family epitomized the fratricidal war. The Pulitzer Prizewinning New York Times columnist is also adept at depicting gripping battle scenes, the vicissitudes of politics and the fierce jockeying for supremacy among Lincoln's cabinet members, between the president and the military, the different branches of government and factions of the Republican party. The intimacies here are basically political; Safire contrives a few fictional romances, but they are sops to the genre, providing a prism through which to examine the characters or "hatracks" on which to hang information. Photos not seen by PW. Major ad/promo; BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The 20 months between Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation were perhaps the most crucial period in American history, a time when a lasting definition of American democracy was being forged by civil war. This enormous book is both an outstanding history of that critical time and a model historical novel. Over a hundred pages of notes testify to Safire's thorough research and present the carefully reasoned speculation justifying his imagining certain scenes. As a Civil War historian he is worthy of mention beside Bruce Catton or Shelby Foote. As a Civil War novelist, as the creator of a vividly compelling book, Safire is easily the equal of MacKinley Kantor, John Jakes, or Gore Vidal, and perhaps their superior. An impressive achievement, one of the very few truly significant Civil War novels. For most libraries. BOMC main selection. Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib. , Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

William Safire began his writing career as a reporter, became a speechwriter in the Nixon White House, and re-crossed the street to write an Op-Ed column in the New York Times for the next three decades. He also wrote the weekly "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine. He was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and the Medal of Freedom.

Customer Reviews

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I found the book excellent and was sad to finish it.
William Dodd
The narrative is very well done, the history is well documented.
Allan Stam
Yet his story fits precisely with the historical record.
chris_wildermuth@yr.com

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By chris_wildermuth@yr.com on January 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
Safire's "Freedom" gives the E.L. Doctorow fact/fiction treatment to the period of the Civil War from Lincoln's inauguration to the Emancipation Proclamation.
By weaving fact in with invented dialogue, guessed-at meetings and more than a few dreamed-up liaisons, Safire creates a seamless and fascinating tale that is as compelling as good fiction but with historical accuracy.
Most striking is it's honest treatment of Honest Abe, who we find was shrewd, crafty, manipulative, micromanaging, melancholy, pedantic and in general could be anything but honest.
Any fan of Safire's OpEd columns in the NY Times will appreciate the fact that White House intrigue isn't limited to the late 20th century, but is nearly as old as the Republic. If the reader ever feels Safire's trying to modernize the political intrigue of the Lincoln White House-well, perhaps. But his facts are well documented. He admits to inventing dialogue by the duplicitous Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Hamlet-like former Vice President John Breckenridge, a scheming Salmon P. Chase and several other key characters. Yet his story fits precisely with the historical record.
The best part is the concurrent reference in the back of the book. Instead of burdening the reader with intrusive footnotes, Safire scrupulously documents what is fact and what is fiction, then organizes it by book and chapter. He lets you turn the pages to find what is truth, what is made up and what falls in-between. If you don't care, you'll be no worse off.
My only disappointment is "Freedom" doesn't cover the entire Civil War, only the first two years, when the Emancipation Proclamation and a Union victory at the Murfreesboro, seems, by the book's inference, set the Union on an inevitable course toward victory.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 25, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
Freedom professes to be "A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War," but it has a much more specific purpose than that, dealing with the political machinations that resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation. More than any other account that I have, biographical or fictional, William Safire constructions a complete portrait of Lincoln. This is a Lincoln who is always thinking and talking, so there is more depth than you find in Sandburg, but also a Lincoln grounded in the historical record of the time, and therefore more grounded than you find in Vidal. In "Freedom" you will find your best appreciation of Abraham Lincoln as the only political figure in the entire country who would have taken the political tack that saved the nation.
I should confess that I am extremely jealous of this book. Years ago I thought of writing a book on the Civil War dealing specifically with the attempt to get McClellan to march on Washington and take over the government as a military dictator. I also thought that it was be fun to have a work of historical fiction that contained photographs of those characters who really existed as well as a bibliography and footnotes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this was, for all intents and purposes, the book I had in mind, down to the scene where the two non-commissioned officers discover Lee's orders before the battle of Antietam. Did I mention I was extremely jealous?
Safire spent eight years researching and writing this book, which has an Underbook of over 100 pages of sources and commentary. When he takes historical liberties, such as the mutual attraction of Lincoln's secretary John Hay for Kate Chase, ambitious daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury, he takes pains to explain his purposes.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Richard Thau on October 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is the Abraham Lincoln you don't learn about in high school, the one who leveraged his tenuous power in ways that seem almost unimaginable. Reading this phenomenal book gave me huge appreciation for Lincoln and his capacity to free the slaves in the context of the Civil War. (I also never realized how pathetic his cabinet was!) Whenever I pass by the Lincoln Memorial, I now get a chill thinking about his greatness. Our country came so close to permanent division, and was saved almost singlehandedly by this remarkable man.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Fitzgerald on September 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
William Safire has a wonderful habit of selecting a definitive act in our country's history and weaving a tale which instructs the reader as to how and why our country is so great. The key tools used in Freedom are Abraham Lincoln and The Emancipation Proclamation. Do not expect the definitive work on Lincoln but do expect the definitive work on The Emancipation.

Safire's research is awesome. His detailed chronology depicting the major and minor players and, more importantly, the events leading up to the Proclamation's issuance, is very complete. His patience in developing his points and their interrelationships is truly amazing. This is a complex read but it is also a very easily understood one. This author is gifted with clarity and a writing style which flows easily, naturally.

Today, looking back, it is difficult to understand that The Emancipation Proclamation, a document which is so unerringly correct, could generate as much, if not more fear and intrigue in the North as in the South. And therein lays the crux of this work. This book analyses the impact the Proclamation had, not on the South, but on the North and, more importantly, within the North. Getting this Nation to guarantee freedom to all its citizens was no easy task. It was a complex and difficult birth. Safire's description of the events, the scheming and the intrigues is a journey you will not want to overlook.
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