50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
A very good addition to the library of anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln, his wife and descendents, and his place in the nation's memory. And, of course, for anyone specifically interested in the life of Robert T. Lincoln.
Jason Emerson has written a book in clear prose that will help many better understand the one child of Abraham and Mary Lincoln who led a full life. Robert T. Lincoln was not a draft dodger during the Civil War, he was close to his father, he was not unkind to his mother, he was a success in his own right, he did many things to protect his father's papers and historical representations (for example, in paintings and sculpture).
While Mr. Emerson goes slightly overboard in his admiration of Robert T. Lincoln, he nonetheless provides much solid evidence to the kindness, judgement, and abilities of this former secretary of war, diplomat, and captain of industry.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2012
After reading biographies of Abraham Lincoln, visiting the Lincoln home and museum in Springfield, and visiting the Todd house in Lexington, I was pleased to find much more information about the entire family during Robert's young life. While it must have been somewhat difficult not to overshadow Robert in this book while a great figure in American history, Abraham Lincoln, was still alive. I think the author did very well in including Abraham while still making Robert the main focus throughout. This book was long overdue for someone who was a very accomplished man in this country, and not just because he was Abraham Lincoln's son.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
While lengthy and extremely comprehensive, this book tracks the life and the legacy of Robert Todd Lincoln. Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, was the only Lincoln son to survive both his parents and live a long and productive life.
History has often been vague in regard to R.L.T.'s relationship with both of his parents. This book goes a long way to define his close relationship with his father and his protective stance toward his mother. It also details a very long and varied career as an attorney, businessman, statesman, very public figure, and a person in his own right who managed to step away from the long shadow of his illustrious father.
This book also manages to provide detailed information about both Lincoln and Todd ancestors and the direct line from Robert Lincoln and Mary Harlan which is now extinct. It is very well written and researched and effectively defines Robert Lincoln.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2012
Historians frequently debate how the images of historical figures are often shaped after the person's death by thier wives or decendents. Historians also look to the children of great men and women to see a legacy of greatnes. James Emerson does some of both in his aptly named biography - GIANT IN THE SHADOES - THE LIFE OF ROBERT TODD LINCOLN.
In this well written and easy to read biography Emerson chronicals the life of Abraham Lincoln's only son who survived to adulthood. At the time of his death in 1926 Robert Lincoln was the last living witness to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. He was a man that could easily have been president or vice president, senator or any other office, but he chose to pick his positions. And those he selected he did with great pride and often with great achievement.
Like his father, who never recovered from the death of his son Willie, the death of Robert's son Jack was a turning point in his life. Having been connected with the assassinations of of father, and Presidents Garfield and McKinley, it is ironic that he was ultimately buried in Arlington National Cemetery in view of the JFK gravesite.
For Lincoln scholars, students of the Civil War or readers who are interested in America during the late 19th and early 20th century, this book is well worth reading. It reveals a very different side of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and how Robert sought to create an image of his father that maintained his dignity and honor. Had Robert Todd Lincoln been a different person, we might all be seeing a different image of Abraham Lincoln.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Only one of Abraham Lincoln's sons live long enough to marry and have children. Christened Robert Todd Lincoln, he was Robert T. Lincoln in business and Bob to his friends.
He was born in a boarding house in the 1840s and died in a mansion in the 1920s. Robert Todd Lincoln saw much of and made some of America's history in the late Nineteen Century.
Jason Emerson gives us a scholarly and readable biography of a remarkable person. The book concentrates on Lincoln's public life in business and politics.
The author tells us about his private life but never descends into gossip or speculation. The only real exception is Lincoln's relationship with his mother.
For very good reasons, Robert T. Lincoln committed Mary Todd Lincoln to a sanitarium (asylum).
The press had a field day at his expense creating a very public embarrassment that still colors the public's views. The part of the book is very detailed.
The events leading up to the hearing, the hearing, the press' reaction, the solution and Mary's feelings to Robert are treated fairly.
Protecting his father's memory and managing the public record consumed large amount of Lincoln's time.
He was very protective of his father's papers, working to control what is said and who said it was not an easy task.
Part of this work was managing Lincoln's body. From the burial site, the structure of tomb and protecting the body from kidnappers is a constant effort.
While doing this, Lincoln managed to become a well-respected Chicago lawyer, Secretary of War, Minister to England and chairman of the Pullman Car Company.
An active Republican, he is mentioned as a possible candidate for President at multiple conventions.
Through all of this, he refused to use his father's fame to advance himself.
This is a look at our history that few can hope to duplicate. Robert T. Lincoln is in the room at Appomattox.
He sees his father die, on the platform when Garfield is shot and sees McKinley hours after he is shot.
In an odd twist of fate, you can see JFK's grave from Lincoln's grave.
The book captures the complex character of Robert T. Lincoln. In his professional life, he is intensely formal and somewhat unforgiving.
In his political persona, he gives a good speech but lacks his father's warmth. As "Bob", he is a warm caring close friend that tells excellent stories.
The book contains a full set of illustrations, Bibliography, endnotes and index.
It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Lincoln or America from the Civil War to the Roaring Twenties.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2013
Biographers tend to like the subjects of their biographies. In the case of Robert T Lincoln there is apparently much to like. In his youth he knew something of extreme poverty. He entered the adult world with a number of fine advantages and having survived a number of personal and public tragedies. For all of this, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T Lincoln by Jason Emerson succeeds only in so far as it minutely details the contention that this was a good man.
As the only surviving son of America's first murdered president, Robert Lincoln will have experienced some of the worst of the Civil War (by visiting hospitals with his then-President father) and by serving for four months on Gen. Grant's staff as the Southern armies collapsed. He would have completed a Harvard education and would have the finest possible contacts in the business world. He would also be shackled to an emotionally dependent mother who may have been insane. Robert Lincoln would have choices and he would choose to be a hard-working lawyer, and dedicated appointee to two national offices. By the end of his long life he would be a multimillionaire capitalist, and a careful superintendent of his father's reputation.
It is not the subject of this biography that makes this a weak biography. Jason Emerson is a capable writer and his book is an easy read. With thousands of footnotes it is well documented. What keeps me from rating this as a superior biography is its inconsistency and lack of depth. At one point we're told that the young Robert is very brave in making a speech for his than candidate father on the next page we are told he is very modest because he refuses to make other speeches. In one sentence we are told that Robert T Lincoln is pro-labor and the following pages documenting his active disinterest in the cause of labor. Detailed is his refusal to consider that the mostly black Pullman porters were underpaid and ill-treated. We are asked to excuse his lack of concern for the treatment of his black customers because that was the typical opinion of his era. A giant of a man and the son of the Great Emancipator who fails to see beyond the typical opinions of his era is probably not that giant.
Robert Lincoln's life would stretch from horse and buggy days with the telegraph in the railroad as new inventions; into a world of telephones, transatlantic, cables, Airplanes and Rolls-Royce automobiles. These advances simply appear in this book without comment or consideration. Robert Lincoln would be closely associated with the railroads, first as a railroad lawyer and later as president of the Pullman rail car company. Yet there is no discussion of the scandals, the lawsuits and struggles as Western farmers attempted to survive against predatory railroad companies. Robert Lincoln would be a close friend with a number of the great names of this gilded era including Vanderbilt, of course Pullman. There is little or no discussion of antitrust law, labor law or any of the great issues that would arise or be addressed during his lifetime or in his service as a lawyer. We're told that Robert Lincoln was a good friend of some presidents and some administrations and was greatly unhappy with others and we are never told why.
In the end the reader has a 420 page detailed recounting of Robert Lincoln's domestic life with continual reminders of how every one of his decisions was a good decision. As for the 125 pages of footnotes one has to wonder if Jason Emerson is substituting research for lack of analysis or ideas.
The life of Robert T Lincoln's an interesting life. This biography is a pleasant read. In terms of what is here the book is likable. What keeps it from being a better book is the absence of depth and critical analysis.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2014
My title for this review is taken from the last paragraph of the book (before 150 odd pages of painfully, thoroughly researched footnotes). The quote is what Robert T. Lincoln (RTL) had told a reporter at some point when he declined to be interviewed. It is a well chosen quote vividly displaying the humble nature of President Lincoln's son--hence, I chose it for use here.
I came away from Emerson's work with much admiration for RTL. He did all he could to avoid advancing himself in life by cashing in as the sole surviving son of President Lincoln (Eddie, Willie, and Tad all died before adulthood, while Robert lived until just shy of his 83rd birthday in 1926). Of course, RTL would probably not have had as many superb opportunities as he did were he not Abraham Lincoln's son, as everyone clearly knew of his lineage. But, you need not think hard to appreciate that he would not have advanced in any of his government or corporate positions if he was anything but a solid performer and thoroughly accomplished in all he did (except playing golf--a pure duffer).
The book covers all aspects and years of RTL's life in sufficient detail that you really gain insight into both sides of the story in many areas of interest:
- His relations with both his mother and father (and brothers);
- Much additional insight into Abraham and Mary Lincoln (is this even possible?) from the perspective of their parenting styles and actions;
- His desire to serve in the Army during the Civil War (finally did serve as a captain on Grant's staff and was present at Gen Lee's surrender);
- His actions to have his mother committed to a sanitarium for a year;
- His marriage to US Senator Harlan's (R-IA) daughter, Mary;
- His three children and affection for them and the sad death of his son, Abraham (Jack) Lincoln II;
- His service as Secretary of War under Garfield and Arthur, then Minister to the UK under Harrison;
- His rise to preeminence in the corporate world with numerous companies most notably as President of the Pullman Company;
- The inclusion of many historical tidbits of which many readers might not be aware:
-- He was present or nearby at the assassinations of three Presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley),
-- He was the only member of Garfield's cabinet who remained in their post after the assassination through to the end of Chester Arthur's term in 1885,
-- A year or two before his father's killing, RTL was saved from death or serious injury by Edwin Booth (a fervent Unionist), brother of assassin John Wilkes Booth. RTL had fallen from a railroad platform when changing trains and Booth pulled him up just before an oncoming train arrived.
-- He was the last surviving witness of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House,
-- He was present at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1923, gave consultation in its construction, and received resounding applause at his appearance. It was his final public appearance of his life.
- His determined actions to protect his father's legacy in all regards; and
- Much more (but read the book to learn the fascinating history).
The one aspect of the book that might annoy some readers is Emerson's tendency to restate accomplishments of RTL more than several times in various sections of the book. This did not bother me as I quickly read through any restatements, but if you are not a Lincoln aficionado, it might be a problem for you. I do wish the book contained a better collection of photographs. There is one close-up photo of RTL with Chief Justice Taft and President Harding at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial that really should have been included.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found several sections to be quite moving and recommend it strongly.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Robert T. Lincoln. . . The only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's children to reach full adulthood. What is his story? What was his life like as the son of the legendary President? This book does a very n ice job of delineating his life and times.
First, the book does tend to be very positive toward Robert Lincoln, toning down some of his business dealings and his role in committing his mother. Second, the book is quite well written and moves along nicely for the reader.
The volume takes a chronological perspective toward Lincoln's life. The look at his childhood and early adulthood provides considerable detail on his formative years. His play with his younger brothers; his early education; his Harvard years; his decision to follow in his father's footsteps and become an attorney. . . . He was also, for a brief period of time, in the Army as an aide with the Army of the Potomac. Indeed, he was present at Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Tragically, he was also in some senses around at the time of the assassination of three presidents--his father, Garfield, and McKinley. Lincoln became the caretaker of his father's records, and the book chronicles some of the struggles coming from that.
Robert Lincoln had his own career. He was a successful attorney in Chicago. He became Secretary of War and Ambassador to England. He was even mentioned as a possible presidential candidate (he did receive some votes at Republican national conventions), but he wanted none of that.
The book describes his family life well, including the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln II (called "Jack"). His wife was frail, prone to illness. There were problems that came up with his children, and he soldiered on.
One of his colleagues was George Pullman. He came to work for Pullman as an attorney; upon Pullman's death, he became the chief executive of Pullman's company. The company flourished with him at the helm. There is a painful depiction of his relationship with his black porters that does not necessarily cast a good light on him.
The end of his life is nicely drawn, including his continuing concern about his father's legacy.
All in all, a worthy biography on the subject of Abraham Lincoln's surviving son.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2013
Robert Lincoln was a much more interesting and likable man than I ever knew. I thought that he was not close to his father, and that he coldly and unnecessarily had his mother put away in an insane asylum years after his father's assassination. Jason Emerson shows that I was wrong on both counts. Robert and his father were quite close, but while his father was President, Robert was away at Harvard, so they didn't see each other often. When they did, the President would frequently explain a problem he was facing to Robert and ask his opinion. And Robert did have his mother committed, but only because she needed it. Emerson demonstrates that Mary Lincoln's behavior was truly crazy, for lack of a better word.
The only one of four sons to survive to adulthood, Robert Lincoln had his father's wit, intelligence, integrity, and gift for story-telling. He tended, however, to favor the the Todd side of the family, as he also had his mother's graciousness, organizational skills, and volatile temper. He devoted himself completely to whatever he undertook, whether it was as an officer on General Ulysses S. Grant's staff at the end of the war (where he witnessed the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to Grant at Appomattox), as Secretary of War (where he witnessed the assassination of President James Garfield), as an emissary to Great Britain, or as President of the Pullman Car Company. Like his father, Robert Lincoln was unflinchingly honest.
One thing he seemed to lack, however, was compassion. As President of Pullman, he squelched a strike by the black porters, who were asking for better wages and shorter hours. Though the porters were underpaid and were often required to work thirteen to thirty-six hours at a stretch, Lincoln refused. The Pullman Company was making money hand over fist--indeed, Lincoln became a millionaire while working there. But he would not give a single inch to the porter's demands. He also crushed the porter's efforts to unionize. One wonders what his father would have thought about that.
Robert Lincoln deserved his own biography, as he achieved some great things in his own life. Jason Emerson has given us an excellent one: intelligent, insightful, and extremely well written. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because I believe Emerson is overly kind to his subject. For instance, he glosses over the Pullman incident and other of Lincoln's shortcomings, making for a mostly laudatory biography. Still, if you have an interest in Robert Lincoln, this biography is well worth your time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2012
Giant in the Shadows is a very comprehensive and fascinating biography. It is more of a scholarly work than the more popular narrative histories of, say, David McCullough. The author carefully observes where he is making assumptions based on sources and where he just has to make an educated guess; this style of writing might deter some folks who are looking for something less "heavy", but the book is still very readable. He thankfully confines the reference notes (well over 100 pages) to the back of the book, along with a massive bibliography. That Emerson is an admirer of Robert Lincoln is very apparent, but he deals fairly with some of the controversies of his life, for instance his actions regarding the black porters of the Pullman Company, of which Lincoln was the president for a number of years. You might not agree with some of his conclusions, but Emerson does successfully attempt to present all the details on which he bases his assumptions. Overall this is a very well done effort and highly recommended.