Like Paul and Steven Kendrick, authors of the recent Douglass and Lincoln, Stauffer has to scale up to achieve book size, since the men’s personal relationship consisted of just three meetings. Stauffer does that partially by using the Kendricks’ method of chronicling Douglass’ criticisms of Lincoln and partially by presenting a dual biography couched in the theme of the self-made man. As he hits the mile markers of the men’s rise from nothing, Stauffer, an English professor, often speculates about what each man “certainly” or “would have” thought about events in their lives (such as Lincoln’s supposed homosexuality, of which Stauffer is convinced, despite acknowledging there is no explicit evidence). This casts his narrative more as historical essay than straightforward history. Stauffer also emphasizes what he regards as key features of the men’s interaction, such as a friendship, perhaps genuine, perhaps diffident, growing out of Lincoln’s incremental adoption of the abolitionist position championed by Douglass. A work well worth the attention of students of emancipation. --Gilbert Taylor
"John Stauffer's GIANTS is a lyrical, insightful treatment of the fascinating relationship between two geniuses
, one a politician and the other a radical reformer. Both Lincoln and Douglass heard the music of words in their heads as few others, and Stauffer has an ear for the two of them in harmony. That they started in such different places ideologically and yet moved together at the critical moment of emancipation makes this a timely and important book. Stauffer brings the tools of literature and history to bear on this comparison with unmatched skill.
" (David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Frederick Douglass' Civil War and A Slave No More
"In this stunning book, John Stauffer has given us the most insightful portrait of either Lincoln or Douglass in years.
In graceful prose, he tells a moving story of the two men who dominated Nineteenth century American life -- as allies across the racial divide, friends who drew common inspiration from hard scrabble beginnings and a love of language, and fellow travelers on the road of American self-making. Giants is simply must reading!
" (Richard S. Newman, author of Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers
Like a daguerreotype, which nineteenth-century Americans thought captured not simply surface appearances, but peoples' souls, this book moves beyond biography to allow us to recover the inner lives of two utterly uncommon common men. This is the most insightful book about race and friendship in the nineteenth century that I have read. It's poignant and perceptive, a book to be savored, a book that will last
. (Steven Mintz, Columbia University, author of America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making
"John Stauffer's collective biography of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln stands apart from other biographies
by focusing on how each man continually remade himself, with help from women, words, self-education, physical strength, and luck. In the process Stauffer gives us the texture and feel--a "thick description"--of the strange worlds that Douglass and Lincoln inhabited. The result is a path-breaking work that dissolves traditional conceptions of these two seminal figures
(Lincoln the "redeemer" president, Douglass the assimilationist). He reveals how Douglass towered over Lincoln as a brilliant orator, writer, agitator, and public figure for most of his life. He shows us how words became potent weapons for both men. And he tells the poignant story of how these preeminent self-made men ultimately converged, despite their vastly different agendas and politics, and helped transform the nation.
" (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University, author of The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century