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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2002
In the preface to his "Life of Lincoln", William Herndon expounded that when writing the history of Lincoln's early life "the whole truth concerning him should be known" and there should be "nothing colored or suppressed." Having set the standard Herndon failed to follow it, for there were something's even Herndon must have felt should not be put into print. Scholars wishing to explore Lincoln's early life beyond the insights offered by Herndon's biography had to turn to examining the letters and notes collected for over a twenty year period by himself and his collaborator Jesse Weik. This often proved to be a daunting task. As the editor's in their introduction noted even though available on Micro roll film specific documents are "very hard to locate" and even if located are "very hard to read." To further complicate matters the index to the Herndon collection prepared by the Library of Congress is "neither accurate nor complete." What Editors Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis have done in their "Herndon's Informants" is to transcribe all of the known Herndon, Weik letters and notes into a readable and properly indexed Documentary Edition. What they have also done is create a masterpiece of scholarship that will be used by students of Lincoln for decades to come. "Herndon's Informants" offers the student the complete Herndon collection, unabridged and un-editorialized. To anyone who has a strong interest in learning more about Lincoln's early life this is just about all that is available and it simply must become a part of your personal library.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
With Herndon's Informants Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis have made a tremendous contribution to Lincoln scholarship. Much of what we know of Lincoln's pre-presidential years, especially, was compiled through interviews and correspondence by Lincoln's last law partner William H. Herndon. Although many of these items were published decades ago in Emanuel Hertz's anthology The Hidden Lincoln, that collection's limitations have long frustrated Lincoln students. The only alternative was the expensive and awkward-to-use microfilm verison of Herndon's papers available from the Library of Congress.

Now, however, Wilson and Davis have made this treasure trove of firsthand information available in an affordable and convenient format. Moreover, they have carefully tried to reproduce texts exactly, retaining oddities of spelling and punctuation, a feature entertaining to ordinary readers and valuable to scholars. The book's presentation of documents in chronological order is welcome. Scholars will probably be the main consumers using this product.

This volume is a major contribution to Lincoln studies.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2006
Forget authors, historians with agendas. Read what the people who actually knew Abraham Lincoln said about him.

Before Lincoln's body was cold, William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner for 17 years and friend for longer, began interviewing Lincoln's friends, family members, enemies, acquaintances, neighbors, etc. His goal was to collect as much information as possible about his friend, so he could write a completely truthful biography. "Warts and all" Herndon said. Unfortunately, Herndon soon realized he could not use some of the information he collected because it was very personal and Lincoln's image would be tarnished. Fortunately, some of this information he could not use you will find in this book. While 98% of this book contains very interesting information about all aspects of Lincoln's life. It is the remaining 2%, the unsavory stuff, that is so fascinating! For instance, I was surprised to read about the number of Lincoln's friends who told stories about Lincoln's involvement with prostitutes (before his marriage). Some friends even speculate about Lincoln maybe having one or two illegitimate children. This book contains information I never learned in school about Lincoln!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2011
Herndon's Informants is a book created primarily to give scholars easier access to the wealth of recollections, rumors, and confabulations which were collected by Lincoln's last law partner in the years following the President's death. But it is also of interest to amateur historians who have a keen interest in both the great man and in the way that memory evolves, distorted by time, experience, and intent. I am not a Lincoln specialist--just an ordinary reader who greatly enjoyed dipping into the source material from which grew many legends (some more or less true) of Lincoln's early life: outrageous candidates for Lincoln's father; the undeniable hardscrabble childhood; his struggles to educate himself; his earliest speeches; his participation in the Black Hawk War; the overblown Ann Rutledge tale. Was Lincoln naturally melancholy? Did he drink? Was he an atheist? There are no definitive answers, but the conflicting insights and speculations of those who knew him will intrigue you.

Many letters Herndon collected bear witness to the marginal literacy of Lincoln's family and some friends; a few correspondents apologized for the delay in answering Herndon's questions with the explanation that they had had no access to pen and paper--a striking reminder of the milieu in which he created himself and the intellectual isolation that was its inevitable concomitant. There are too vivid glimpses of a way of life that was already vanishing in 1865: Herndon took care to ask the people whom he interviewed and corresponded with about pioneer life, clothing, games, songs, dances, religious practices, trees, flowers and wild game, even the prices for labor and produce in the first half of the 19th century.

The material is arranged in the order Herndon collected it, rather than by informant or subject; misspellings, repetitions, weird punctuation, missing words, etc., are all "as found." Because the book is designed for Lincoln specialists, footnotes tend to be unenlightening; very brief biographical information about the informants is collected in a separate section, as well as a helpful summary of the confusing Hanks family genealogy. Material is copiously indexed by name and subject. There is only one illustration--a rough map of New Salem, Illinois.

Overall, this is a rewarding read for those willing to work through raw material in search of the enigma that is Abraham Lincoln.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2013
Of all the information available about President Abraham Lincoln, this book contains all of it between two book covers. I am President Lincoln's cousin -- we shared the same Mordecai Lincoln as a common ancestor. I am especially interested in his youth and the things he did before he became president.
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on March 16, 2014
If you are truely interested in understanding of how Lincoln was considered and thought of in the 1860's this is a very important book. While i would take any one letter or statement as absolute truth, after reading this book, one gets a real sense of how people of the time thought of Lincoln.

After 150 years it can be hard to relate to realities of 1860: how people viewed the world, their often narrow and provincial attitudes, and especially their lack of knowledge about the capacities of the "colored race." Lincoln revealed his personal ignorance but also clarified his core belief in equality when he stated that he was not sure if the black man was equal to the white man in all respects but surely deserved to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

It surprises me that it took so long to finally put all of Herndon's letters and inteviews into print. I can barely imagine the challange that confronted Douglas Wilson. Thanks.
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on August 27, 2014
Just when you think you've read a half-ton of Lincoln books, this one comes along and gives you new insights. Great to read the original letters and see how others around AL saw him.
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on May 21, 2013
Very good service!!!!! Book arrived in perfect condition. This may we be the definitive book ever written about Lincoln, the person, as he and Herndon practiced law together.
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on November 13, 2012
I could not do without this research book as I work on my new historic novel about the Lincolns and the Todds.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Formerly, my two favorite books about Abraham Lincoln were "Herndon's Lincoln" and "Abraham Lincoln" by Carl Sandburg. Now, I must add "Herndon's Informants" to my short list of great Lincoln books.

In providing the letters and interviews, collected by Lincoln's law partner Willam Herndon, from all the people who were closest to Lincoln, this book opens up a whole new window from which to view Lincoln. The reader gets to know Lincoln in a much more personal way than is possible from almost any other book.

This work was essential reading as I was conducting research for my book, How Abraham Lincoln Used Stories to Touch Hearts, Minds, and Funny Bones.

For researchers and authors, the book is invaluable.

For people who just want to know more about Lincoln, it is a rare treat.
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