From Publishers Weekly
In this intriguing biography, English professor and literary biographer Kaplan (The Singular Mark Twain
) analyzes Abraham Lincoln's writings, from the great civic anthems of his presidency to love letters, legal briefs, poems and notebook jottings, and finds a first-rate literary talent—a master storyteller with an earthy wit, sharp logic and an ear for poetic phrasing. From wide reading, Kaplan contends, Lincoln gleaned influences—an Aesopian moralism, a biblical sense of providence, a Byronic melancholy, a Shakespearean understanding of human complexity—that shaped his approach to issues and, through his words, the nation's attitude toward slavery and war. Kaplan sometimes overdoes his critical exegeses of Lincoln's more forgettable efforts ([Lincoln's] comic depiction of what happens when two people of the same sex are bedded has a heterodox clarity that reveals his familiarity with bodily realities) but many of these readings, like his recasting as free verse a speech on agricultural improvements, are eye-opening. The result is a fresh, revealing study of both Lincoln's language and character. (Nov. 3)
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Has Lincoln been done to death? Not hardly. Distinguished biographer Kaplan takes a new, solid, meaningful, even moving approach to the sixteenth president. Considerable previous attention has been paid to Lincoln’s articulateness in both oral and written word. The question is always, then, how did this woefully undereducated man become so good with words? It is Kaplan’s and his reader’s pleasure to follow an extensive chronological survey of the books and other writings Lincoln studied, from his boyhood (he “was born into a national culture in which language was the most widely available key to individual growth and achievement. . . . It was the tool by which he explored and defined himself”) to the presidential years (“lifelong development as a writer had brought the country a president with the capacity to express himself and the national concerns more effectively that any president ever had, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson”). Consequently, we witness the admirable growth—flowering—of an amazingly accomplished autodidact. This book is not an introduction to Lincoln’s life, to be sure; it is for readers who know the essentials. --Brad Hooper