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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America Paperback – June 12, 1993

146 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

A former professor of Greek at Yale University, Wills painstakingly deconstructs Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and discovers heavy influence from the early Greeks (Pericles) and the 19th century Transcendentalists (Edward Everett). The author also probes Lincoln's decision to rely more on the Declaration of Independence than the U.S. Constitution, a decision Wills says represented a "revolution in thought." He speaks effusively of the 272-word address: "All modern political prose descends from [it]. The Address does what all great art accomplishes. [I]t tease[s] us out of thought." Wills' book won the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

From Publishers Weekly

Wills ( Inventing America ) combines semantics and political analysis in this account of the most famous speech in U.S. history. He puts Lincoln's words in their cultural and intellectual contexts, establishing the contributions of New England Transcendentalism and the Greek Revival to the structure and the substance of the address. He also interprets the speech as revolutionary, since it's a speech, too for in it Lincoln bypassed as is, seems that Wills, not Lincoln, is bypassing the Constitution to justify civic equality and national union on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. Wills's analysis of the matrix of Lincoln's text is more convincing than his present-minded critique of "original intent." Nevertheless, he makes a strong case for his argument that the concept of "a single people dedicated to a proposition" has been overwhelmingly accepted by successive generations of Americans. BOMC, History Book Club and QPB alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (June 12, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671867423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671867423
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By bibliomane01 on November 5, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Literary prizes are handed out every year, but true worth is manifested by actual readers going out and buying their books year after year. Nearly a decade has passed since Garry Wills won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Lincoln at Gettysburg," but the magnitude of his achievement is measured by the continued interest which book lovers have lavished on this thoughtful and debate-stirring work of history. Wills situates the Gettysburg Address in the Greek Revivalism exemplified by Edward Everrett (the forgotten featured speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetary), as well as in the Transcendentalist movement of Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He goes on to demonstrate the inherant radicalism of Lincoln's 272 immortal words, imbued as they are with the dangerous notion that all men are created equal. Wills argues convincingly that the Gettysburg address hijacked the narrow readings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution put forward by the southern rebels; through his words, Lincoln succeeded in placing these founding documents on the side of the angels by insisting that liberty and equality rather than sterile legalisms about states rights were the true basis of the grand experiment of the founders. In so doing, America's greatest President changed the history of the nation forever, influencing politics and policy right down to the present day. Huzzahs to Mr Wills for disinterring the radical hidden within the Great Compromiser!! And thanks to the prize committees for getting it right for a change.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Joshua McNeal on September 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
In his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills sets about debunking the myths, legends, and rumors concerning Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Wills seeks to show that because of the Gettysburg Address " . . . the Civil War is what Lincoln wanted it to mean." (pg. 38) Wills helps the reader understand what events, speeches, and speakers had impacted Lincoln in the past, which ultimately influenced Lincoln's selection of words for the speech itself. Wills notes that the speech had influences from such diverse sources as Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson, as well as Greek figures such as Pericles. The book also describes the rural cemetery movement that was beginning to rise at the time of the speech, which was influential in the design of the Gettysburg Cemetery. The book also answers many of the critics of Lincoln, who argue the speech and the Emancipation Proclamation were weak, and illustrate Lincoln's propensity of clever evasions and key silences concerning key issues. Willis also notes how the style of the address was the forerunner of a new way of communicating, a way fit for the machine age.
One of the first topics Wills addresses is the myth that the man who spoke before Lincoln, Edward Everett, impositioned the audience with a two-hour long speech that bored the listeners. Wills notes long speeches were common, and expected for the day. He gives reference to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which illustrate that Lincoln himself was capable and comfortable speaking at length before groups of people. Willis also emphasizes that Everett was the invited speaker for the dedication, and Lincoln had been asked simply to give some remarks. Wills also demystifies the story that Lincoln wrote the address on a napkin, or while sitting on the stand during Everett's speech.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By C. W. Repak on April 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
This Garry Wills masterpiece is a suitable work of scholarship for America's greatest speech. He breaks down the Gettysburg Address line by line, thought by thought, not in linear fashion but according to five separate themes. He marks a place for Lincoln's speech in the tradition of funeral oratory, lays bare the antecedents in Greek rhetoric, and illustrates how the pitch-perfect brevity of the address marked a fundamental shift in American public speaking. Most crucially, Wills makes a thoroughly cogent case for Lincoln as the second Jefferson, responsible for the modern acknowledgement that the Declaration of Independence, with its claim (a claim its author didn't even believe) that all men are created equal, is the true founding document of the United States, rather than the Constitution (which in legal fact is the founding document), which shamefully kept silent on the fate of the "peculiar institution" that led to civil war. Wills's book is staggeringly erudite; he dazzles even when he leaves the poor reader's understanding far behind. The information he includes on historical context is compelling and will be new to even committed Civil War buffs. The book should be required reading in any course on American history or rhetoric and public speaking. Five stars aren't enough.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Charles W. Mayer III on February 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Exceptional writing and detailed scholarship evaluate one of the most important speeches in the English language. More critically, it looks the the movements in the 19th century that lead to the construction of the speech and, more importantly, it's purpose. It doesn't try to put the reader in President Lincoln's head, but rather make the reader familiar with the "zeitgeist" driving America's thought process.

It's broken into 5 chapters and an Epilogue:
1) Greek funereal oratory
2) Rural cemetaries
3) Trancendentalism and the Declaration of Independence
4) Revolution in Style - why the 272 words of the Address carried so much power, and why such a short speech was radical
5) Revolution in Thought - why the ideas in the Address, many considered part and parcel of the American identity now, were a change in Civil War
E) A brief look at Lincoln's other masterpiece (the Second Inaugural)

It also considers the different versions of the Address with more detail in the Appendices. All versions are included, as is some additional relevant material (including Edward Everett's "keynote" at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetary).

Brilliant, compact book, with a tremendous amount to stimulate the reader's thinking and interest.
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