From Publishers Weekly
Harris, professor of history at North Carolina State University, does a generally workmanlike job of narrating Abraham Lincoln's final months, from the election campaign of 1864 through his assassination in the spring of 1865. But Harris fails to explain (or demonstrate) exactly why this particular slice of time is uniquely suitable for special study outside the broader context of Lincoln's overall presidency. The book also includes some small errors that will annoy the better-versed Lincoln buffs. For example, in Harris's discussion of Lincoln's second inauguration, he sounds needlessly speculative when he writes: "Reportedly in the crowd that day was... the actor John Wilkes Booth, who was biding his time to strike the president." On the same spread of pages, the author reproduces the famous panoramic photograph of Lincoln making his second inaugural speech, surrounded by hundreds of listeners. This image has been mapped and analyzed by a host of scholars of Lincoln and the assassination, which has shown conclusively that the image includes not only the face of Booth (uncomfortably only a few yards behind and above the president) but also the faces of at least four other assassination conspirators (Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, Edman Spangler and David Herold) standing immediately below Lincoln. Such established details are not commented on by Harris. Small gaffes like this aside, Harris is astute at describing and analyzing Lincoln's shrewd politicking for the 13th Amendment and his subtle consolidation of peace terms designed to end the war while at the same time dealing out a minimum of humiliation for Confederate soldiers. 11 b&w photos.
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In a history that reads like the contents of Lincoln's in-box from August 1864 to April 1865, Harris provides detail that has been paraphrased or neglected by other biographers. He also tracks the dissipation of opposition to Lincoln as his contemporaries finally recognized his historical significance. As is frequently the pattern in American politics with conservative centrists, Lincoln contended with polarizing forces: the Democratic Copperheads, who demanded an armistice, and the Radical Republicans, who demanded a number of things, including a much harsher reconstruction policy. Lincoln's mastery of them and of personal opponents such as Salmon Chase makes for a fascinating tale, which Harris relates meeting by meeting. Among Lincoln's tools were patronage and, less concrete but perhaps more potent, his and society's belief that providential power was at work in the Civil War. In even-tempered, observant prose, Harris ably organizes his facts into a presentation that even veteran Lincoln readers will appreciate as fresh. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved