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Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories Hardcover – January 7, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Adam Braver's debut novel, Mr. Lincoln's Wars, is a faithful execution of a bright idea. Thirteen stories with various narrators give us perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. We learn Mary Todd Lincoln's exhaustion and grief: "You're a pox, Abraham Lincoln, you bring tragedy to everything you touch. Kill all of the boys in this country, as well as your own." We hear from Zack Hargrove, the meanest, toughest Union soldier there was. We read an imaginary letter from a war widow to Mr. Lincoln, gloating over the death of her abusive husband. To all of these stories, Braver brings a boldly anachronistic writing style. His people speak contemporary language, and what's more, they feel contemporary (or at least post-Freudian) feelings. As Braver has it, the death of Lincoln's son defined and drove the President as much as the fight for abolition. The wildly violent Zack Hargrove had a dad who beat him, and John Wilkes Booth had father issues, too. Braver is determined to illuminate Lincoln's story with a new, more psychologically astute light. The result is carefully done and occasionally compelling, but in his efforts to expand our idea of Lincoln, Braver ends up with a strangely protracted, short-sighted view. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Just when it seems there isn't much left to write about Abraham Lincoln, Braver attempts a fresh take on America's 16th president in this bracingly unusual debut. Although called a novel, the book is really a collection of 13 short stories, which take an imaginative and warmly human look at the man who saved the Union at great personal cost during the Civil War. In "The Undertaker's Assistant," the eponymous protagonist discusses with Lincoln the burial of Lincoln's son Willie; the same undertaker will prepare Lincoln's body after he is assassinated in 1865. In "Zack Hargrove," a Union soldier, bitter at having to abandon his wartime adventures, rages at Lincoln when the South surrenders. In "Crybaby Jack's Theory," good-for-nothing Jack tries to save the president after he has a chilling premonition of Lincoln's death, but nobody heeds his warnings. Best are three tales that explore the depths of grief and pain. In "The Willie Grief," Mary Todd Lincoln visits a military hospital after Willie's death where she comforts wounded and shattered soldiers while dealing with her own grief. In "The Ward," Lincoln meets a father who does not blame him for the death of his son. And in "On to the Next Field," Lincoln visits a battlefield where a badly wounded boy asks him what it's like to be president. "It's like fighting a thousand wars," Lincoln answers. No folksy humor or homespun anecdotes lighten Braver's multifaceted portrait of a president tormented by the burdens of war and weighed down with responsibility. Somber yet graceful, these stories draw on Lincoln's public image while venturing a visceral intimacy (on "his feet... no shoes, just white socks with brown rings around the heels").
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006008118X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060081188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,712,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Braver is the author of five novels (MR. LINCOLN'S WARS, DIVINE SARAH, CROWS OVER THE WHEATFIELD, NOVEMBER 22, 1963, and MISFIT). His books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Borders' Original Voices series, the IndieNext list, and twice for the Book Sense list, as well as having been translated into Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and French. Braver's fiction and essays have appeared in journals such as Daedalus, Ontario Review, Cimarron Review, Water-Stone Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, The Normal School, West Branch, The Pinch, and Post Road. He is on faculty and writer-in-residence at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI. He also works regularly at the New York State Summer Writers Institute.

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By History Fan on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I had high hopes for this book based on many of the reviews here. This was not the book I was expecting. I was looking forward to reading a well written piece of fiction (or really 13 small works) telling the tales of President Lincoln and people he came in contact with during the Civil War. Instead what I ended up reading was an appalling work of trash. This book had been chosen as a book club selection for a small history museum and all members agreed that this was not a book any one enjoyed. In fact many were offended and embarrassed by it. I would not recommend reading this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jim Monaco on March 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Yes, this has it flaws, but it is still a remarkable read. I am surprised to see what the negative reviews here on Amazon are saying, especially those who seem to be disapointed that is fiction. It is fiction, and has all the chracteristics of literary contemporary fiction (and that of course is where its beauty lies in its lyrical prose, anachronistic settings, and postmodern tone). Anybody who is looking to learn more about Lincoln should pick up any of the hundreds of wonderful biographies about the 16th president. But readers who want a book that explores the complex world of emotional resonance should read "Mr. Lincoln's Wars."
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
These 13 connecting stories powerfully explore President Lincoln's humanity as he deals with his son's death, his wife's madness, and his personal agony over lives lost in the Civil War. Beautifully written historical fiction.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
Having just read a biography of Lincoln, I really welcomed this book. Immediately disappointed, I was dismayed because the author always seemed to take the easy way around the stories, by using modern obscenities, which made me think he didn't put a whole lot of thought into it. Whenever there was a choice, his fictionalized characters usually opted for sordid behavior, with few exceptions and it just wasn't believable. A waste of time.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By dougrhon on April 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this little book a good deal. Basically it consists of 13 short stories all revolving around Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War told from assorted points of view including ordinary soldiers, Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. Like all good literary fiction, the point of the stories is not so much to describe events as to show the impact of those events on the protagonists. We see how Lincoln and his wife are affected by the tragedy of the death of their son, the demons that drove Booth to murder, the way in which war brutalizes the ordinary soldier. Like all good historical fiction, these stories bring characters of the 19th century to life in a realistic way. My only quibble with the book is with the portrayal of Lincoln. Very little is known about Lincoln's inner most thoughts. Although a most jocular man, he was actually somewhat closed and few of his friends or associates could genuinely say they knew him well. That is why Gore Vidal, in his great novel "Lincoln" gets inside the head of the people around the president but not Lincoln himself. There is nothing wrong with a modern writer making assumptions about the thoughts of a historical character in a work of fiction. But a number of the things Braver reveals about Lincoln are jarring and some are false. For example, Lincoln was known to never drink liquor, yet several of the stories portray Lincoln as having been a drinker in his youth and even taking a drink in the White House as president. This simply didn't ring true to me. And although there is no real evidence of Lincoln's sexual thoughts and feelings, I still found it jarring to see the specific, if not graphic portrayal of an historical figure's sex life, particularly when that figure chose to keep his sexual life to himself.Read more ›
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Huntspatch Bookworm on April 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The reviews and descriptions on the back cover and flyleaf made this book sound worthwhile ... "written with lyrical yet musical prose" by "a talented new writer whose storytelling ability knows no bounds." Plus, it was marked as a Buyer's Pick at Costco. My own opinons couldn't be more divergent from the glowing reviews. My gut feeling was to put it down permanently after the first chapter. I kept reading in the hopes it would get better, but it didn't.

The book consists of thirteen short stories or vignettes, mostly from the point of view of different characters. These are all smutted up by vile and offensive language, with the most overuse of the "F" word I've seen in recent print, along with about any other pottymouth word you can think of, coming from pretty much all of the characters including President Lincoln and Mary Lincoln. I am certain that people in the 1860s did not talk (or think) in such crass terms, especially those in high positions of office. Maybe this is an attempt at "modernization" of the dialogue, as claimed in one review, but I'm sure the ever eloquent Mr. Lincoln would be mortified.

Some of the stories within the story are better written than others. There are brief glimmers of the author's potential, which are quickly shattered when unnecessarily foul language, gratuitous violence, or vividly gory and graphic scenes are hurled at the reader. There are some insightful glimpses of the anguish of the Lincolns over their son's death and the war, as well as the demons besetting Booth. The chapter relating the(imagined or real?) encounter a "crazy" man has with Lincoln is particularly poingant.
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