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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man Hardcover – September 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“[A] masterly new biography . . . [of] one of the most influential and polarizing American politicians of the nineteenth century.” (The New Yorker)

“This magnificent biography finally provides what William Henry Seward so justly deserves—a full, terrific and complex portrait of his endlessly fascinating life.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals)

“Walter Stahr’s new biography offers an overdue reminder of the much broader scope of [Seward’s] work.” (The Economist)

“Stahr gives Seward his due in this intelligent and illuminating biography of one of the most important political figures of the 19th century. . . . He wasn't just Lincoln's indispensable man; throughout his career Seward was an indispensable man to the nation as well.” (Huffington Post)

“This formidable figure has finally gained the biographer he’s long deserved…a first-rate biography.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“This highly readable biography, based on thorough research in original sources, effectively shows that Seward deserves more fame as a patriot-statesman than he has traditionally enjoyed.” (The Wall Street Journal)

"Politician, diplomat, raconteur, a figure of controversy and power, Seward has finally found a biographer equal to his importance.” (James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era)

“In this fine volume, Walter Stahr has rendered a signal service by resurrecting the life of the often neglected William Henry Seward. His sweeping portrait of the long-standing Secretary of State is always lucid, engaging, scrupulously fair-minded, and deeply researched. This biography stands as a valuable addition to the rich literature of American politics in the mid-nineteenth century.” (Ron Chernow, author of Washington: A Life)

About the Author

Walter Stahr is a lawyer and the author of the acclaimed John Jay: Founding Father, a biography of America's first Supreme Court Chief Justice.  A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, he practiced law for twenty-five years, including seven years in Hong Kong.  He now lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, and Newport Beach, California.  His third book will be a biography of Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439121168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439121160
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Walter Stahr was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Southern California, and attended the Phillips Exeter Academy, Stanford University, the Kennedy School of Government, and Harvard Law School. After a twenty-five year career as a lawyer, working in Washington and the Far East, Stahr returned to his first love, American history, to research and write a biography of John Jay. His second book, a biography of William Henry Seward, was published in 2012, and he is now at work on a third book, a biography of Edwin McMasters Stanton. Starting in the fall of 2014, Stahr will teach history at Chapman University in Orange, California, and his wife, Dr. Masami Miyauchi Stahr, will teach mathematics at St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano. Walter Stahr's blog and other information are in his website,

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By David R. Anderson on October 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
William Henry Seward, the Secretary of State whose foresight, diplomacy and skill at political infighting, enabled the United States to purchase the Alaska territory from Russia in 1868 for $7,200,000 (two cents an acre), ranks second only to John Quincy Adams, his mentor, among the 68 Americans who have held that post. Just for fun, imagine our concern if Russia had still owned that territory when the Cold War started.

To set the stage for his splendid biography of Seward, Walter Stahr quotes Alex de Tocqueville to the effect that Americans were political by nature when he visited in the 1830's. de Tocqueville also observed that law permeated every part of American society. Lawyers came into their own as citizen statesmen when they were called upon to deal with the complex legal issues that arose during the course of the American Revolution. The lawyer as statesman flourished in the Nineteenth Century, and Seward, born in 1801, was very much a Nineteenth Century man. He chose the law as his profession and public service as his mission.

Elected to the New York State Senate at 29, he honed the legislative and political traits that he would rely on throughout his life. In national office, he sought, as with the acquisition of Alaska, to expand our "empire" to assure his country a commanding place in the world. He was equally determined to see the country grow from within by educating its immigrants, treating members of all religions with respect and bringing about the end of slavery. As this political biography of Seward's extraordinary achievements makes clear, he met goal after goal against odds that would have thwarted anyone else.

How did he do it?
Read more ›
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fine thought-provoking biography of a man central to the political history of the years leading up to the Civil War, the war itself, and its immediate aftermath.

Walter Stahr is good at laying out the facts of William H. Seward's life in a clear and readable narrative. I especially benefited from learning more about Seward's years as governor of New York, his role in the election of Abraham Lincoln and during the "succession winter", and his work serving President Andrew Johnson. And, of course, here the famous purchase of Alaska and other diplomatic efforts are also brought to life.

Mr. Stahr, although willing to point out flaws in his subject, is obviously captured by him and finds reason to excuse or discount most of Seward's most dubious actions.

I would rank William H. Seward as a first-rate politician of his time but not (as Mr. Stahr does) the foremost statesman--barring presidents--of nineteenth century America. I think his loyal service to the disgraceful President Johnson coupled with his failure to be concerned with the post-war civil rights of former slaves are serious blots on his legacy.

I hope to read more from the pen of the able Mr. Stahr and would suggest to him the need for a modern biography of John Hay.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By sam jacobs on October 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
William Seward should have been the last man on earth to support Abraham Lincoln .Seward was one of the 19th centuries most controversial politicians , helping to found the Republican party against tremendous opposition . Thinking he was going to be the party's nominee for president in 1860 he was shocked to find himself upended by an virtually unknown railroad lawyer from the west . But Seward put the country first and joined Lincoln's War Cabinet becoming it's most influential member .

One of the country's best new popular historians follows his terrific book on John Jay with the first biography of Seward in nearly 40 years .If you want to go deeper into the personality of the most fascinating man from "Team of Rivals" you would do well to start here.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Daniel W. Pyle on December 31, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If a good biography should make its subject live again in its pages, Walter Stahr's Seward merely conjurs a ghost. Stahr does an execellent job of showing Seward the politician--sly, corrupt, visionary, manipulative, shrewd, and extroverted, but does not aptly restore the man's soul. While recounting, in plodding detail, Seward's political gyrations around the Emancipation Proclamation, Stahr relates Seward's relationship with his neighbor, Harriet Tubman, in a brief aside. While he accounts for every moment in Seward's life in the days and hours leading to his accompanying Lincoln to Gettysburg, where the President would give his iconic address, we only see a glimpse of Seward attending religious services in an astonishing array of denominations, even taking communion in the Mormon Tabernacle. The family dynamics of the Sewards remain a mystery. The author notes that Seward's children were devoted to him, but we never learn why this is so. Stahr seems to avoid most opportunities to examine his subject's motives, motivations, complexities, and passions.

However, this is a magisterial biography, and Stahr marshalls his facts to put to rights several mistaken beliefs about William Seward. His proposal to buy Alaska was not viewed as a folly by most contemporaries, though many were opposed for political reasons. Seward was not an abolitionist, though he supported policies that he believed would lead to the gradual death of slavery. Finally, Seward, while a pragmatic politician, was frequently able to rise to nobility, working tenaciously to support the unpopular policies of President Johnson which Seward viewed as being for the public good, thus ensuring he would never himself become president.

A general reader of history hopes to find a book that provides fact and insight in clear and interesting prose. Stahr only half succeeds. The facts are clealy stated. The insight and interest are absent.
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