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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 8, 2003
Fans and students of the sixteenth president of the United States can doubly rejoice over this work. "We Are Lincoln Men" demonstrates that despite thousands of books about the Great Emancipator already being in print, there are still new approaches to be mined; and it also represents another contribution by the most accomplished Lincoln scholar of this era, Professor David Herbert Donald.

Professor Donald has spent more than half a century studying Lincoln's life and times and is author of many books, including "Lincoln" (1995), widely regarded as the best one-volume life of the subject in decades. He's brought that lifetime of experience to this project, along with study and contemplation of the nature of friendship. Perhaps part of the reason Lincoln remains an enigma and a subject of endless fascination and study is that he never fully revealed himself to any other human being. However, Donald has identified relationships which were pivotal at various points in Lincoln's life, and if not representing a marriage of equals, did at least offer this solitary man some of the benefits of close comradeship. Yet time, physical distance and political differences eventually eroded these relationships.

The author examines his interactions with his one-time roommate, Joshua Speed; his long-time law partner, William Herndon; Illinois Senator Orville Browning; Secretary of State William Seward; and his personal secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Each met differing needs for Lincoln at various times in his life. They served as sounding boards for Lincoln's ideas, provided him with comfort in times of grief, laughter in times of stress, and support in times of crisis. Yet even these men couldn't claim to fully know the great man. Herndon once claimed to have been able to "read his secrets and ambitions" but also described him as a "profound mystery."

In his conclusion, Donald briefly considers the possibility of whether having a close, intimate confidant in the early, difficult days of his presidency might have saved Lincoln some of his hesitancy and missteps. He suggests this might have been the case, but is no means certain; for while Lincoln took some time to find the means to his ultimate goals, he always held firm to his guiding principles--containing, and if possible, abolishing slavery, and preserving the union.

A work of first-rate scholarship that's also a pleasure to read.--William C. Hall
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2003
Yet another book about Lincoln? David Donald's "We Are Lincoln Men" more than justifies itself by presenting new insights into the 16th President's relationships with his six closest friends. In doing so, it demonstrates just how revealing a political leader's friendships can be. This book is a worthy successor to Donald's stellar biography, "Lincoln"; like that book, this one is captivating and a joy to read, even when presenting-as it rarely does-pieces of Lincoln lore which are fairly well known. No matter what the reader already knows about Lincoln or his times, he or she is bound to gain new perspectives by reading this volume.
The book begins with a brief discussion of friendship, and presents Aristotle's basic typology of friendships ("enjoyable," "useful," and "perfect" or "complete"). The introductory chapter looks at Lincoln's boyhood and youth-concluding that "Lincoln never had a chum" and noting that "by temperament...Lincoln grew up as a man of great reserve."
The book then proceeds with chapter-length examinations of his six key friendships. Each was unique, in part because of the personalities involved and because of when the friendships first developed. While Joshua Speed and Lincoln were remarkably close as young men in Illinois-to the point where some have speculated that they might have had a homoerotic relationship (a point Duncan dismisses)-they grew apart primarily because of political differences as they aged. "Billy" Herndon, Lincoln's principal law partner and eventual biographer, remained in Lincoln's shadow for a variety of reasons, including his radicalism, his inability to get along with Mary Lincoln, and his alcoholism. Orville Browning, an Illinois Whig who was appointed to fill Stephen Douglas's unexpired US Senate term on Douglas's death, was an ally and confidant during the early years of Lincoln's Presidency; the two drifted apart partly because of Browning's importuning Lincoln for political appointments and partly because of growing political differences. Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward, came into the Cabinet with a relatively low opinion of the President-Seward firmly believed that he should have been elected instead of Lincoln-but gradually grew into his closest ally and most loyal supporter in the Cabinet. Lincoln's two closest aides, John Nicolay and John Hay, were also loyal supporters. But partly because of the age difference-they were young enough to be his sons-they never grew out of the role of understudies to Lincoln and never became true confidants.
Despite its focus on these six men, the book also explores Lincoln's relationships with a variety of other figures, including Judge David Davis, who was instrumental in getting the Presidential nomination, and Ward Hill Lamon, a long-standing ally who often doubled as Lincoln's body guard. It is remarkably compact, just over 200 pages long, and can almost be read in a single sitting.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
David Herbert Donald is considered by most to be one of, if not the premier Lincoln historian in the Country. This book fits another piece of the puzzle together. Lincoln's friends are the subjects of this book, and of close friends, Lincoln had only a few. Donald has picked the six men with whom Lincoln seemed to have the closest relationship at one time or another and has examined how each friendship began, it's life, and if it ended before Lincoln's death, it's end. None really ended, but some did seem to dissipate.
Donald, like most writers who complete a large biography of an individual has become somewhat enamored by his subject and takes pains in this work to defend Lincoln from some rather silly but sensational charges. Sometimes though, Donald gets a little carried away with his obvious admiration for his subject. For example, he often discredits statements attributed to Lincoln saying that in phrase and in wording it does not sound like Lincoln. Unfortunately however, Donald then argues that Lincoln probably wrote a famous and well-received letter that John Hay later claimed to have written. Donald admits the letter doesn't sound like Lincoln and does sound like Hay's work but continues to attribute it to Lincoln. It sounds a little like the old saying about having your cake and eating it too.
On the other hand, whether Donald intended it to happen or not, a fairly unattractive vision of Lincoln shows through on occasion. Quite frankly, Lincoln comes across as what I have always called a user. Someone who uses people to get what they want and then casts them aside. Lincoln was not like this with all of his friends but he seems to have been guilty fairly often. Maybe that explains why he was so afraid to share his intimate feelings and hopes.
Donald has a great flair for writing and this is a very easy to read and highly interesting book. Where he has had to deal in psychology, Donald has wisely consulted experts and his conclusions seem well thought out and are very well presented. It is clear that Mr. Lincoln led a very lonely life. What is not at all clear is whether he did not choose that life for himself. David Donald has reached his conclusions and I have reached mine. Take the time to read the evidence presented here and reach you own conclusion. It will be well worth your time and effort.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 3, 2004
One of the most written about person in our nation's history, it seems impossible to shed any new light on Abraham Lincoln. Yet, in his new book, "We Are Lincoln Men", David Herbert Donald manages to shed new little glimmers of light on this magnificent figure by viewing him through the eyes of some of the men that knew him best.
Whereas Lincoln was a very social man who enjoyed the company of others, Donald's book makes the point that the close, personal friendships that most of us desire were hard to come by for Lincoln. He attributes this to Lincoln not having childhood chums, or boys in which he established early bonds with. However, Lincoln emerges from his youth and establishes some very close relationships with several men throughout his life. Impeccably researched, we learn about Joshua Speed, William Herndon, and others that come into close contact with Lincoln. By researching their papers, a more authentic, real Lincoln begins to come into focus.
As a Lincoln book collector, I found this book to be very easy, and an enjoyable read. After finishing it, I not only understand Lincoln better, but the few men in his life who could actually claim to be a close friend of his. It will sit proudly on my shelf!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2004
So much of Abraham Lincoln's life was tragic that it's refreshing to read this relatively upbeat book about the close friendships he developed throughout his life. "We Are Lincoln Men" reads like an appendix to author David Herbert Donald's monumental biography, "Lincoln," apparently consisting of tales and anecdotes left over from his research. Fortunately, this book provides enough interesting glimpses of Lincoln to justify its addition to the voluminous literature on the 16th President of the United States.
"We Are Lincoln Men" chronicles Lincoln's relationships with roommate Joshua Speed, law partner William H. Herndon, Illinois Senator Orville Browning, Secretary of State William Seward, and private secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay. The friendships with Speed and Herndon were the most intimate, although both individuals drifted away from Lincoln after he became President. The inclusion of Browning seems the most controversial: as President, Lincoln passed Browning over three times for the Supreme Court, while Browning later associated with a Senate caucus hostile to Lincoln. Lincoln's friendship with Seward was forged in the crucible of his wartime Cabinet. Although they differed on many issues, Seward consistently suppressed his maverick tendencies to support his President.
Perhaps the most entertaining section is the chapter on Nicolay and Hay, whose youthful exuberance provides a vivid contrast to Lincoln's other friends. Though their age difference precluded a high degree of intimacy, the secretaries' loyalty to Lincoln was unmatched (a quote by Hay provides this book's title). Nicolay and Hay also provided Lincoln with an outlet for his legendary sense of humour.
Donald's unobtrusive yet distinctive prose is highly readable; this is a page-turner. The book's segmented format works well: it's a collection of tantalizing snapshots of Lincoln, rather than a detailed portrait. My main literary complaint is that the book ends rather abruptly, as if Donald simply ran out of things to say.
Though not quite a breakthrough historical document, "We Are Lincoln Men" should please the Lincoln buff, or anyone interested in learning more about the man whom many consider America's greatest President.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 11, 2005
David Herbert Donald has produced an interesting portrait of Abraham Lincoln through the eyes of those who can claim to have known him best. By taking a "friend's eye" view of our sixteenth President, Donald peels back some of the mystery surrounding this very private and guarded man. Some, but not all. As Donald demonstrates, Lincoln was unusually adept of shielding much of his inner self even from most of his close associates. Whether by insecurity at his humble origins and self-taught manner or, (as I am more prone to think), by the design of a very focused ambition which was early on and constantly navigating his life's journey, Lincoln only let those he knew intimately get so close.

The friends (some early life companions, young adulthood companion Joshua Speed, law partner William Herndon, some-time political ally Orville Browning, rival and then acolyte Secretary of State William Seward, and private secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay), give portrayal of Lincoln at every stage of his life. Most give testimony to Lincoln's ultimate reserve, but all have insights, shared thoughts and anecdotes that provide a great depth of understanding at what formed the man and to some extent what made him tick.

Although Donald has a minor psychological theme of motherless-children (Lincoln's mother died at an early age; he benefited from a loving step-mother who he gave great credit to), and the nature of friendships running through the book, most of this is good, solid history. I personally thought the psychological stream could have been left out of this book, but it only occasionally intrudes and never surfaces enough to dominate any chapter of Lincoln's life.

It is instructive to view Lincoln through the lens of those who know Lincoln best, particularly those who knew Lincoln before he was great. Donald has added another valuable work on this most significant and interesting of Americans.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2005
Ain intellectually and historically honest treeatment of a subject about which little information exists--the personal / emotional side of Lincoln's connections with several of his close contemporaries. With lucid, straightforward writing it manages to convey the particular qualities and character that uniquely attended each connection. It doesn't add more to the subject than the historical record suggests, but it does pull together what iis known of each relationship and present the material with thematic consistency and honesty. Seeks to inform rather than to advocate an author's pet bias or theory--e.g., avoids the self-indulgent nonsense of some Lincoln writers that interprets historical norms through the distortion of a modern social lens, for example interpreting his friendships as latently homosexual ... a theory which may gratify the emotional need of the author but for which no true historical evidence exists. Hurrah for disciplined, honest history!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2004
This is a relatively short book and a very enjoyable read. It's a straightforward look at Lincoln's personal relationships with a few of his closest friends. I came away feeling as if I had learned something about what Lincoln must have been like as a man among his contemporaries, something you don't always get from more complete biographies which must focus on great events and political manuevering.
The book also addresses head-on the current talk among some about the possibility of a homosexual relationship. I think it is addressed fairly and honestly, and though it is something we can never be 100% sure of, I think the author comes to a convincing conclusion that it is highly unlikely.
I'd recommend it to anyone looking to learn some more about Lincoln as a person, rather than as a "great figure of history" sort of thing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2004
Dacid Herbert Donald, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Abraham Lincon, returns to perhaps the most enigmatic American president in history. Donald identifies the handful of men who could be considered truly a friend of Lincoln and gives us a view of Lincoln from their vantage. He deals briefly with the possibility that Lincoln was gay and charges that Lincoln invited the attack on Fort Sumter. Of more interest is the description of Lincoln with friends. Donald speculates on why many people admired Lincoln but did not consider themselves intimate friends. This short book is easy to read and it presents more information on Lincoln the man.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2005
Abraham Lincoln has always been and remains one of the most compelling figures in American history. His rise to greatness seems so unlikely, his personality so different from what one expects from an American president and yet his importance to history is so vast that historians have sought to understand him ever since his murder in 1865. David Herbert Donald is one of the finest living Lincoln scholars and he has written numerous books on his subject. In this one, he focuses on an area previously neglected, Lincoln's friendships. In chronological order, Donald looks at the important relationships in Lincoln's life, outside of his family. Lincoln's first important friend was Joshua Speed, whom he befriended on his arrival in Springfield. Lincoln and Speed shared a single room (indeed a single bed) for years as young bachelors and without question Speed was Lincoln's most intimate friend, one of the only people to whom young Lincoln could truly open up. After both men married and Speed moved to Kentucky, the friends grew apart and Speed had little to do with Lincoln in the 1850's when the men came to opposing political views regarding slavery.

Donald makes it clear that while Lincoln had other friends, none truly knew or understood him. Indeed, his law partner of 17 years, Billy Herndon spent the years after Lincoln's death trying to put together a biography by interviewing everyone who knew Lincoln. Lincoln's final important friendships were with Alexander Seward, his Secretary of State, who grew to admire Lincoln deeply and his young personal secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, who not only toiled tirelessly for him but gave him solace and helped assuage his loneliness in the White House.

In his exploration of Lincoln's friendships, Donald has no specific point to make. He just writes interesting history. But, nevertheless, what emerges is a portrait of a man with a zest for life who loved a good story and told endless jokes but who was also morose, melancholy and mysterious, even to those who knew him best. Lincoln's friends may have cared deeply for him. It will always be unclear just how much Lincoln really cared for them. This is a fine little book and anyone interested in the life of Lincoln should read it.
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