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Fascinating History; Truly Instructive,
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This review is from: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (Paperback)
This is a great book. I decided to read it because I felt I should know more about Lincoln's attitude towards slavery, but it turned out to need no "should" justification. It was difficult to put down. Some of the great things about the book: (i) the picture of slavery itself -- particularly at the start, we get a reminder glimpse of the deep horror of the reality of the institution, and throughout the book we get an understanding of the depth and breadth of its impact on national politics through most of the 19th century; (ii) an understanding of the many different positions on slavery and race in general in that era -- the simple pro and anti that we normally see now looking back 150 years doesn't even begin to describe it; (iii) the radicalness of abolition at the time it occurred and, even more so, the 14th Amendment; sad to say but, had the South not gone all in regarding right-to-have slavery, badly misplaying the hand, slavery in the South might have continued for many more decades, and the great foundation for advancement laid by the 14th Amendment might not have been laid (though, to be sure, the Andrew Johnson presidency largely buried it for nearly a century); (iv) a glimpse at many other fascinating and important figures of the time --- Seward, Sumner, Chase, Clay, and, above all, Frederick Douglass; (v) so much about Lincoln, including his moderate and deliberate leadership style (attacked on both sides at the time--can't help but see parallels with President Obama) and how his experiences and interactions affected his views over time; (vi) the decisive role blacks played in the outcome of the Civil War and the critical motivation that potential provided for advancing emancipation.
All in all, this was a great book; I'm glad it won the Pulitzer. I couldn't help but think of it in comparison to the much talked about Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. In that comparison, it's a Picasso next to a child's drawing, Peyton Manning next to Ryan Leaf, or Thinking, Fast and Slow next to Outliers: The Story of Success (sorry Malcom, actually Outliers is pretty good, it just pales next to Kahnman's great book). This is everything a history book for the public should be. If I had one negative comment, it would be that the perspective of black folks on these roiling times is largely absent, as absent as it was from Lincoln's experience. That makes sense since the book is about Lincoln, but it is the hole the book leaves that calls for another book. I myself have added "Frederick Douglas biography" to my future reading list.