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Abraham Lincoln 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 236 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195374520
ISBN-10: 0195374525
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Marking the two-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's birth, this marvelous short biography by a leading historian offers an illuminating portrait of one of the giants in the American story. It is the best concise introduction to Lincoln in print, a must-have volume for anyone interested in American history or in our greatest president. In the discussion below, noted historian and author of Lincoln and His Admirals, Craig L. Symonds, talks to James M. McPherson about Lincoln's relationships with his generals, beginning with the controversial commander of the northern army, George McClellan, whose soldiers referred to him as the "the young Napoleon." Both historians share the prestigious 2009 Lincoln Prize for the year's best books on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. McPherson's Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief and Symonds's Lincoln and His Admirals were the winning books.

A Conversation Between Two Lincoln Historians: James M. McPherson and Craig L. Symonds

Symonds: George McClellan is clearly a central character in this story. In your view, was Lincoln too patient with Little Mac, not patient enough, or just about right? Would the Lincoln of 1864 have tolerated McClellan as long as the Lincoln of 1862 did?

McPherson: In one sense, he was too patient. McClellan deserved to be fired after his failure to reinforce [General] Pope at Second Bull Run, as a majority of the Cabinet wanted Lincoln to do. But in another sense, Lincoln was absolutely right that only McClellan could reorganize the army and restore its morale, and if the president had fired him then, the army might have broken down. In the end, Lincoln's timing on removing Mac from command--just after the fall elections in 1862--was just right.

Symonds: What about the so-called political generals: did Lincoln appoint and tolerate them out of perceived political necessity or because he believed that some of them, at least, had genuine merit? And, for that matter, did any of them have genuine merit?

McPherson: Lincoln appointed the political generals in order to mobilize their constituencies for the war effort. Northern mobilization for the war in 1861-62 was a from-the-bottom-up process, with important local and state political leaders playing a key part in persuading men to enlist in this all-volunteer army, and political generals were a key part in this process, which increased an army of 16,000 men in April 1861 to an army of 637,000 men in April 1862. And while we are all familiar with the military incompetents among the political generals, some of them were actually pretty good--John Logan and Frank Blair, for example.

Symonds: Why did Lincoln put up with [his chief war advisor] Henry Halleck?

McPherson: Lincoln used Halleck to translate presidential orders and wishes into language that military commanders could understand, and to translate their reports and requests and explanations into language that Lincoln understood. That was what Lincoln meant when he called Halleck a "first-rate clerk." Of course he had wanted him to be more than a clerk, and that is why Lincoln finally appointed Grant as General in Chief and booted Halleck upstairs into the new office of "chief of staff," where his clerkly qualities were needed.

Symonds: Lincoln was clearly relieved to turn over military operations to Grant in 1864, but did he also fear Grant as a potential political rival?

McPherson: He had been concerned about Grant as a potential political rival, until Grant let it be known throughout intermediaries that he unequivocally and absolutely had no political ambitions in 1864 and strongly supported Lincoln's reelection. After that, Lincoln had no more concerns.

Symonds: Now that you will be the owner of two busts of Lincoln by Augustus St. Gaudens, along with your many other prizes, isn't your house getting pretty full?

McPherson: There is still room in the house, but since my grandchildren are interested in Mr. Lincoln in bronze, I may deposit this bust in their house, where I can visit it whenever I want (they live ten miles away). Read more

From Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) contributes to the slew of Lincoln biennial books with this succinct biography, weighing in at a lean 70 pages (plus notes), that delivers gracefully on McPherson's promise to capture "the essential events and meaning of Lincoln's life without oversimplification or overgeneralization." McPherson is a precise writer with a masterful command of the subject, guiding readers through the evolution of Lincoln's thinking on race, his lifelong struggle with depression, his improbable rise to political power, his anguish over the breakup of the union and his determination to see it made whole again. For anyone wanting to fill the gaps in their understanding of the Great Emancipator by the end of President's Day, this efficient account from a noted Civil War scholar is a near-perfect solution.
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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195374525
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195374520
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. M. Jacobs VINE VOICE on December 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Speaking as someone who admires Abraham Lincoln to a very deep degree, I found this small but powerful biography to be a beautiful addition to my collection of hefty Lincoln tomes.

The book itself in hardcover is a joy to hold with its compact size, readable typeface and bound-in ribbon bookmark. Whoever worked on this project obviously did it as a labor of love. They worked the details on this one.

You can't honestly compare this work to others like Carl Sandberg's "Lincoln" or "With Malice Towards None" or even my nice coffee table book of photographs taken of Lincoln. This work COMPLEMENTS those more comprehensive volumes. That said, it is not incomplete. It does an excellent job of hitting the hundreds of high - and low - points in Lincoln's too brief life. The pace moves quickly and precisely along so that you never have the feeling that you're being 'written down to' if that's the phrase I'm looking for. This one has NOT been dumbed down for the reader.

Personally I see this smaller volume as an 'annual read' to remind me of just how special Lincoln was as a man and as our nation's leader. He was willing, even at great personal cost, to do the right thing on the toughest, most entrenched issues in our nation's history to that point. Through all that he had to work through, he never lost his sense of empathy towards all who were involved. He knew personally what it was like to lose in what he thought was a good cause.

And I guess that's what stands out most about this very brief work. As you read along, you still get the sense of Lincoln as a man and as our finest President, and you do it in such a short time! What's that worth these days?

This would make an ideal first book on Lincoln OR it would make a fine addition to a collection of works on Lincoln... and it won't take you four score and seven years to read it.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One thing's for sure: this is a very short book. Not only is it a mere 65 pages, but the pages themselves are rather short. I read this in one sitting, and it took me less than an hour and a half (I would say that I read at a moderate pace).

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading a magazine article or a chapter in a larger book about the great American presidents. I felt at times that rather than seeing a concise account of Lincoln's life, the author just breezed through the telling, i.e. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. Rather than painting a full picture of Lincoln, the book zeroes in on how a man from Illinois came to win the Civil War and free the slaves. No doubt, that's the driving force of any Lincoln biography, but to devote merely a couple of pages to Mary Todd is to ignore the fact that Lincoln married and lived with a woman with deep psychological problems. Lincoln's own depression is glossed over. And there is no mention, for example, of his premonitions regarding his own death. While the Big Events are accounted for here, the "poetry" of his life is completely ignored.

On the other hand, I wasn't in the mood to sit down with a massive, 800 page biography of Lincoln. It was refreshing to read about him and not get bogged down in every last detail of every Lincoln/Douglas debate or of every Civil War battle. And, as I mentioned, I read this in one sitting. This is written in clear, concise language, and the story itself is among the most compelling (if not THE most compelling) in our nation's history. McPherson does not talk down to the reader, too.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Many noted authors have written countless volumes about the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. When I read that Civil War historian James McPherson had attempted, in only 65 pages, to capture the essence of the man who shepherded our nation through its greatest trials I was curious to see how well he could do.

I had my doubts at the first. When the first sentence starts out with "Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809..." I started to worry that there would be no more substance than a high school term paper. Fortunately, McPherson soon soothed my misgivings. After a somewhat dry synopsis of Lincoln's early life, McPherson briefly and with great insight touches on each and every key facet of Lincoln's career. He addressed the debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's election and subsequent efforts to prevent secession, his role in the war, his relationship with his cabinet, his personal and official views on slavery and emancipation, and his attempts to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy.

In every chapter, McPherson's admiration for our sixteenth president shines through, even when discussing Lincoln's questionable suspension of habeas corpus. I found this part especially interesting in light of recent events. The Bush administration used the same arguments that Lincoln put forth to justify its suspension of civil liberties. One could argue that, justifiably or not, Lincoln opened a Pandora's Box that subsequent less-scrupulous presidents have taken advantage of.

I have read a great deal about this period in history and yet, on a page-for-page basis, there are few books that can shed as much insight into the heart and mind of our greatest president. I highly recommend this book.
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