- 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 (228 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Abraham Lincoln 1st Edition
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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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Top Customer Reviews
I admire McPherson's ability to pack his small book with so much information. Perhaps the book's chief merit is to make one want to read a considerably more comprehensive Lincoln biography. One major weakness is that McPherson does not provide a definite thesis statement. Only by completing the book will the reader fully understand that McPherson set out to present Lincoln as a flawed human being who possessed a strong determination to see this country through one of its most trying times.
This nutshell biography of Abraham Lincoln tries to provide a brief sketch of the life of this man who arrived on the national stage at the precise moment in his nation’s history when it needed his talents most. These talents included political genius combined with a matchless dexterity with the written and spoken word, love and respect for the law, and a hatred of slavery and cruelty in general. The outlines of Lincoln’s life are well known to every American student: born in poverty on the frontier, almost no formal schooling, self-educated (he treasured any book he could put his hands on), a youth of hard labor (splitting rails and other manual labors), and then the slow rise from local to state and then national politics. But this short book attempts to flesh out those bare bones with details that explain Lincoln’s rise and why his election caused the United States to split apart. (It was his party’s principal plank to exclude slavery from the territories. But the country had been headed for this showdown long before Lincoln came on the scene.)
This book is not the place to find a thorough understanding of Lincoln and his times, but it is not a bad place to start. McPherson’s little book gives the reader a good overview of the man and his times. The motivated reader can then delve in deeper with any one of hundreds of more thorough biographies. A bibliography at the end of this book gives the reader some guidance for further reading.
McPherson's account moves briskly through Lincoln's life, and is very precise and efficient. You don't get much in the way of specific details or anecdotes, but McPherson doesn't miss any of the major points of Lincoln's life, either. The writing is engaging, and given that it's only 65 pages, it ends up being a page turner without many pages to turn. You'll find more facts about Lincoln on the many Wikipedia pages dedicated to him than in this book, but you won't find the well-crafted narrative that McPherson presents (and I say this as a huge Wikipedia fan).
It's difficult to compare McPherson's biography to a full-length work like Donald's as they strive towards different goals. With Donald's Lincoln, the sum of all the well-told details and insights adds up to paint a clearer picture of the man and his era, and allows the reader to develop a greater appreciation for Lincoln. McPherson does a great job and conveying Lincoln's life in a short and interesting manner, but it just won't let you get to know Lincoln as well as a longer biography.
I enjoyed McPherson's Abraham Lincoln, and I would recommend it to either the Lincoln novice looking to get a brief overview of the man, or to the well-read Lincoln fan looking for a quick refresher. The latter reader will not find much that they aren't already familiar with in McPherson's book, but the familiar is well-told by McPherson.