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Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths Paperback – March 15, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Stephen B. Oates recreates the life and world of Lincoln with the skill of a master painter.""--Christian Science Monitor"

From the Back Cover

An essential book for any student of Lincoln and American history, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths is acclaimed Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates's unique exploration of America's sixteenth president in reality and memory. In this multifaceted portrait, Oates, "the most popular historical interpreter of Lincoln" (Gabor S. Boritt, New York Times Book Review), exposes the human side of the great and tragic president—including his depression, his difficulties with love, and his troubled and troubling attitudes about slavery—while also confronting the many legends that have arisen around "Honest Abe." Oates throughout raises timely questions about what the Lincoln mythos reveals about the American people.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060924721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060924720
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
We invented Abraham Lincoln. Not the man, of course, but the myth, that solemn and statuesque giant memorialized eternally overlooking the Capitol mall. The power of that myth and the quiet dignity of its personage dwarfs us all. But the myth is not the man. Myths never are. Stephen Oates in his _Abraham Lincoln, The Man Behind the Myths_, does not seek to diminish the man but rather to clarify him, separating the mythos from the mortal. And it is not an undaunting task, it seems, for overly soon after Lincoln's tragic end the mills began to churn. The public's shredding of the White House interior for mementos while Mary Lincoln lay debilitated in the next room seems symbolic of the wolfpack mentality in Washington even today. And every new memoir published by another family acquaintance of the Lincoln's almost always got it wrong, and tore anew at the heart of the family. We may not have memorialized and glorified our modern-day tragic heroes to such an extent, for we have simultaneously tried to scandalize them. But the tabloid trade it seems has always been a yellow paper. Even Lincoln was vilified in his time and after. He was, Oates, reminds us, one of the most unpopular living presidents of our history. But though the legacy ballooned to heroic proportions after his passing, the man seems to have been lost in it all, remaining only in the hearts of the family leaving quietly and unattended down the steps of the White House never to return.
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Format: Paperback
This was a great book, a must-read sequel to With Malice Towards None. The Man Behind The Myths is only about 200 pages, but it's packed with crucial information about Lincoln. It exposes and refutes the myths that have evolved around him, most particularly, the scandalous myths, showing how Lincoln has been misunderstood and mscharacterized by some authors, like Vincent Harding. Professor Oates educates the reader by showing how important it is to examine Lincoln's attitude on slavery and race in its proper historical perspective, in order to understand how progressive, daring and caring this man really was. Towards the end of the book, Professor Oates exposed and convincingly refuted the fraudulent thesis that Secretary of War Stanton was somehow in cahoots with John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts. Thumbs up to Professor Oates!

As expected, the book itself was a smooth and thought-inspiring manuscript, and it was backed-up with meticulous notes and primary sources.
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Format: Paperback
In this small but valuable volume, Oates explores the reality beyond the two sources of Lincoln myth: the primary myth of a saintly and folkloric Lincoln of Carl Sandburg and a secondary myth of the 'white honky' Lincoln of the 1970's revisionists. Oates emphasizes that Lincoln drew deeply upon the "spirit of his age", which was a profoundly revolutionary time across the world. Oates relates how Lincoln absorbed one of the core lessons of America from the example of Henry Clay: : "in this country one can scarcely be so poor, but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably".

That slavery was the cause of the Civil War is beyond all doubt. As Oates explains, however, the North did not go to war to free the slaves. In the standard phrasing, the North went to war to 'preserve the union'. Oates explores Lincoln's fears that the spread of slavery in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision would lead to the destruction of democratic society. The debate then still raged on the world stage whether a republican form of government could last. Lincoln rejected the "ingenious sophism" that states could freely leave the Union. "With rebellion thus sugar coated [southern leaders] have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years." Secession posed nothing less than a final challenge to popular government. If a minority could destroy the government any time it felt aggrieved, then no government could endure. Thus the war had to be fought to preserve not just the American Republic, but the possibility of republican government.

Lincoln did in fact oppose slavery from early on. His views on racial matters apart from slavery became more fully progressive over time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What an astonishingly great book this is. Every word of it is absolutely fascinating, from beginning to end. Stephen Oates not only writes about perhaps the most fascinating man in all of human history, but writes so very well...as if he is as good of a writer as Abraham Lincoln himself. I just wish I could give this book six stars instead of just five. I look forward to reading his other books.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
July 19, 2013
A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln, The Man Behind the Myths.

I downloaded this work from Kindle and it is one of the better biographies of Lincoln, though limited to, many of the common beliefs and misconceptions about the life of Lincoln. Oates wrote this book in 1984 while teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His Part one deals with the popular myths about the man, namely the people's man and the arch villain. It contrasts his reputation in both the North and the South. Oates does a great job in presenting the reasons for much of Lincoln's mood swings and his preoccupation with the strategy of the war.

Lincoln's idea's about slavery are one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts of his political life and Oates presents these in a dispassionate form. I believe from reading this part, that Mr. Lincoln was always, in his heart of hearts always an abolitionist though many continue to argue about his motives regarding slavery. Oates paints the best conclusions I have read in the many biographies I have read about Lincoln.

All of his leadership efforts are clearly aimed at the preservation of the Union to include his personal belief that the rebel states continued to remain part of the United States. This idea, I believe, motivated his posture on reconstruction as the war was winding down. Evidence of this is clearly manifest in the position of his commanding general US Grant.

It is very clear to the reader that Lincoln's assassination created an increased difficult time for the White southerners and equally a curse for the newly freed slaves.

I recommend this short book, which is well outlined and commented upon as a balanced biography and one which every student of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln should add to his collection of must reads.

I was very happy to give five stars to this book.
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