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Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – April 26, 2016
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Brookhiser has done the seemingly impossible: He has written a life of Lincoln that is fresh, original, and ideal for those new to the subject.... With deft, epigrammatic phrases Brookhiser distills Lincoln's life to its essence.... [An] elegantly wrought and intellectually profound biography. Founders' Son is a superb introduction to the greatest human being ever to live in the White House.”
Drawing on Lincoln's official papers, speeches and private letters, the book makes clear how he looked back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's Preamble to resolve the great contradiction that the Founders couldn't slavery's existence in a nation where all are created equal and have unalienable rights.”
[A] pithy biography of the man who not only ended slavery in America, but also distilled the Founders' legacy. Astonishingly, Brookhiser has added to the massive Lincoln literature a book that is both distinct and important.”
Finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times Book Review
[Brookhiser's] melding of Lincoln with the founders yields significant implications for the interpretation of the American past in both the Revolutionary and Civil War eras.”
Wall Street Journal
[A] concise, smoothly written history of Lincoln's career and the unfolding of the ideas that animated it,' especially the ideas Lincoln drew from the men who brought forth the new nation.... [A] provocative introduction to the subject of Lincoln and the Founders.”
[B]eautifully written and choked with insights.... For Brookhiser, Lincoln's life was an encounter with a succession of fathers: his own, the Founding Fathers, and God the father. Can it be only a coincidence that in time he himself was regarded as Father Abraham?”
Brookhiser is one of America's finest writers and Founders' Son may be his finest book.... [H]e enables us to not only better understand, but also (and even more effectively than he did in his previous biographical studies) to actually feel' his subject's battles both with his antagonists and with history itself.”
An illuminating but unconventional new biography of Abraham Lincoln.... [Brookhiser] succeeds brilliantly in giving us a new and original perspective on Lincoln's statesmanship. His prose is spare and robust (the author has been schooled by Lincoln) and even readers who know little of Lincoln will find the treatment entirely readable, enjoyable, and persuasive.”
The American Scholar
There is much to admire in Founders' Son.”
[A] compact, profound, and utterly absorbing new life of Abraham Lincoln.... With searchlight intensity, it dazzlingly illuminates the great president's evolving views of slavery and the extraordinary speeches in which he unfolded that vision, molding the American mind on the central conflict in American history and resolving, at heroic and tragic cost to the nation and himself, the contradiction that the Founding Fathers themselves could not resolve.”
In this elegantly written book, Brookhiser reveals Lincoln's role in that debate [on the nature of the founders' legacy] and offers new insights into Lincoln's inner life and political thinking.”
Wall Street Journal Civil War Round-Up
Mr. Brookhiser positions Lincoln as the self-conscious heir of the 18th-century Founders and thus fends off the claim (made in the fever swamps of both left and right) that Lincoln subverted the Constitution in the interests of creating an all-powerful central government.”
A well-written and readable interpretation of Lincoln's political philosophy.”
[An] unconventional new biography of Lincoln . Brookhiser quotes many of Lincoln's speeches and letters to demonstrate how he was influenced by the founders in his struggle with the great issues of his time, slavery and civil war.”
Since he is well-chronicled, and often mythologized, it is hard to expand our understanding of Lincoln. But Richard Brookhiser does an expert job of finding new room.”
[An] insightful book on Abraham Lincoln.... Founders' Son is not a colorless history tome, bogged down in detail and trivial fact, but rather a perceptive look into the mind and world of America's 16th president. This is Brookhiser's genius as a writer, and what makes his books a joy to read; few can so clearly and accurately describe such a complex subject and the substance of what made him worthy of being studied and respected.”
Brookhiser excels in describing Lincoln's political fights over government banks and in parsing his presidency in wartime specifically, his detailed account of the complex evolution of the president's views on slavery.”
Brookhiser's discussion of the second inaugural is genuinely moving and instructive. The narrative always smoothly returns, though, to the Founders and Lincoln's unceasing attempt to divine their intentions and to examine the institutions they built and the opportunity they created for someone like him to thrive. For years now, Brookhiser has helped bring the Founders back to life, precisely Lincoln's purpose as the president contemplated for his country a new birth of freedom, the old freedom' they envisioned in 1776 but couldn't quite perfect.”
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
In his first inaugural, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the mystic chords of memory' that bound those about to fight a civil war over the meaning of union and liberty to those who had built a system of government on them during and after the Revolution. Distinguished historian Richard Brookhiser strikes those chords in Founders' Son. In doing so, he reveals Lincoln to be not only a student of the past, but a leader with the mind and courage to redeem America's first birth of freedom' with a new one, sealed in blood.”
John Boehner, Speaker of the House
Abraham Lincoln is the most written-about man in American history, yet Richard Brookhiser, a historian and writer of extraordinary talent, has written an analysis that is lively, incisive, noveland brilliant. This book reminds us of Lincoln's reverence for the Founders, his stubborn concern for first principles' andultimatelythe often-overlooked reverence for the Almighty God that guided him in America's darkest hours.”
Allen Guelzo, author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion
In this sharply-etched portrait of Abraham Lincoln as the true heir of the Founders and their principles, Richard Brookhiser disposes of the reams of nonsense which have portrayed Lincoln as a sly provocateur who twisted the course of American government into a wholly different course. Just as Lincoln vindicated the Founders, Brookhiser vindicates Lincoln and offers us a statesman, not a politician, and one eminently worth imitating in today's politics.”
H. W. Brands, author of The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
With the clarity and insight his readers have come to expect, Richard Brookhiser gives us the greatest American of the nineteenth century grappling with the greatest Americans of the eighteenth. A powerful, persuasive biography of the mind of Abraham Lincoln.”
Andrew Ferguson, author of Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America
It seems impossible, but it's true: no one has ever looked at Lincoln in quite this way beforeand certainly not with Richard Brookhiser's graceful touch, sly wit, and deep historical knowledge. The Founders' foremost biographer has turned his eye to their greatest pupil, and everyone who cares about Lincoln (which should be everyone) will be grateful for it.”
Lincoln knew that history was both past and prologue, and he sought to appropriate the earlier age properly to guide the nation successfully through the Civil War. This highly accessible read will appeal most to readers who desire to learn more about Lincoln and especially the ideas, dogmas, and dreams that moved him to his public career and life in the White House.”
Alexander Rose, author of Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring
Lincoln was not a conventional politician, and neither is Richard Brookhiser a conventional historian, nor, fittingly, is Founders' Son a conventional biography. For the sixteenth president, as Brookhiser dazzlingly argues, ideas matteredbut never so much as when translated into action. Throughout Lincoln's life, the Founders served as his touchstones, their ideals his lodestars, and he dedicated himself to completing the task they had left unfinished; the destruction of slavery, that Damoclean Sword menacing the Republic since its creation, would be both his monument and his tomb. Founders' Son is an ingenious intellectual biography, a work of the highest order written by one of our most creative historians about the most brilliant of our presidents.” --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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In Lincoln's time, America was drifting toward the massive trauma of secession and civil war. The moral crisis of slavery was getting worse. Viewed from pre-civil war America, it was not clear how the great founding documents were to be understood and applied--after the Founding generation had died. In his Dredd Scott opinion, Chief Justice Taney had rendered the Constitution into a tool to expand slavery throughout the United States. The threat that States might seceed over tariffs or slavery was regarded as credible and the Republic, created in unity by the Founding Fathers, could have collapsed. Finally, western territories, Kansas and Nebraska saw brutal mini-wars and vendettas. Civil order dissolved on the frontier. According to Brookhiser's account, Abraham Lincoln spent his life in the physical and intellectual struggle of preserving and refining the Founder's work. Our view of these things reflects the smugness of people who know how it turned out. But these were times of confusion and danger.
Brookhiser quotes often from his subject and Lincoln's poetic and intellectual gifts enrich the book. Without forcing the facts, the author makes a case that Linclon's depression, his distant relationship with his father, the family deaths that filled his childhood, all shaped his entire life.
One novel treatment of an old story involves Parson Weems biography of George Washington. Because few facts remain from Lincoln's childhood, Weems always appears in Lincoln books, almost as a clownish figure. Brookhiser argues that Weems was a serious writer of moral books for children and that his stories about George Washington affected Lincoln's moral and emotional life from childhood until his death. Lincoln's ideals of leadership and virtue were formed early and while those ideals deepened and grew more subtle, but were never erased.
Brookhiser's writing style is clear and apt. The book is not laden with footnotes. I recommend reading Stephen Oates, perhaps, for a more detailed look at Lincoln's life.
Told in a beautifully lucid prose, Brookhiser's book focuses on a few moments in Lincoln's well-known life, and shows painstakingly, suggestively, how this great man slowly and unexpectedly became great.
A surprise for me: Brookhiser - not himself a man of great piety, as far as I know, and not a participant in the God-wars - discovers Lincoln moving in the opposite direction from what we are told is the usual development from childish belief to adult, mature atheism or agnosticism. The more he became involved in great events, and the more that terrible tragedies beset his own private life and the national struggle against slavery he led, the more convinced Lincoln becomes that his early Paine-ite atheism is laughably inadequate, and the more he sees God's judgment operating in the world.
A quietly great book, that should be read every five years.
Very well written, and very thought provoking. Writing the when and what about history is so different than the why, What was Lincoln thinking?