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House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, A Family Divided by War Hardcover – November 5, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Divided families make the stuff of drama. When the divided family is Abraham Lincoln's, its divisions are metaphors for the nation's own collapse. With a skilled and pleasing pen, Berry tells the tangled story of the sad and often painful element of Lincoln's life that deepened his understanding of the nation's travails. Lincoln was closer to his wife's large clan—she had 13 siblings—than to his own. Originally from Kentucky, the Todds had members in both the North and South and backed both the Union and the Confederacy. Four of them, including Lincoln, died as a result of the conflict. Some were honorable and others scoundrels, some were easygoing and others problematic. Berry, an assistant professor of history at the University of Georgia, calls many of them miserable, and their family a wreck. He manages to tell the story of each Todd with full sympathy yet critical distance, and adds another level of understanding to the president who would bind the nation's wounds. Finally, he rescues the Southern Todds from their obscurity. The result is a fast-paced, sobering story, never better told, of the pains of a clan and their significance for American history. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Nov. 5)
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"In House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War, Stephen Berry offers a masterful and long overdue study of the Todd family: its interactions between members, its polarization during the Civil War and, most importantly, its influence on the life of Abraham Lincoln. This is not just another Lincoln book; it is a work completely unique in the contemporary Lincoln bibliography." -- Jason Emerson, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

"Stephen Berry's House of Abraham is a couldn't-put-it-down good read." --Allen C. Guelzo, author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation

"Reading Stephen Berry's House of Abraham is like putting the nation's Civil War first family on the analyst's couch . . . fascinating." --Mark Wetherington, director of the Filson Historical Society and author of Plain Folk's Fight

"Berry gives us one of the most deeply human portraits of Lincoln ever presented." --Steven M. Stowe, Indiana University, Bloomington

"A riveting account . . . Berry compels us to see this epochal conflict anew. House of Abraham is absolutely first-rate." --Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Professor of History, UNC-Chapel Hill

"Thoroughly researched, smoothly written . . . a poignant microcosm of the wrenching familial strains that tore the nation apart." --Michael Burlingame, author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus, Connecticut College

"Compelling . . . brings to vibrant life Lexington aristocrats never before studied in depth by Lincoln biographers . . . remarkable . . . a riviting account." Kirkus Reviews

"Gripping . . . House of Abraham offers amazing insights into a divided nation . . . [Berry's] eloquent prose makes this a delicious read." --Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

"A fast-paced, sobering story, never better told, of the pains of a clan and their significance for American history." Publishers Weekly, Starred

"This book is a revelation and a real treat for any Civil War fan." --Deirdre Donahue USA Today

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (November 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618420053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618420056
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There is no shortage of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln, but very little has been written about Mary Todd Lincoln's dysfunctional family and Lincoln's relationship with them. House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War by Stephen Berry helps to fill in this gap.

Mary Todd Lincoln came from a prominent Lexington, Kentucky family. One of fourteen brothers and sisters, her family was fairly close-knit. Except for the death of her mother and her father's remarriage, Mary had a fairly happy childhood. Lincoln also took to Mary's large extended family and was closer to them in many ways than to his own. It wasn't until the beginning of the Civil War that this large clan showed just how selfish, conniving, materialistic and ill-tempered they could be. Berry claims that they weren't necessarily "a bad family; it made them a typical one" for that time period.

Berry gives as much detail as possible about each sibling, and how they interacted with Lincoln and his wife. The majority of them sided with the Confederates in the Civil War. Brothers Sam and Alexander and brother-in-law Benjamin Hardin Helm were killed in battle. Brother David was a sadistic jailer of Yankee prisoners of war. Brother George was known to loot from Yankee homes around battle sites. Brother-in-law Ninian Edwards was a Union profiteer, and brother-in-law Charles Henry Kellogg committed treason. Even sister Martha was accused of smuggling contraband to the Confederates through Washington, DC. "The Todds were a complicated swirl of affection and obligation, embarrassment and endurance. But they were, for better and often worse, Lincoln's family."

Berry shows great perception in how Lincoln viewed the Todds and how they defined the war for him.
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Format: Hardcover
Their have been some good Civil War family biographies lately. The Whalen's book on the Fighting McCook's and this book on the Todd family come to mind. Family biographies can help us understand the human cost of the Civil War as no other histories can. As family members die, we understand the war's causalities in very personal terms gaining an idea of what this costs those involved.

The McCook family had no conflicted loyalties, no question of who to fight for nor any hesitations in committing to a side. They were able to establish a record of service fighting for the Union that was unique. The Todd family had conflicted loyalties, questions on who to fight for and hesitated in committing to a side. A large slave owning family from Kentucky with an in-law in the White House would cause problems for everyone. Lincoln, his wife, her brothers & sisters their spouses created a series of confrontations, personal and political problems that make up this story.

The author introduces the Todd family and the principle people giving us a solid foundation for the story. Lincoln tries to keep as much of the family on the Union side as possible. His efforts delay some members "going South" and produce some real political problems in 1861 for him. Each year of the war is a chapter. This allows us to follow everyone from assignment to assignment or battle to battle. Against this backdrop, Lincoln's personal life and family problems becomes worse and worse. Each newspaper story, each battle death adds to Lincoln's problems and Mary's woes. However, at Springfield as Lincoln is buried, the Todd in-laws stand as family.

The author is easy to read and manages to keep all the story lines together. These are not likable people and he clearly does not like them.
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Format: Hardcover
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most-written about men in the English language. As a long-time Lincoln-buff, I don't mind that there are so many books, but I have to admit, I occasionally wonder if we've reached diminishing returns. A lot of Lincoln books are what I'd call "old wine in new bottles."

But House of Abraham really is that rare thing: a truly new and important perspective on Abraham Lincoln. Having read most of what there is on Abraham and Mary, let me just say what I think is new here: First, the author fleshes out the Southern wing of the Todd family for the first time. These are some seriously colorful characters: David Todd was arrested for desecrating corpses in a Richmond jail; Samuel Todd and Alex Todd were Confederate soldiers killed in action; George Todd abused African-American prisoners who had been taken while storming Battery Wagner; Emilie Todd, widow of a Confederate Brigadier, spent a week in the White House, despite the scandal; Margaret Todd smuggled contraband through Union lines, on and on. In all my reading I'd never known any of this.

Second, the author connects these scandals to Mary's growing unpopularity in Washington. Many books have mentioned that Mary lost three half-brothers on the rebel side (the author proves that it was only two), but none have demonstrated so clearly why her family-ties became such a problem.

Finally, while House of Abraham begins as a book about the Todds, it becomes more and more a meditation on family, on the nation as a family, and on Lincoln's evolving understanding of the War. Ultimately, the author convinced me that Lincoln saw the Todds as a microcosm of the nation and that he understood the war as a "mosaic of family crises.
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