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Showing 1-10 of 138 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 231 reviews
on April 14, 2014
It has been estimated that over 11,000 books and other writings have been devoted to Lincoln. It is as if there is something elusive about him, which no book can satisfy. Indeed there is something mystical about him and profoundly unknowable. The trend today in writing about Lincoln is to write more and more about less and less. It is like tasting the apple but never finishing it. This book by Ronald White is a complete biography. We now get a chance to ingest the entire fruit. Although no event is treated in depth, that is not the point of the book. It is more than a repetition of the well-known events. It is an exploration of Lincoln’s thoughts and ideas. For those who are frustrated by the mystery of Lincoln, this book represents an opportunity to get to know him more intimately and completely.
The book consists of a chronologic account of Lincoln’s life. But it is more than simply a listing of events. The events themselves are like the chords, which accompany the melody of his deepest thoughts. White allows Lincoln to speak to us through his speeches and writings. These works are not always repeated verbatim, but White summarizes them and expands upon them so as to give us an understanding of what Lincoln was actually thinking. In so doing, we hear Lincoln as he bears his soul to the reader.
White begins his book before Lincoln is born. His family history in America dates back to the 17th century, even before the birth of the nation. His parents were religious Baptists and he was born into their Calvinist beliefs. However, he soon abandoned organized religion when he became repelled by the emotionalism of revival meetings, which were intrinsic to the Second Great Awakening. Turning his back on revealed religion he sought refuge in reason and became a lawyer. As Patrick Cleburne, a confederate general noted, the law provided a stepping-stone to “distinction and civil importance”. White, in his insightful way, draws attention to the fact that Lincoln learned to examine issues from every angle before settling on a conclusion. This ability would serve him well, not only in his career as a lawyer but as a legislator and then President of the United States. It was is in the legal profession that he first encountered moral conflict, a condition that would plague him until nearly the end of his life. The law is adversarial and is thus based on conflict and confrontation, whereas Lincoln preferred mediation. He preferred to settle a case rather than argue it in court. He felt that after all is said and done, the adversaries would need to live together following their confrontation, a notion presaging his sentiments regarding reconstruction.
At age 28 while running for re-election to the Illinois state legislature, he delivered a speech at the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The speech was ostensibly about the role of memory and our responsibility for preserving our political institutions. However, more importantly, it dealt with creating a secular religion with its morality based on reason. It became one of the most notable speeches ever delivered.

Reason, cold calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.

The collision of politics, morality and divine will occurred most acutely over the issue of slavery. Lincoln was always concerned about slavery, but the issue came to a head as the Civil War approached. The Lincoln Douglas debates were mostly about the moral issue of slavery. Although both Lincoln and Douglas were practical men and recognized the role of necessity in dealing with slavery, it was Lincoln’s insistence on recognizing the immorality of slavery that distinguished him from Douglas. For Lincoln, the issue became one of intolerable moral conflict. Only elimination of slavery would resolve the conflict and the attendant cognitive dissonance. With the end of the Civil War the conflict between morality and necessity came to an end. The slaves were at last freed and the country was saved.
An important subtext of the book is how Lincoln’s devotion to reason was eventually tempered by his surrender to God. In a letter to Albert Hodges in 1864 Lincoln described the evolution of his thinking evoking the role of God in directing man’s actions. Here he came full circle from the religion of his parents to an embrace of reason as a reaction to those teachings and finally to submission to God’s will. He described his beliefs in a private communication uncovered after his death, termed The Meditation on God’s Will. Lincoln counseled that one must defer to God, in all of his mystery and lack of transparency, a mystical notion divorced from reason:

The will of God prevails. In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with God’s will. Both may be and one must be wrong. In the present Civil War, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party
The journey for Lincoln was a long one. The word God is rarely mentioned in Lincoln’s earlier writings and in fact is absent in the First Inaugural Address. It appears once in the Gettysburg Address, but then 14 times in the Second Inaugural Address. One of the pleasures of this book is that one discovers for oneself what God meant to Lincoln. In the Second Inaugural address, Lincoln submitted to God who is totally opaque and unknowing. This notion is more Islamic than Christian. If one understands how Lincoln came to understand God, then one comes closer to understanding Lincoln. His journey was intensely personal. Hence, the book is voyeurism at its titillating best.
It took real courage for White to write another book about Lincoln, much less a complete biography. Those who complete the book of over 750 pages hear beyond the background noise an entire Lincoln symphony. It is a real treat.
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This is, at least in my opinion, one of the best Lincoln biographies around. And there are some fine volumes already available, such as Donald's "Lincoln."

There are some strong features in this book--the character sketch of Lincoln is pretty compelling; his family background is laid out in more detail than in some other works on him that I have read; his development in Illinois is portrayed nicely; his tour as President is, finally, well detailed; the book covers his major speeches and letters in good depth, allowing his words to speak for themselves. Of course, many of the stories are already well known from other biographies.

The book begins with Lincoln's early life and his understanding of his family history (which did not go back very far). It is ironic that he was somewhat dismissive of his heritage, when--if he had known of more distant relatives in history--he had some forebears who had achieved some repute. The somewhat strained relationship with his father comes through, as well as his affection for his mother and stepmother. The story of the family's move from Kentucky to Indiana and, finally, to Illinois unfolds smoothly.

In Illinois, we see his growth and development from his years in New Salem to his move to Springfield. We see his passion for politics, his efforts to better himself, his development as an attorney.

Some of the high points. . . . His rise from a defeated candidate for the Senate in a campaign against Stephen Douglass to his ascent as a national politician (even though losing the election against Douglass, he gained wider visibility). His speaking tour of the East marked him as a player in the early Republican Party. The way he placed himself as the fallback candidate in the Republication Convention of 1860 is well told.

Then, the war years and all that went with that. His relations with political figures, private citizens such as Frederick Douglass, his generals, and so on.

The book moves along crisply and is a good read. People who are interested in Lincoln, I think, will find this a good volume to take a look at.
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on March 20, 2017
One of the best biographies I've ever read. Love all the details and additional information about Abraham Lincoln that I never realized or you wouldn't get in a history book. A great read and worth it. A bit tedious in parts, but you get more in the strategy of Lincoln here than anywhere else. The only complaint, which really shouldn't matter in a biography, was the lack of information that might be found after Lincoln's death if anything was to be found in records, the papers, and so on. I feel a good legacy chapter would have been a great compliment. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this book quite a bit.
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on April 17, 2017
I'm not a Lincoln scholar so I ask consideration of those who are. I find this biography as well written and engaging. It keeps interest in events of a turbulent time in our nation's past. I learned much detail of the events before and during the civil war of which I had but passing knowledge. I heartily recommend this book.
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on June 26, 2010
Wow ... great 5-star reviews have already been tendered. I can't disagree with them. My addition to the reviews asks just one question ... Who was this man!? That might seem a peculiar question after reading a biography as grand as White's but it is nonetheless the question that I've considered these several days.

I'm not sure there's an answer that can be revealed in biography. Who is a comparable benchmark in history? From the humble stock to warrior President, this man overcame challenges like no other ... not Washington, not Churchill. How did such genius of action arise from such humble origins? Any numbers of men were equally or more suited then Lincoln in his time and place. Others were certainly easier on the eyes as evidenced in the many daguerreotypes that White reproduces.

White delivers a thoroughly enjoyable biography on all the pertinent levels in a single book format. White does not explore the modern hypotheses regarding Lincoln's mental health, what about Mary?, sexual preferences, etc. as some may wont that he should. White provides an exquisite peek into A. Lincoln's oratorical skills and mastery of the word from Lincoln's perspective and the listener. Then he reveals the effects and the unrelenting pursuit of a national vision.

At the risk of sounding corny, there is a silver thread of the metaphysical weaving its way through White's Lincoln that White may or may not have noted from the details. There is a clarity, a closure in that Lincoln simply `left history' ... his job accomplished. Assassination was of course the reality but there is just so much more.

White's Lincoln must end as it did. Lincoln ran the good race and finished. White hits all the right chords to reveal an underlying unknowable. We shall not see the likes of A. Lincoln again.
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on January 14, 2013
It's clearer to me now why Abraham Lincoln is a larger than life figure. This is an outstanding biography, first and foremost because it is the story of an outstanding man. I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't read a Lincoln bio until now, so I can't compare it to any other, but I don't see how his story could be presented in a more compelling, insightful way. The illustrations and photos disbursed through the book make it all the more captivating.

I wish everyone in public office would read this book. Our politicians could certainly benefit from a better understanding of Lincoln's wisdom, temperance, kindness, compassion, humility, and his earnest desire to be guided from Above. I understand better now what an amazing accomplishment it was to abolish slavery and keep the Union intact
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on May 5, 2015
Ronald White carefully constructed a vivid presentation of this great leader who saved and changed our country; and thereby set its people to higher level of greatness that has been a touchstone for later generations. He modeled the best of American values - honesty, courage to stand for what is just and right. The book presented the other mover and shakers of times and their relationship to Lincoln; and made it possible for the reader really see the power and influence Lincoln humbly projected to everyone around him. I felt as if he passed through my current life as well, renewing my belief in the greatness of America.

Dr. Rebecca Payne, California
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on January 28, 2013
A thorough look at Lincoln the man and politician through the most exhaustive documentation of contemporary sources. The portrait comes alive through the voices of those who had contact with him during his life, including those who did not like him. Lincoln also is revealed by his own words and personal thoughts in the thousands of pieces of paper he wrote on.

The candid thoughts and attention to detail by Ronald White also highlight the intense nature of politics in the United States in the 19th century. I believe that after reading this book, the ending of slavery was always the cause of the Civil War. Lincoln was the far sighted individual who knew that its abolition was essential for the United States to become a great nation. He paid the ultimate price for his vision.
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on March 24, 2017
A very good book about one of my favorite people. Hope you enjoy!
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on March 25, 2017
Excellent Lincoln biography. Very thorough and well written.
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