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Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer Paperback – February 2, 2010
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“A fine, invaluable book. . . . Certain to become essential to our understanding of the 16th president. . . . Kaplan meticulously analyzes how Lincoln’s steadily maturing prose style enabled him to come to grips with slavery and, as his own views evolved, to express his deepening opposition to it.” — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
For Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language both as a vehicle to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment.
This unique and engrossing account of Lincoln's life and career highlights the shortcomings of the modern presidency, reminding us, through Lincoln's legacy and appreciation for language, that the careful and honest use of words is a necessity for successful democracy.
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“A fascinating new book. . . . Although Fred Kaplan never mentions Mr. Obama by name, it’s hard to read this volume without thinking of the current president . . . and this book’s focus on the role that language and writing played in one president’s life promises to shed light on the role they may play in another’s. . . . Mr. Kaplan does a persuasive, highly perceptive job of explicating the influences that various authors had on Lincoln’s thinking.” — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“A fine, invaluable book. . . . Certain to become essential to our understanding of the 16th president. . . . It is always instructive to study Lincoln, but now is a particularly good time to consider his devotion to words. . . . No one has explored the subject so deeply or found so much meaning in it. . . . Kaplan meticulously analyzes how Lincoln’s steadily maturing prose style enabled him to come to grips with slavery and, as his own views evolved, to express his deepening opposition to it.” — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
“Compelling. . . . This revealing view of our 16th president focuses on his literary skills, on his deep appreciation for the classics, and on his lifelong search for the most precise and eloquent way to communicate his convictions and his ideas.” — Francine Prose, O, the Oprah magazine
“Absorbing.” — Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic
“Lincoln offers penetrating insights on Lincoln’s ability to explain complex ideas in language accessible to a broad range of readers and listeners. . . . Kaplan is especially effective in tracing the influence on Lincoln’s literary style of his lifelong course of self-education by reading English-language classics.” — New York Review of Books
“An elegant portrait of Lincoln’s literary sensibility.” — Ted Widmer, New York Observer
“Lively. . . . Kaplan does a good job of tracing the young man’s reading habits, identifying favorite books and noting their influence on the mature politician. . . . Powerful and convincing. . . . Kaplan is a biographer on a mission.” — The Los Angeles Times
“Superb. . . . This intensely researched, thoughtfully written volume is more than a biography, it’s also a practical and inspiring guide for writers. . . . Quoting many of Lincoln’s texts, Kaplan demonstrates how their author organized his thoughts and blended them into logical, effective and often soaringly eloquent treatises.” — The Seattle Times
“Essential reading for any Lincoln student preparing to dip into the rich field of Lincoln’s writings. . . . Just when you think every aspect of Lincoln’s life and thought has been covered, someone like Kaplan sees him from yet a new perspective.” — Allen Barra, The Baltimore Sun
“If you ever wondered what Lincoln read, how he thought about words and ideas or what made him into one of our country’s most distinctive speechwriters, this is the book for you.” — The Chicago Tribune
From the Back Cover
For Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language both as a vehicle to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment. This unique account of Lincoln's life and career highlights the shortcomings of the modern presidency, reminding us, through Lincoln's legacy and appreciation for language, that the careful and honest use of words is a necessity for successful democracy.
Illuminating and engrossing, Lincoln brilliantly chronicles Abraham Lincoln's genius with language.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 2, 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060773367
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060773366
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 1.1 x 5.3 x 7.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,020,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #2,086 in US Presidents
- #5,311 in Author Biographies
- #7,623 in Military Leader Biographies
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If the author had stopped there, or had fast-forwarded to Lincoln's writing/oratory when it was in full bloom during his presidential years, the book would have worked well. But there are many chapters, several of them mired in pedantry, about Lincoln's years as a small-town lawyer and businessman, and about the constant struggle of the auto-didact to rise above his humble past.
Since Lincoln is the most written-about president in our history, this is much too much information. Mr Kaplan has a difficult time staying on task. His discussion of the Lincolns' marriage is fascinating, but he gives you enough to whet the appetite and then more or less apologizes for getting off-track.
Worse than that, his conclusions at the end of the book as to where Lincoln's successors rank in terms of their comparative writing abilities is neither informed nor convincing. Considering that this book is only two years old, it is remarkable, if not laughable, that he refers to Jimmy Carter as one of the best writers to occupy the Oval Office, while failing to even mention the oratorical abilities, not to mention writing skills, of either John F Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. His blanket statement that "after Roosevelt, less talented speechwriters took over and the president's own language hardly mattered to the process" is simply inaccurate. Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan all had extensive writing and speaking backgrounds when they entered the presidency and continued to have a major influence on the words they uttered while occupying the Oval Office.
All in all, this book has its moments, but the author should have drawn more inspiration from his subject and erred on the side of brevity.
JC in Abq