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Lincoln Paperback – November 5, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer prize winner Donald's biography was a PW bestseller for 11 weeks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe (LJ 12/86), Donald proves himself the superb biographer of Lincoln, though two recent biographies, Michael Burlingame's The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (LJ 4/1/94) and Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory (LJ 10/1/94), are both important studies. Donald's profile of the 16th president focuses entirely on Lincoln, seldom straying from the subject. It looks primarily at what Lincoln "knew, when he knew it, and why he made his decisions." Donald's Lincoln emerges as ambitious, often defeated, tormented by his married life, but with a remarkable capacity for growth?and the nation's greatest president. What really stands out in a lively narrative are Lincoln's abilities to hold together a nation of vastly diverse regional interests during the turmoil and tragedy of the Civil War. Donald's biography will appeal to all readers and will undoubtedly corral its share of book awards. Highly recommended for all libraries.?Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., Ala.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
This Lincoln biography gives a masterful sweep of Lincoln's life, describing how early in his life he demonstrated an enormous capacity for work and an intellectual superiority.These character attributes were key to his life as he rose from a poor family who eked out a living clearing virgin forest to establish a homestead, to a man who established himself as a successful lawyer, married the daughter of a successful Kentucky businessman, went on to serve in the Illinois legislature and made a national name for himself as he debated Stephen Douglas while campaigning for the U.S. Senate. Donald describes how Lincoln's political prowess led him to guide the fledgling Republican party in Illinois and how this catapulted him to the Presidency - the first Western man and Republican elected to that office.
As Donald describes Lincoln's career up to the point of achieving the Presidency, he paints of a picture of a man who is confident of his intellectual abilities, is a leading citizen in the state of Illinois and has built a strong political organization. When elected to the presidency, Donald describes how Lincoln, who held no previous government executive office, grew into the role of the Presidency. He managed his talented and more educated but contentious cabinet with skill. He wrestled with the continual failings of the Union military leadership in the early battles of the Civil War,desperately looking for competent generals who could win battles as the Confederate armies won victory after victory while citizens of the North grew impatient with what everyone thought would be a short war. Lincoln also tested the Constitutional limits of the Executive branch when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and instituted a military draft when not enough volunteered for the army.
Donald describes the tremendous burden and toll on Lincoln as he steered the country through uncharted waters of rebellion while dealing with the the loss of a son (Willie) and the subsequent unraveling of Mary Todd Lincoln in her grief over Wilie's death. Lincoln endured this and more to save the Union, but the toll it took show starkly in the last photo of him taken in April of 1865, shortly before his assassination.
Donald says his biography "highlights a basic trait of character evident throughout Lincoln's life: the essential passivity of his nature: Lincoln himself recognized it ... ." Lincoln's Calvinist background gave him a sense that he was not in control but that "his destiny was controlled by some larger force, some Higher Power." Donald backs these insight with examples, but the story he tells also includes many instances when Lincoln actively drove events and strove to fulfill personal ambitions, for example, in securing his nominations to run for the presidency, at Fort Sumter, in refusing Confederate overtures for peace, in seeking generals who would embrace total war.
Most striking in my opinion was Lincoln's explicit recognition that he was in the "butchering business" (said during Grant's siege of Petersburg; Mrs. Lincoln believed Grant to be a "butcher") and Donald's statement that Lincoln "could not erase the knowledge that in the final analysis he was responsible for all this suffering." It's in this context that Donald describes Lincoln's reading the Bible to reinforce his belief in the doctrine of necessity ("the idea that the actions of any individual were predetermined and shaped by the unknowable wishes of some Higher Power"), "a belief that admirably fitted the needs of his essentially passive personality." Says Donald: "This comforting doctrine allowed the President to live with himself by shifting some of the responsibility for all of the suffering." Put differently, Lincoln may have not have been so passive but instead seeking ways to quiet a guilty conscience.