The greatest of all American historical legends, Abraham Lincoln's life has been told and retold countless times. Good, old Abe stands alone, a colossal figure of peerless achievements: the Great Emancipator, the deliverer of the Gettysburg Address, the president who saved the Union and paved the way for the destiny of the modern United States. It's more or less impossible to look beyond the layers of myth and legend now, but this is a different kind of biography: Whimsical, imaginative, empathic, it ambles through his life sketching an endearing though not unquestioning portrait of an American icon, seeking out the essence of the man. Jan Morris
's motivation was the somewhat irritated incomprehension she felt when faced with the all-pervasive sainted status of the man on her first visit to the States in the 1950s. Since then she has explored and written about America extensively and it's clear that Lincoln was always somewhere at the back of her mind. After many years of gestation, her insightful musings make for an absorbing, fresh perspective on the man and his legacy.
The narrative follows a journey through the country, a manner of pilgrimage, tracing the remarkable transformation of Lincoln's life as he migrated from humble beginnings in Kentucky, via social respectability as a lawyer and politician in Springfield, Illinois, and on to his ultimate destiny of the presidency and Civil War leader. The picture that emerges is of a somewhat eccentric man of deep contradictions: feisty and capable of ruthlessness yet genuinely kind; prone to periods of misanthropy yet also blessed with an appealing sense of humor apparent from self-deprecating remarks and aphoristic stories of enchantingly universal appeal and simple, homespun wisdom. Through it all, though, right up to the tragedy of which he reputedly had a premonition, this great man of destiny shines through as, essentially, a decent and straightforward man. The book does lack any pictures of the people and places in his life, perhaps a slight oversight, but, then again, in view of the richly evocative nature of her portrayal, easily overlooked. --Alisdair Bowles, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
The Lincoln revealed by British writer Morris is a far cry from the Honest Abe of popular myth: she finds an "unpleasant side" to the president's nature, an "element of the mountebank" that "led him into spite or mayhem." But what else, Morris seems to ask, should we expect from someone who was "surely only another party politician anyway"? Morris confesses that ever since the 1950s, when she (then a he, named James Morris) first set foot in the U.S., she has been skeptical of the American veneration of Lincoln. In this indulgent excursion, she combines considerable (but idiosyncratic) historical homework and some extensive travel around the U.S. with a lot of imaginative license to paint a thoroughly subjective picture of Lincoln. Morris, the author of a variety of historically oriented travel books (Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire, etc.), does make some larger points, calling Lincoln "the originator of American hubris." She also gleefully reports on Lincoln's well-known ambivalence toward slavery as though she, for the first time, is revealing that Lincoln was not the unconflicted emancipator portrayed in grade-school history books. And it's not just Lincoln who irritates her. She is affronted as well by the Lincoln lookalikes she finds in museums and gift shops. (But then most Americans she meets in her travels seem to be stupid, not to mention obese.) More than anything, Morris is surprised and dismayed at Lincoln's folksiness, not recognizing that this is one of the qualities most prized in American presidents, from Jackson to Truman. In this book, it's not only Lincoln that Morris fails to understand; it's an entire culture. Agent, Julian Bach.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.