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Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words Paperback – October 9, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ever since publication of Garry Wills's Pulitzer Prize–winning Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992), the woods have been alive with considerations of Lincoln's rhetoric, both spoken and written, by among others Henry Mark Holzer, Allen C. Guelzo and Ronald C. White. Thus this new work by Wilson (author of the Lincoln Prize winner Honor's Voice) is necessarily redundant. Wilson's emphasis—aside from placing key remarks into historical context—is on applying excruciatingly detailed and tireless (sometimes tiresome) textual analysis to such utterances as Lincoln's farewell to Springfield, Ill.; the First Inaugural; the July 4th, 1861, message to Congress; the Emancipation Proclamation; and the Gettysburg Address. Robert Lincoln recalled his father as "a very deliberate writer, anything but rapid." It is Lincoln's very deliberate, painstaking, multidraft process that Wilson seeks to document. Readers deeply immersed in Lincoln trivia will find Wilson's intricate forensics inviting. Others, nurturing a more casual interest, will fast find themselves drowned in details of subtle variations between drafts of Lincoln's various major addresses, all so carefully dissected in order to reveal the mechanical, trial-and-error process that lay behind Lincoln's soaring eloquence. 50 b&w illus. (Nov. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Douglas L. Wilson, codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and 1999 Lincoln Prize winner for Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, has again won the Lincoln Prize for Lincoln's Sword. Wilson says the book resulted from his work transcribing Lincoln's most famous writings for the Library of Congress, where he was struck by Lincoln's literary craftsmanship and penchant for revision. While a few reviewers criticize Wilson's academic prose style and reiteration of Lincoln material (he breaks no new ground), most admire his scholarship and inside look at Lincoln's writing process and find the book an insightful and revelatory study of our 16th president.Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032636
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032631
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Lincoln has become one of those tests where someone can tell you their thoughts about him and you can often tell where they are on any number of issues. The problem is that much of what people think they know about Lincoln is only a bumper sticker or sound byte version of what went on. We try to judge Lincoln (and most of our great historical figures) by our lights rather than seeing him in the context of his own time. Of course, it takes some work to learn what happened and why rather than wringing our hands over, say, the suspension of habeas corpus.

This excellent book can be a great contribution to your education about the real Abraham Lincoln and how he conducted himself as President. He came into office with the elite dismissing him as crude and hopelessly unsophisticated. This book shows us how carefully he worked on his public speeches and the letters and articles that were published during his time in office.

Sometimes we forget that by the time Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861 that the movement for secession was well underway and the firing on Fort Sumter was on April 12, 1861, just a few weeks later. His second inaugural address was given on March 4, 1865, Lee's Surrender at Appomattox was on April 9th, and Lincoln was shot by Booth on April 14th. He died the next day. So, his entire service as President was bounded by that terrible war.

Douglas Wilson takes several of the addresses and letters central to Lincoln's Presidency and shows us what the extant drafts reveal to us about Lincoln's purposes, approach, and the political realities he faced. He also brings in testimony by those who were involved with those documents, worked with Lincoln, and contemporaries who wrote about them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lincoln was a great writer but his handwriting was awful. With meticulous attention to Lincoln's handwritten drafts and his corrections on printers' proofsheets, Douglas Wilson reassesses just how great a writer Lincoln was.

As a documentary scholar, Wilson cannot be surpassed: he properly acknowledges prior scholars who celebrated the high quality of Lincoln's prose--Jacques Barzun and Don Fehrenbacher, among others. Wilson examines not only Lincoln's own papers, but also relevant correspondence, news reports, and testimony. Lincoln sometimes showed drafts to colleagues, friends, and secretaries, then revised to respond to their criticisms.

Wilson takes care to distinguish Lincoln's public oratory from the printed records of it, and shows how--in case after case--Lincoln was sensitive to and took advantage of differences in media. Lincoln knew when his writing should be formal or folksy, terse or expansive, tacit or explicit, congenial or hortatory. No less important, he knew how to seize an opportunity and when to create one. Modern presidents rely on television to reach the citizenry; Lincoln wrote highly influential editorials and public letters. He wrote his own speeches. Then he rewrote them.

Wilson shows that Lincoln was a relentless reviser. No matter how well he spoke and how well a speech was received, he would guide it into print with alterations to make it work as well on the page as possible. Wilson probes whether the Gettysburg Address that millions have memorized is what Lincoln actually said.

Wilson does not ask us to take him on faith: he includes facsimile reproductions of many key documents as evidence of Lincoln's attentive labor. Readers can see the cross-outs, scribbles, and additions for themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
An amazing piece of detective work. Douglas Wilson uncovers the mind of Abraham Lincoln by analyzing how he edited his presidential writings.

Wilson peels back the layers of some of Lincoln's dramatic speeches, including his Springfield Farewell Address, First Inaugural, Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. Lincoln kept fine-tuning the words for greater force and clarity.

Wilson shows how Lincoln's editing continued even after his speeches were delivered, as he carefully finalized the works for publication, translating from the spoken word to the written word.

We gain new appreciation for Lincoln's final words when we see the drafting process underlying them. This may be as close as we will ever get to reconstructing the thoughts of our greatest President.
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Format: Hardcover
Lincoln's Sword illuminates the power and clarity of Lincoln's words. Even if the reader is not a Lincoln devotee or scholar, this book's treatment of Lincoln's speeches are clear, concise and pleasureable. This is a book that anyone would enjoy reading.
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Format: Hardcover
Bold in concept and careful in execution, this work is a gem. Lincoln's constant revising, his sense of what was appropriate in given situations, and his surging command of the language over decades impress the reader. Wilson's understanding of the context of Lincoln's deployment of language is impressive. Cautiously revisionist.
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Format: Paperback
This is an important book for two reasons. One - it explains Lincoln's success as a great communicator. Two - it offers a template for those who wish to influence people and events with their words. The book dissects Lincoln's method of writing, his thorough preparation and his eagerness that the reader obtain the right interpretation of what he has written. A fascinating study.
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