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With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – February 8, 2011
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Someone once said that more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person in history save Jesus and Shakespeare. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the Civil War without getting to know the complex figure of the 16th president. More than any other biographer, Stephen B. Oates brings the plain-talking man from Illinois to life as a canny politician, a doting husband, and a determined wartime leader. Oates has an appealing appreciation for Lincoln's majestic control of the English language, his raw humor, and his undeniable heroism. The final pages, covering Lincoln's death and his legacy, are graceful and moving.
“The standard one-volume biography of Lincoln” (Washington Post)
“A superb biography” (Chicago Tribune)
“Hailed as the best one-volume biography of Lincoln” (Boston Globe)
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What strikes me most is that Lincoln wasn't even the best man for the job, necessarily. He wasn't an experienced politician, he wasn't a military man and he trusted some of those yahoos he had as generals too much. But Lincoln was the man in the job and he faced it head on. Other men who could have been president during that time would have caved when Lincoln stood firm. In the end he was the person who had to be there and aren't we all grateful he didn't run from that destiny.
Oates' book is very fine and I recommend it. Just be sure to read something light on the side so you don't get too overwhelmed while tackling such dark subject matter.
This book goes over his life and the events in it as many books have done before but the difference for me is that there are so many little details and anecdotes about events that make them even more powerful, gives me a new way of understanding what Lincoln was facing and how he dealt with it.
The opposition to the emancipation is shown in its many aspects in a way that makes it clear how brave a move it was for Lincoln and how committed he was to getting rid of slavery. His growth as a man from a racist society to where he ended up is a testament to his ability to lead people. The North as well as the South were very hostile to blacks, slave or free. Lincoln, while he hated slavery, could not see how the two races could live together, even though he had no hatred for blacks at all, knew most whites did. Therefore he saw colonization, where blacks are settled in a place for just blacks in either Africa or the Caribbean or Central America,as the only reasonable solution. This was a popular notion in his day amongst others who hated slavery but could not see how blacks could live with so many bigoted whites. However, Lincoln was for colonization only on a voluntary basis. No blacks would be forced to go. He thought that would be an easy task as the blacks were treated to horribly but whenever he broached the topic with blacks the overwhelming majority refused colonization. America was their country too. They wanted to reform it not leave it.
Eventually Lincoln saw that colonization would not be viable and ended up asking for blacks to have full citizenship and even get the right to vote. When he announced that idea to a crowd outside the window of the White House John Wilkes Booth, in the crowd, decided in his racist mind that Lincoln had to be killed, and did so 3 days later.
Lincoln had respect for all people white or black, slave or slaveowner. He was, as was often mentioned, "a very poor hater." He was motivated by a need to see justice for all, all his life and slavery was the greatest, and to use his words "most monstrous injustice", ever and he struck it down when he knew he could lead the people to accept it.
This book makes clear the incredible challenges Lincoln faced with almost constant attacks on him by the democrats, much of the media, and some in his own party.
Even the day after the Inaugural ball when he gets word that Fort Sumter needed to be resupplied he has to immediately deal with the potential trigger to the civil War.His cabinet and military advisors are split as to what to do. Some say surrender the fort, its not worth anything.Some say
fight back. Lincoln has no military experience and is faced with a major challenge. He weighs the options, sends trusted friends to Charleston to tell him the potential reaction to various options and also if there is any pro Union sentiment that can be utilized. He had a view that the Secessionist were a minority of the people and that reason could yet get the South back.
The message came back that there was no pro Union sentiment. He then decided that since he had just told the people in his inaugural address that he would hold all Federal property and institutions he would do so. And if there was to be a Civil War the South would have to fire the first shot.
Lincoln understood the motivator that would be for the North and also how that would make it harder for other Nations to support the South.
Over and over in this book the challenges Lincoln faced are clarified, put in true context and detailed so as to better understand the genius of this most amazing man.