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The Portable Abraham Lincoln (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 27, 2009
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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From Library Journal
This abbreviated edition of Lincoln speeches, letters, and notes brings the man ready to hand. Drawn from the fuller Library of America collection (1989), this collection shows Lincoln at work in law, politics, and war. All the great Lincoln works are here, with the added bonus of several personal memos that show Lincoln's humor. Reviled in life but revered in death, Lincoln has become the singlemost important American public writer: his words recalling those "mystic chords of memory" that bind Americans to the Declaration of Independence as the seedbed for all definitions of freedom ring true today in a post-Cold War World. Larger libraries will prefer the fuller Lincoln editions for their shelves, and general readers will find much the same fare in the recent collection, Lincoln on Democracy ( LJ 10/15/91), compiled by Mario Cuomo, but Delbanco's intelligent selection will also help us "get right with Lincoln" and appreciate how the prairie lawyer became the poet of American democracy.
- Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"[An] excellent, thoughtfully presented selection . . . The ironic intelligence and sharp sense of purpose, the wit, lucidity, and emotional force come through with an undiminished and chastening power to make us think and feel."
-Ric Burns, co-producer of PBS's The Civil War
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There are two main reasons why I find The Portable Lincoln so pleasing.
First, editor Delbanco (who's best known for his insightful work on American Puritans) prefaces the collection with an elegant and informative intellectual biography of Lincoln that prepares the way for a more informed reading of the selections. He also provides a useful chronology of Lincoln's life, and he introduces each of the book's six sections with prefatory remarks that put the selections in context.
Second, the selections themselves are carefully chosen and genuinely representative of Lincoln's thoughts in each of the six periods of his life from which they're drawn: his early years up to 1850; the pivotal "republican" years of 1854-1859; the presidential campaign, 1860; the early days of the war, 1860-1861; Lincoln the war president, late 1861-1864; and the reflective Lincoln, 1864-1865. Within each section are to be found exactly what one wants in a collection such as this: for example, Lincoln's early Address to the Springfield Young Man's Lyceum; his Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity; his House Divided speech; the first (and possibly best) Lincoln-Douglas Debate; the not-so-good Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions; the Cooper Institute speech; the too-neglected great First Inaugural and the justly-praised Second; the July 4 Message to Congress in Special Session; the Final Emancipation Proclamation; and assorted letters, private memoranda, and speeches. Taken together, these selections give the finest overall impression of Lincoln the private man, politician, thinker, and statesman that one's likely to glean from reading his own words.
I might add that even long-time readers of Lincoln are likely to find one or two pleasant surprises in this collection. Let me mention but one. Everbody's familiar with Lincoln's barbed quip, when McClellan failed to pursue Lee after Antietam, that he'd like to borrow the army if McClellan wasn't going to use it. But Delbanco quotes an even more barbed (and delicious!) zinger from Lincoln to McClellan, written on 24 October 1862:
"I have just read your despatch about sore tongued and fatiegued [sic] horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?" (p. 244) Ouch!!
Highly recommended, not only for its historical interest but because of the fact, which becomes more obvious to me each time I reread Lincoln, that his words are just as timely today as they were 150 years ago.
* From Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, p. 203.