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Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year Audible – Unabridged

4.7 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author David Von Drehle's premise is that 1862 was the pivotal year of the Civil War, the year that ultimately guaranteed the Federal victory orchestrated by President Lincoln. Having read about the Civil War for 45 years, this theme seemed dissonant at first. Is "1862" a typo? Doesn't Von Drehle mean 18 SIXTY-THREE? Didn't that year begin with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson running rampant at Chancellorsville? Didn't it end with the Confederates severed along the Mississippi and driven back toward Richmond and Atlanta? Wasn't THAT the year that the tide of the war was irrevocably reversed to favor the eventual triumph of the Union?

Von Drehle makes a convincing case that 1862 is AT LEAST AS DECISIVE as the later years. He points out that a lot of things could have gone wrong in 1862 that would have wrecked the Union BEFORE the calendar turned over to 1863:

1. The North might have convinced itself that the Confederacy was unconquerable. Conventional wisdom is that the North overpowered the South with manpower, industry, and railroads, but that was far from obvious in the early years of the war. Before the war most of the nation's foreign exchange was generated by the South's cotton exports. Cotton made money for Northern shippers, brokers, and banks. Could the North's economy sustain itself without the South? The immense land area of the Confederacy might have made the logistics of subduing and occupying it impossible even if the Federals somehow managed to win every battle.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a most interesting book chock full of information, both trivial and illuminating of behind the scenes action of both Abraham Lincoln and his opposition within the Washington political establishment during the year 1862. Von Drehle is able to translate chaos into mere complexity. A recurring image in my mind, especially when reading the opening chapters, was of an ancient seer sorting through the entrails of a goat in order to divine the future and here was an author up to his elbows in the same sort of mess trying to make sense of the past.

The book takes the reader in a month by month odyssey through the year 1862. There are indications that the original intent was to focus on that year as the most crucial in the greater history of America but devolved, in manner of speaking, into a close examination of the maturation of Lincoln as a leader. That is not meant to be a criticism but as an explanation of a seemingly dulling of interest in the bigger picture and concentration on the latter (or, maybe, the massiveness of the compilation of data led me to that feeling). As the book progresses, there is an emergence of the character of Lincoln from the flotsam and jetsam of the tumultuous years leading up to January 1, 1862.

Because its scope is limited to one year, it loses its contextual mooring and, therefore should not be read in isolation from broader histories of the Civil War Era. It augments those histories in a most useful way but should not be read in lieu of them. It might be better thought of as a social profile of a particular man at a particular time in his life rather than as a history.

There can be much that can be said about the content of the book but what it does not say is also of interest.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on it's pub date and had to blow off the rest of the day because I didn't want to put it down. Having read dozens of other books on Lincoln I found David Von Drehle's original, captivating, with every word just right. It will make you wish the author has future plans to write about Lincoln's other years in office!
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Format: Hardcover
They say that context is everything and this book provides needed context to turbulent year 1862, and to the man, Abraham Lincoln.

I read a lot of Civil War history, the problem is that by focusing on a particular battle or topic of that war it is easy to lose sight of the broader picture.

David Von Drehle has provided that needed context with this book. While the book appears to be another Lincoln biography/history, the author does an excellent job of weaving many additional players into the story.

The reader will gain perspective not only on Lincoln, but on McClellan, Grant, Mary Todd, Seward, Lord Palmerston, Emperor Louie Napoleon, and the other people that had great impact on the President and the nation during this crucial period.

This is not just a simple retelling of the history of the times. To understand the man Abraham Lincoln, we need to understand the events, the people, the issues, and the pressures that made him the greatest President in American history. This book succeeds in it's task.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By taking the year 1862, David Von Drehle has given us a thoughtful, well researched and excellent presentation in this critical year of Lincoln's life and administration.

Like many students of the Civil War, we tend to think of 1863 as the critical year, in which Lee is defeated at Gettysburg, Vicksburg is taken and the rest of it is downhill for the South, but 1862 was the year that set that up.

At the start of the year, Lincoln is somewhat a "rookie" president. The secession of southern states has turned into a shooting war, Lincoln is in the process of transforming himself from a newly elected underdog to the leader of the nation, which even in the North is still divided amongst itself, and Lincoln has to deal with personal tragedies, the nation's difficulties, the possilities of European involvement and a host of other things.

In the loss of his favorite son, Willie, early in the year, Lincoln was dealt a severe blow, and Willie's death only helped unleash the demons that were long inside his wife Mary. Her grief transformed her into a very unstable person, and while she was a great supporter of the president, she was often times one of his greates problems.

His need to find a military leader early in the war was another frustration. George McClellan, with an ego bigger than life, was a great builder of armies but terrifed of using them. Lincoln had to contend with his insolence, his actions which verged on treason, and the fact that every other man he turned to in order to rid himself of McClellan failed him. His selection of Henry Halleck to preside over all the armies, was not a good one. In fact, it almost caused Grant to leave the service of his country.
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