Abraham Lincolnby Benjamin P. Thomas Published 12 Apr 1979
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An account of the rise to power of a skillful politician & complicated man, who took on an enormous amount of personal & public responsibility during the greatest crisis in our nation's history. The story of his triumphs, tragedies, successes & failures.
"Abraham Lincoln" Reviews
This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is a story that tells of Abraham Lincoln from birth to death with no stone left uncovered. I am glad I have it under my reading belt, it was full of extreemly intersting facts and absolute foreshadowing of his future. I found he was a bit of an undisisive man who, at times, was at the mercy of his generals and congress - but he was the great president who saved the Union, but by unimaginable loss. I believe he knew what would be lost and wanted to avoid war at all costs, but was left no other choice.
Best one volume biography on Lincoln among legions of competitors. Elegant and fluid writing. His conclusions match the reliable evidence. No hype, no hyperbole, no far-out claims based on scanty evidence. Just solid history and biography. Professor Gates of Harvard could learn a thing or two from this kind of research and writing.
It's tough for normal people to deal with Civil War in his own country. The U.S. might be fragmented if he was not a president at that time. Abolish slavery was destroyed by this intelligent and awesome guy named " Abraham Lincoln". The book of Benjamin Platt Thomas titled " Abraham Lincoln" describes about life and mission of specific person . The book was written to attract the readers to continue reading until the end. The writer uses explanation as a dialogue which is realistic and experiencable. For instance, Lincoln's life was always miserable and tough with the death of his mother and his two sons. He ran unsuccessfully many times in politics. His flair and talent of oration in front of thousands and thousands of citizens could raise him up popularly. The light was shining when he was debating with against Stephen Douglas about slavery and rights. Moreover, with his knowledge and consciousness, he was leading the U.S. through one of the biggest problem which was Civil War. Many states were trying to make secession led by South Carolina.After that, he was able to reunion states in the country and solve and fundamental many radicals such as, abolish of slavery, taxes, railroads, and currency. Sadly, he was assassinated by John Wikes Boothand ending his life with the huge and powerful honor especially in Illinois. There are also three elements of this book which are life is not always beautiful, consciousness and knowledge are important for solving any problems, and leadership is the best element for the president. The idea of this book is life is always fulfilled with bad and good things at the same time.
A classic biography every bit as good as it's reputation, Thomas approaches the subject with the desire to illuminate rather than explain it. He does this with such smooth simple prose that the reader glides through chapters. As biography writing, this book is also an example of restraint. When a big event like Gettysburg occurs Thomas doesn't shift gears into the role of historian to write 20 pages on this most crucial battle. I'm glad of that. I grow weary of the bloated 900 page biographies that describe every cup of coffee. Thomas assumes the reader knows Gettysburg or can go in depth elsewhere. His job is Lincoln.
Benjamin Thomas made me realize how much of my Lincoln knowledge was built on John Ford's myth-making film, Young Mr. Lincoln. Sure Lincoln used the Farmer's Almanac to prove the brightness of the moon, but the pivotal trial in the film was otherwise historical composite and fiction. Ford also builds up Lincoln's first love Anne Rutledge in the film. Thomas explains that any such romance was speculative at best and more than likely non-existent. The book also helps one appreciate Steven Spielberg's Lincoln film. While nearly every conversation of that film is likely fiction those moments are very true to Lincoln's character and personality. Daniel Day-Lewis captures the raconteur Lincoln. Secretary of War Stanton makes a joke of Lincoln going into story mode and it humanizes both characters. But whereas the plot of the Ford film reveals the greatness of Young Lincoln if there was any greatness that early, the plot of the Spielberg film is largely a distraction. It's just the kind of tangential narrative that litters so many written biographies. I want the quiet moments in the Spielberg film and that's the equivalent what this author does in this book.
I think the circumstances around the Civil War breed so many alternate histories because a number of important moments have elements of chance. The accidental skirmish that led to the battle at Gettysburg or Stonewall Jackson being shot by his own men come readily to mind. Then you have Lincoln's assassination. Had it happened in Baltimore before the inauguration then the war could have gone in any number of directions. Had Booth failed post-war America would have been different. It may not have been the Marshall Plan, but reconstruction under Lincoln would have been far less confrontational and whether that would have been good or bad for the country is difficult to say. Would regional tensions have been better or worse and what would regional tensions look like today as a result. How many terms would a healthy Lincoln have served? Maybe he would have given way for Grant in 1868 or maybe the work of reconciliation would have demanded he stay on.
Having just finished Michael Korda's excellent biography of Robert E. Lee I couldn't have picked a better book to follow up. Had Lincoln instead faced any kind of external war he would have had Lee as his leading general. They would have been Roosevelt and Eisenhower. But it also made me realize that without a conflict the two men could have very easily became obscurities. Circumstances demand that talent rise and the test of that decides greatness. Pre-war odds makers wouldn't have given Lincoln or Lee or Grant a snowball's chance at greatness, but they would have bet George McClellan down to under even money after the war began. William Seward or even Stephen Douglas would have fared better in 1860. And maybe that's why historians rank Lincoln even higher than George Washington. He's the underdog that overcame so many personal obstacles to find greatness.
The genius of Thomas's biography is that he gives you the story and the reader can't help wondering how all of those pieces arranged differently would look. It helped me engage with the material in a way that will ensure I better retain the knowledge I gleaned here. I will forever see and think of Lincoln differently in both fiction and nonfiction because of this book. In short, it's foundational and I wish I had bothered to read it 20 years ago.
I should also say that I chose this book for it's reputation as quality writing. Had I sought out a Lincoln book that the consensus believed definitive I am just as likely to have stopped reading it altogether. I have this copy of Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography. I have owned it for more than ten years. I gave it around 100 pages with a bookmark and promised to return. The book was good, but it didn't grip me the same way. The Hamilton in my head is still stuck in the West Indies and there is a gap in my knowledge that lasts until Hamilton turns up in Washington's cabinet as the villain opposite Paul Giamati's John Adams courtesy of HBO. I didn't want to leave Lincoln in some log cabin carrying borrowed Shakespeare through the snow. Thanks to Thomas I took him all the way to Ford's Theater and thus let him belong to the ages.
This is one of the best biographies that I have ever read. It is a well written and well thought out book. I did not know much about President Lincoln, other than what is known by most, and now I feel as if I knew him well enough to call him a close friend. I can not recommend this book enough to anyone interested.
“Abraham Lincoln” is Benjamin Thomas’s 1952 classic and may have been the best single volume biography until Stephen Oates’s “With Malice Toward None” was published in 1977. Thomas’s biography was the first comprehensive one volume analysis of Lincoln’s life since Lord Charnwood’s 1917 biography of Lincoln. Thomas was a history professor and executive secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Association in Springfield. The author of a half-dozen other books, Thomas took his own life in 1956 after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Oldest of the five Lincoln biographies I’ve read so far, Thomas’s “Abraham Lincoln” has aged well. At just over five-hundred pages in length, this is not a brief read but it proves to be an enjoyable and almost effortless experience. Happily, this biography lacks page-long paragraphs of dense, academic text and yet still creates an impression of intellectual rigor.
Thomas seems to approach his task more as a storyteller than a historian. As a result, his writing style is unusually elegant, fluid, descriptive and engaging. Where another author might rush through the description of, for example, the dilapidated Illinois state capital building, Thomas lingers an extra moment in order to form a more vivid and lasting impression of the object in the reader’s mind.
Relative to more recent biographies of Lincoln I’ve read, Thomas’s provides a far better comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the North and the South as they headed to war. Coverage of Lincoln’s early life, while far from exhaustive, is among the clearest and easiest to follow of any Lincoln biography I’ve encountered. And Thomas’s description of Sherman’s heated march across the deep south, though too brief, was the most colorful and detailed of any account I’ve yet seen.
The final chapter of this biography is largely (but by no means exclusively) dedicated to the author’s observations of Lincoln’s service as president, his evolution as a politician and a discussion of the qualities that made him a great, if flawed, individual. Similar observations were liberally scattered throughout the book, but nowhere did they appear as thoughtfully and forcefully as in the book’s last pages.
But Thomas is at his very best when describing the people whose lives intersected with Abraham Lincoln. He wonderfully reveals each character’s unique personality, physical attributes, strengths, flaws, eccentricities and relationship with Lincoln in a way I’ve not seen before. This is not only true of Lincoln’s friends, business partners and early advisers but also his political adversaries, military advisers and, notably, his cabinet members. Through these almost three-dimensional portraits of notables moving in his orbit, Lincoln’s world seems to come to life.
For all its strengths, Thomas’s biography is not perfect. Coverage of Lincoln’s own family, although adequate, is fairly limited and Mary Lincoln’s foibles are only sporadically evidenced. The Civil War years are nicely summarized for a reader lacking deep knowledge of the conflict, but the fractious politics which engulfed the nation’s capital during those years often seem deemphasized in favor of focus on the latest military travail.
In addition, Thomas dives less deeply into the complex politics of slavery and the evolution of Lincoln’s views than other biographers. His analysis is competent but not masterful or probing. In a similar vein, Thomas is rarely as penetrating a political scientist as other authors and often fails to pursue issues as completely as he might. Discussion of Lincoln’s cabinet selection was far less substantive (and more oversimplified) than I would have liked, and the biography was less effective than most others in portraying events such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the Republican convention and the presidential campaign of 1860.
Overall, however, there is a great deal to like about Benjamin Thomas’s biography of Lincoln. Thomas is almost always able to smooth the rough edges of history and create an interesting, easily digested story without obfuscating history’s true course. Despite its age, this biography feels sprightly and light and is one of my favorite presidential biographies in the “50-and-over” category. Benjamin Thomas’s biography of our sixteenth president is undoubtedly an excellent choice for anyone seeking an engaging, informative, wonderfully vivid but still relatively thorough introduction to Lincoln’s life.
Overall rating: 4¼ stars