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Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President

edited by Brian Lamb and Susan Swain

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-58648-676-1
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Essays crafted from C-SPAN interviews of 55 writers on Lincoln.

As the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth approaches, this collection serves as a useful introduction to the startling depth of the Lincoln discussion among scholars during the past decade and a half. Many of the contributors—e.g., Allen C. Guelzo, David Herbert Donald, Stephen B. Oates, Harold Holzer, James M. McPherson, Mark Neely Jr.—are either Lincoln or Civil War–era specialists. Others are notable historians who have written important Lincoln-centered books—e.g., Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America, Garry Wills’s Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. These scholars offer illuminating insights, all more gracefully explained and profitably explored in the books that prompted the conversations captured here, as Lamb (Booknotes: Life Stories: Notable Biographers on the People Who Shaped Our World, 1999, etc.) and C-SPAN president Swain readily acknowledge. The collection’s chief delight, particularly for readers already well-versed in Lincolniana, lies in the odd-angle assessments contributed by historians better known for their work apart from Lincoln, such as Merrill D. Peterson, Gordon S. Wood, Robert Remini, Richard Norton Smith, David Reynolds and H.W. Brands, or in the nuggets offered by observers from different disciplines such as art, economics, criticism and journalism. The essays are roughly divided into groups centering on Lincoln’s path to the White House, his character, his performance as a wartime president and his iconic historical status. The editors’ big-tent presentation makes room for dissenting voices from “the church of Lincoln”—the sometimes self-serving scholarly “industry” that’s grown up around the 16th president—and they allow Lincoln to speak for himself, reprinting seven of his speeches and an excerpt from the Charleston debate with Stephen Douglas. Mini-biographies of the contributors serve both as a tribute to the variety and distinction of the assembled voices and as a helpful guide for those eager to learn more.

An appealing tasting menu for the banquet that is Lincoln.