LINCOLN'S BODY by Richard Wightman Fox
Kirkus Star


A Cultural History
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An absorbing meditation on Abraham Lincoln’s body, in life and death, and its role in shaping America’s memory of the man who saved the Union.

Taking a fresh approach to the legacy of the martyred president, Fox (History/Univ. of Southern California; Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, 2004, etc.) examines the ways in which Lincoln’s iconic image has captured the American imagination, from recollections of his bruised and rigid corpse in the days immediately after his 1865 assassination to the public memorials, poems, books and movies that have turned his body into a "virtual embodiment of national purpose and glory." Lincoln as president was often deemed homely, even grotesque in appearance; Walt Whitman called his face "so awful ugly it becomes beautiful." Always accessible, the president had “put his body at the center of his public life,” endearing himself to the people. Thousands of mourners flocked to his funeral train, which became a moving shrine as it passed through Northern states. Recounting those days in exquisite detail, Fox shows how the “cult of Lincoln” lived on for a century, evinced in poetry (“O Captain! My Captain!”), in bronze and granite statues (some 87 statues by 1952, with one rising in formerly Confederate Richmond, Virginia, in 2003), and in the Lincoln Memorial (1922) in Washington, D.C., which “reimagined Lincoln’s unassuming and quirky body as a commanding symbol of the nation.” Lincoln’s commoner image lived on in the Lincoln penny, in Carl Sandburg’s mammoth biography and in films such as John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). Only the disillusionment of the Vietnam years could halt outright adulation of the president. More recently, Lincoln has been attacked in fiction by Gore Vidal, celebrated as a liberator by historians, and portrayed in popular culture, from a major Disneyland exhibit to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

An original, brightly written and well-researched cultural history certain to have wide appeal.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0393065305
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2014


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