Huntington Library fellow White (The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, 2005, etc.) offers a lively, comprehensive life of the 16th president.
Known variously throughout his career as “Honest Abe,” “Old Abe,” “the Rail-Splitter,” “the original gorilla,” “the dictator,” “the Great Emancipator” and “Father Abraham,” Lincoln referred to himself in famously self-deprecating terms and signed his name simply as “A. Lincoln.” That’s all that was simple, though, about this unusually “shut-mouthed” man, who from youth burned for public distinction. White’s highly readable, picturesque presentation follows Lincoln’s life from the pioneer birth and boyhood to the presidential assassination, with especially good passages on Lincoln’s ancestry, his Springfield law practice and his emergence from the political wilderness in 1858. White doesn’t shy away from Lincoln’s shortcomings—his ferocious ambition, his opportunism, his woeful performance as a husband—but this mostly admiring treatment highlights his virtues, not least his ability to draw on the talents of diverse personalities, use the best of their advice and deftly manipulate them to advantage, whether as a militia captain, a state legislator, a party organizer a candidate or a president. White’s triumph, though, is his focus on the forging of Lincoln’s moral character—how the private man used contemplation, reading, experience, the press of events and the teachings of his political heroes to clarify his own political identity. Splendidly, and unsurprisingly given his past scholarship, White pays particular attention to language, referencing the innumerable scraps of paper Lincoln wrote to himself, public and private letters and formal addresses. He graphically depicts Lincoln thinking, first tentatively, and then logically working through the thicket of a problem to a lawyerly understanding and, finally, with his singular combination of “homely and high language,” to an exquisite expression of meaning and purpose.
Likely to be frequently cited during the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth.