A SELF-MADE MAN by Sidney Blumenthal


The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1849
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The first volume in a study of Abraham Lincoln, professional politician.

In this minutely detailed work, Blumenthal (The Strange Death of Republican America, 2008, etc.), a former senior adviser to Bill Clinton and national staff reporter for the Washington Post, sifts through Lincoln’s early influences to take the sum of the later politician. The humble rail splitter recognized from an early age what slavery meant, beginning in his childhood among the anti-slavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana and continuing with his practical experience as his father’s hireling until the age of 21. Indeed, at an early campaign event, Lincoln announced, “I used to be a slave,” and although he made the audience laugh, he was deeply serious. As Blumenthal shows, he was “constantly transforming himself through self-education and political aspiration.” He was a new kind of man, a professional politician who delighted in the messy give-and-take of the party ring, unlike earlier historians’ portrayal of the Great Emancipator (for example, by James G. Randall) as someone “too noble” to get his hands dirty. Blumenthal sees in Lincoln’s striving a method of calculation—e.g., his cultivation of the stories of the common man and his courting of the press. Practicing law was the first step in becoming a politician, and Lincoln modeled himself consciously on the image of statesman Henry Clay. Blumenthal works his way through mentors and early influences, such as Springfield’s leading attorney John Todd Stuart; former president and now Massachusetts anti-slavery Congressman John Quincy Adams, “old man eloquent” arguing constantly against the gag rule in Congress; and especially future wife Mary Todd, who believed in Lincoln as no other did. While the author often seems so swept up in his historical research as to lose sight of his subject, he delves deeply into the incremental building of Lincoln’s anti-slavery views, flourishing in the debates with Stephen Douglas.

A consummate political observer keenly dissects the machinations of Lincoln’s incredible rise to power.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-7725-2
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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