LINCOLN'S MEN

HOW PRESIDENT LINCOLN BECAME FATHER TO AN ARMY AND A NATION

A worthwhile, though hardly groundbreaking study of the emotional bonds forged between the average Union soldier and “Father Abraham” Lincoln. Historian Davis (“A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy, 1994, etc.) borrows copiously from the correspondence and diaries of Union soldiers to argue that Lincoln was revered by his troops as a kindhearted father figure. Although most of Lincoln’s face-to-face encounters with Union troops were brief, he left an enduring impression on them. Lincoln’s mesmerizing eloquence, combined with his melancholy face, convinced the average soldier that “he suffered as they did . . . he, too, was a casualty” of war. Davis vividly re- creates the comic first impression most soldiers got of their president—a gaunt, tattered Lincoln saluting them from an undersized horse during military review ceremonies. While the soldiers enjoyed lampooning Lincoln’s ugliness and backwoods manner, they sensed implicitly that he cared deeply about them. Lincoln constantly voiced appreciation for the average Union soldier, which did wonders for flagging military morale, especially after the carnage of Gettysburg. Lincoln possessed a common touch that even the lowliest private could feel. Of course, Lincoln’s popularity among the troops was tested. The Emancipation Proclamation angered thousands of white, working-class soldiers who feared economic competition from freed slaves. Lincoln’s removal of General George B. McClellan was another test. When Lincoln faced McClellan in the 1864 presidential election, however, the troops voted overwhelmingly for “Father Abraham.” Davis meticulously recounts Lincoln’s efforts to gain the army fair pay, humane living conditions, and adequate medical care. In one delightful chapter, the author describes Lincoln’s policy of freely granting leniency to soldiers convicted at courts-martial. Lincoln was particularly merciful to the young, the stupid, and the inebriated. It’s no surprise, then, that Union soldiers immortalized him in his death. While Davis’s insights aren’t particularly new, his examination of Lincoln from the viewpoint of the average Union soldier confirms “Old Abe’s” undeniable genius as a wartime leader.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83337-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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