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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  5,060 ratings  ·  159 reviews
In a masterly work, Garry Wills shows how Lincoln reached back to the Declaration of Independence to write the greatest speech in the nation’s history.

The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation “a new birth
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1992)
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A REVIEW in 292:

Fundamentally, the thing I love about criticism is the ability to read a damn fine book about a damn fine speech and recognize the author of the book wrote a little more than a page for every word in the Gettysburg Address. If you count appendixes and notes (and why wouldn't you when the appendix and notes matter?).


I once teased my wife, during my early wooing stage, that I wanted to write an ode to every hair on her head (load of odes). Garry Wills did. This book is both academ
Lincoln was a “radical” in both senses: he broke with tradition by returning to the roots. The heart of Wills’s book is Lincoln’s elevation of the Declaration of Independence as a transcendental text above the earthly and provisional Constitution. The Constitution, with its tolerance of slavery, was felt by Lincoln and other transcendentalist political thinkers to require renewal by the Declaration, whose unequivocal proposition of equality for all constitutes the moral center of the American sy ...more
Frank Stein
Just a beautiful piece of work that is also possibly the best book I've read on Abraham Lincoln. For one, Wills does a wonderful job of analyzing Lincoln's influences, from the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Theodore Parker to the oratory of the Greek revival movement to Romanticism, and all of it is so lucidly described and densely packed together that I often had to put the book down to absorb it all or think on it for a moment. Wills' main point though is that the Gettysburg Address, by mak ...more
This year my "Reading Challenge" is to re-read 10 books to see how they hold up to my memory. There is quite a bit in this book that I forgot over 15 years.

If you asked me last week, I'd have told you it was about the use of rhetorical devices and how this style of oratory harkens back to the Greek tradition. I would not have remembered nor told you it shows how Lincoln recast the meaning of the war and fixed the Declaration of Independence as subordinate to Constitution (as noted in the title);
Jacques Bromberg
Aug 30, 2006 Jacques Bromberg rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, classics geeks, politicos
Shelves: history
There's a lot of junk by Gary Wills that I don't like, but I enjoyed this book enormously. Even more useful than Wills' gripping discussions of Lincoln's address, is the inclusion (in the appendices) of texts by Edward Everett, Gorgias, and Thucydides.
John Sundman
Nov 27, 2011 John Sundman rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to John by: Dear Wife
This book is great. It's elegantly written, well-argued, well-documented and full of insight and information. Wills not only explains Lincoln's rhetorical techniques, he situates them in the context of classical rhetoric (in particular the ancient Greek funeral-for-heroes speech), American cultural trends of the mid 1800's (in particular Transcendentalism and the "rural cemetery" movement), and Lincoln's own history as a writer and giver of speeches.

Most importantly, he demonstrates how Lincoln
I'm surprised at how little I liked this book. Honestly, I don't know how this won the Pulitzer; it's about a fifth very technical dissection of the Gettysburg Address itself, and the rest is a wandering hodgepodge (I found myself flipping page after page of information about then-contemporary cemetery design philosophy). Some of this is interesting - the author's rundown of the two hour long preceding Gettysburg Oration went into a lot of detail about public speaking in the mid 1800s that was s ...more
Wills takes us back not only to the day that Lincoln gave this speech, but also he starts off crafting deftly, and laboriously, our experiences while visiting a cemetery such as this one. That realm between the living and the dead should be used to remember and commemorate those that have fallen so that we can finish the work before us. Our work to reinvent the Union should be founded upon giving new meaning to "all men are created equal."

Also, Wills explains how revolutionary Lincoln's Gettysbu
Christine Boyer
Jan 11, 2015 Christine Boyer rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Wordsmiths, sentence analysis, 1800's influence on writing style.
Four score and seven years ago...I began this book! Well, not really, in fact, it was short, but it felt long.

This is a very specific, detailed, analytical book about the Gettysburg Address, period. Wills takes it apart, almost sentence by sentence, and analyzes its structure and origins. Wills does a great job of conveying the fact that this very short (272 words, took Lincoln only about 3 minutes to say) speech not only packed a powerful punch, but changed the course of prose and oratory fore
Carol Storm
Incredibly exciting book, not just for anyone who loves American history, but for anyone who is interested in the challenge of writing well.

What Gary Wills does is not just to analyze the Gettysburg Address, which is less than five hundred words long. He provides an intellectual profile of Lincoln. He analyzes the way Lincoln learned to structure his ideas on freedom, slavery, and the nature of American democracy, and he provides fascinating line by line break-downs so you can really see Lincol
Denise Kozik
It's a great scholarly essay, but too esoteric for a casual read.
I picked this book up at a small private book store in St. Augustine, Florida - do they have small book stores anymore? - and hoped it would be good.

It was more than good. The research for the book is excellent. I was most impressed with that aspect.

Had expected to see a rehash of the day at the cemetery, the repeating of the words, how Lincoln did NOT write the speech on an envelope on the way to Gettysburg.

It was none of that.

Rather it was a fascinating insight into Lincoln's thought process
The book "Lincoln at Gettysburg: Words That Remade America" by Garry Willis was a tough read for me. It took me nearly two-and-a-half weeks to read, and for most of the time, I didn’t understand what I was reading. When I did, however, I found the book extremely insightful, interesting, and thought-provoking.
To start, this book gives an in depth explanation on the relationship between the Greek oratory (speaking and writing) and Lincoln’s Address. The most inducing part of these chapters was wh
Okay, no one throw rocks at me yet. I picked up this book with high, high hopes. After all, I think it even won a pulitzer prize. The prologue was well-written and interesting, and then... it sunk. I started reading the first chapter and was bored to tears. A whole chapter on the breakdown of the ancient Greek style of speaking? I skimmed over to chapter 2 and didn't make it through that one either. So now it's lying neglected somewhere in our apartment. If I have dismissed this book way too soo ...more
Some valuable insights, especially in parallels to ancient funeral orations. Kind of runs out of steam at the end though, with digressions into 19th-c funeral and mourning customs.
Brian Eshleman
This is quite some time to spend on such a short text, but the author really makes it come alive. In particular, I learned from the author as he connected this speech to Greek oratory which ennobled specific events and people by connecting them to the larger identity of the body politic, and I learned from the author's knowledge of Lincoln's contemporary hearers. The strength of Romanticism in the 19th century, I learned, contributed to what Garry wills called a "culture of death" which connecte ...more
David Powell
I really liked this book, but reserved the five star rating because I imagined that some readers would not find it captivating if only because it delves into background influences that are, frankly, less than exciting. For instance, Transcendentalism is not something that rings many bells. I know; I tried to teach it to high school juniors for nearly forty years. And the influence of Mount Auburn Cemetery on the creation of the Gettysburg burial ground is fascinating to me because I live a mile ...more
Aaron Million
In-depth analysis of Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address. Wills sets the context for the Address, what Lincoln's speaking style was, what his writing style was, who in history he was influenced by, and the culture of death that seemed to permeate the country during that time period. He also talks at length about the featured speaker that day (no, it was NOT Lincoln, hard as that is to believe): Edward Everett, and how his own speeches were influenced by the Greeks. One of Lincoln's shortest spee ...more
Glenn Robinson
Fascinating in depth study of the ceremony at Gettysburg honoring the dead. In depth analysis of President Lincoln's 2 and half minute speech and also an in depth analysis of Edward Everett's extremely long introduction (2-4 hour!). Edward Everett, while not well known now, was very famous in his day. His speech went into the rebellions of England and other European countries that influenced the thinking of both the North and the South. What most Americans do not know now, but did then were the ...more
Roxanne Russell
I had three compelling reasons to read this book: 1) I love presidential biography, and Lincoln, in particular; 2) I am making my way through the Pulitzer winners for non-fiction, history or biography; and 3) Garry Wills is the Visiting Scholar where I work this semester.

A very satisfying and edifying read. Wills takes a methodical and reverent approach to rhetorical analysis that kept me completely fascinated with the details of context and historical accuracy and imbued his interpretive licen
Wills breaks down Lincoln's speech by showing its roots in ancient Greek funeral oratory; how Lincoln changed the way we view the Constitution and Declaration of Independence; and how his words helped usher in a new leaner style of expression. And it's fluidly written, a pleasure to read. Highly recommended especially in the 150th anniversary year.
I was delighted to learn about the importance of Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg and the impact it had on America: Before Gettysburg, it was said, "The United States are." After Gettysburg, it was, "The United States is." I especially enjoyed the chapters on 1) the history and tradition of funeral tribute handed down from Pericles 2,394 years before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln was described as "the ordinary coin of funeral oratory . . . " and 2) the chapter on style. I learned that Lincoln wrote poetr ...more
David B
Author Garry Wills is unequivocal in his admiration for Abraham Lincoln and his brief speech, which became arguably the most famous oration of American history. In this fascinating book, he places the Gettysburg Address in context, explaining the political philosophy that inspired it, the literary precedents that gave it form, and the social/historical milieu that influenced the individuals who were present. There are many interesting tidbits here, including the culture of death that existed in ...more
Demetrius Rogers
I really wanted to like this, but found it to be a dry read. Chapter 5 was the only reason I didn't rate it a one star. I skipped the lengthy appendices in the back - I couldn't wait to be done.

Chapter 5 however was a gem. The address at Gettysburg was a precise document that Lincoln mulled over and over until it was a polished stone.

Wills quotes, "In search for words Mr. Lincoln was often at a loss... because there were, in the vast store of words, so few that contained the exact coloring, po
Dan Cohen

This is a very good but unusual book, and I suspect that many readers will find parts of it uninteresting. I, for example, found the second chapter rather uninteresting - it looks at the "culture of death" and, in particular, cemeteries. While this is no doubt relevant for a full exploration of the Address, it's not particularly interesting to me. There is also a lot of comparison with formal ancient Greek addresses that was at the margins of my interests. The appendices go into considerable nit
Paul Haspel
Lincoln and Gettysburg are inextricably interlinked, and the link between them is likely to impress itself upon one's mind with particular strength on a day such as this one. It was 150 years ago today, after all -- November 19, 1863 -- that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his dedication address for the newly completed National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Four months had passed since the tremendous battle of July 1-3 had turned the tide of civil war permanently in the Union's favor, albeit at an ...more
Wills evokes the stink of the corpses, some barely covered at the time of this historic dedication:

A nurse shuddered at the all-too-visible "rise and swell of human bodies" in these furrows war had plowed.... Householders had to plant around the bodies in their fields and gardens, or brace themselves to move the rotting corpses to another place. Soon these uneasy graves were being rifled by relatives looking for their dead -- reburying other bodies that they turned up, even more hastily (and les
Bryn Dunham
This was not the book I expected to read. I thought I would be reading about the event of Nov.19, 1863, but instead this was about the actual words/composition that is referred to as "The Gettysburg Address". Instead of getting a detailed account of the events of the day and other details about the battle, I read about the history of the style of the writing, the history of speeches as part of historical tradition, and how Lincoln's speech differed from Edward Everett's long speech that highligh ...more
Garry Wills has written 189 pages and another 100 or so pages of appendices and notes about a speech of 272 words. It's formidable and at times dry but it's thorough. He discusses: Lincoln's mentors and influences; the displacement of Roman allusion by the Greek Revival movement at Lincoln's time; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as they relate to the Gettysburg address; detailed rhetoric analyis of the words, structure, and clauses of the speech- to name a few. There's a dis ...more
Mike Wood
Great analysis of the Gettysburg address. Lincoln interpreted the civil war not as a war between two peoples but rather as an insurrection. Thus it was a police action, not a war. He understood it as the ultimate test of the experiment of a people governing themselves. He argued that the Declaration of Independence laid out the ideal; that each person has inalienable rights; in the pursuit of these rights all men are equal. This was experimental at the time and the ability to self-govern was a n ...more
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Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

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