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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  6,092 Ratings  ·  195 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 of freedom” in the
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1992)
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Mar 24, 2015 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2015
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 (loads of odes). Garry Wills did. This book is both acade
May 01, 2010 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 22, 2011 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 03, 2014 Louise rated it really liked it
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 29, 2006 Jacques Bromberg rated it really liked it  ·  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 it was amazing
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
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
Oct 02, 2014 Nick rated it did not like it
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
Denise Kozik
Jan 13, 2015 Denise Kozik rated it it was ok
It's a great scholarly essay, but too esoteric for a casual read.
Mar 06, 2017 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-books
Lincoln did not give the keynote address at Gettysburg; that was done by Edward Everett. It lasted two hours and is described in this book as masterpiece of its type, given at the last possible moment it could be appreciated, because shortly thereafter Lincoln's few hundred words had rendered that style of oration outdated.

Wills covers what we know about the ceremony and the composition of the address, how the content fit into Lincoln's thought, and the style of Lincoln's speech. The stylistic e
Apr 15, 2010 Jake rated it liked it
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
Jan 12, 2009 Dick rated it really liked it
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
Grady McCallie
Aug 17, 2015 Grady McCallie rated it it was amazing
Over two decades after its first publication, this analysis of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address remains a powerful and persuasive work of intellectual history. Wills illuminates the speech by placing it several contexts: the Romantic-era view of cemeteries; the Transcendental view of the Declaration of Independence; Lincoln's own constitutional analysis of slavery and secession; and the techniques of rhetoric and reasoning that the Address shares with Lincoln's other speeches.

Wills' writing
Aug 26, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I've read all year. I've been to Gettysburg six times so I don't know how I missed this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. In a detailed analysis, Wills (a trained classisist) sets up the context of Lincoln's most famous speech , the Gettysburg Address and then analyzes it, showing how Lincoln borrowed from the Ancient Greek funeral orations. The analysis is smart and detailed: showing the speakers (Clay, Webster, Calhoun) who influenced Lincoln's thoughts,along with the writers ...more
Carol Storm
Nov 08, 2014 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing
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
Christine Boyer
Jan 11, 2015 Christine Boyer rated it really liked it
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
May 25, 2011 Lora rated it did not like it
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
Georgiann Baldino
Nov 22, 2015 Georgiann Baldino rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This shows why the Gettysburg Address is considered one of the greatest speeches of all time. It wasn't just the human tragedy of casualties at Gettysburg--many catastrophes have parallelled the loss of life. It wasn't just what Lincoln said. Author Wills explains Lincoln's key silences. He didn't mention Gettysburg or slavery or emancipation. President Lincoln provided common ground for the opposition to come together, a test of leadership we all should understand. The book gives us history as ...more
Jun 13, 2016 Dave rated it liked it
Every year around the July 4th Holiday I try to read several books with a patriotic theme. This is one of the books for 2016. Gary Wills breaks apart Lincolns famous address and presents a number of social, historical, and literary factors that influenced the language and the meaning Lincoln had behind the words. It has been long held that Lincoln scrawled these famous words in a hurry before the address was made. You learn that Lincoln gave much more thought that this is compiling these immorta ...more
Brian Eshleman
Jun 20, 2014 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it
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
Feb 28, 2013 Scott rated it it was amazing
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.
Scott Diamond
Oct 22, 2016 Scott Diamond rated it liked it
Some good infor but also some agonizing detail in this book
Oct 27, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Maren Johnson
Nov 26, 2016 Maren Johnson rated it liked it
Very historical
SJ Loria
Feb 25, 2016 SJ Loria rated it it was amazing
If you want to be inspired, if you love America, or if you ask why, read this book. An analysis of 272 words that changed the course of a nation. I’ve always held that the Second Inaugural is Lincoln’s finest speech, this book may have changed my mind. In terms of the significance of what was said as well as the extremely avant garde way it was delivered (the speech that followed Lincoln’s utterance lasted over 2 hours, Lincoln in fact was invited to deliver “a few appropriate remarks” essential ...more
Caroline Cottom
Oct 03, 2016 Caroline Cottom rated it it was amazing
After taking an online course with the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop on Walt Whitman and the Civil War, I was inspired to read this classic book about Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address. I loved the book! I learned a great deal about Lincoln's ideas and his purpose in making this speech, how the United States went from being plural ("The United States are ...") to being singular ("The United States is ..."), based solely on the Gettysburg Address. A speech of just 272 words, the A ...more
Paul Haspel
Jul 25, 2011 Paul Haspel rated it it was amazing
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
Chris Jaffe
Jan 01, 2016 Chris Jaffe rated it really liked it
This is a good book – a short book, but a good book. I heard great things about it before reading it, but for me it was only a good book. It was a bit too heavy for my taste on the purely rhetoric and speech-making parts of the book, rather than on what the words themselves meant. (By this, I mean Willis has sections on the main goals of a classic funeral oration and how that compares with what Lincoln said at Gettysburg).

Some of the more interesting elements came early on. He notes the story of
Charles Wilson
Jan 02, 2013 Charles Wilson rated it it was amazing
This was an enlightening, well-researched, and gracefully written book.

It debunked several myths that I held about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I had thought that Edward Everett's two-hour speech on the day of Gettysburg cemetery dedication was a long-winded failure—a stark contrast to the brevity and eloquence of Lincoln's speech. Wills is careful to give Everett his due. He explains how Everett's speech was clearly intended as the primary speech of the day, and how Everett was working in a c
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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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