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Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  501 ratings  ·  30 reviews
William Lee Miller’s ethical biography is a fresh, engaging telling of the story of Lincoln’s rise to power. Through careful scrutiny of Lincoln’s actions, speeches, and writings, and of accounts from those who knew him, Miller gives us insight into the moral development of a great politician — one who made the choice to go into politics, and ultimately realized that vocat ...more
Paperback, 536 pages
Published February 4th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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This was a very solid biography of Lincoln. Professor Miller definitely is well informed and approaches Lincoln's life through his humility and ability to see overwhelming issues such as slavery and preservation of the Union with great moral clarity, but also in a way that when he explained his reasoning you didn't feel as if he was talking down to anyone.

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest American historical figure who blew up stereotypes and "first impressions". Lincoln makes anyone real
I slogged through this book, knowing I shouldn't be too hard on it. There's been so much said on Lincoln, every angle analyzed, every perspective taken, that a self-proclaimed "ethical biography" seems almost required. Indeed, with the central event of Lincoln's presidency being what might be called the greatest moral drama in the history of the United States, such a tack seems obvious, even indispensable. And perhaps it is. But I think it must be a harder job to do from the historian's approach ...more
Jennifer Nelson
In this book, you will find systematic personality analysis like you’ve never seen before! Lincoln’s life is carefully unpacked piece by piece and William Miller does a fantastic job making sense of it all. He especially focuses on the moral development of this amazing man, how the personal characteristics, culture of the day, influence of peers, and political climate of the day shaped and molded or led to the man Lincoln was. Mr. Miller discusses in detail the moral choices that Lincoln made th ...more
Dec 17, 2008 Donna rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: certain Illinois governors who wouldn't know ethics if it hit them
Recommended to Donna by: several "best of Lincoln scholarship" lists
This is not a straight-line biography, but an ethical biography showing Lincoln's moral and intellectual development and growth in virtue. Miller says Lincoln was not only a great man, but a good man. His conduct and speeches "rose to a higher moral standard the higher his office and greater his power." As many Lincoln books I have read, this really presented the material in a new and thought-provoking way.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the writing style. While one of the blurbs speaks of Miller's
George Bradford
This is perhaps my favorite exposition of the life of Abraham Lincoln. It is not your typical (linear) biography. (That's been covered and we don't need another one.) It's an exploration of the events that shaped Lincoln's development as a man of genuine virtue.

This not a hero worship puff piece. It's actually a challenging academic work. And it is neither light or easy reading. But it is well worth the effort.

In his life, Abraham Lincoln developed a rock solid personal code of Ethics. It seamle
I was assigned different chapters to read from this book for my Ethics class. I enjoyed those chapters so much that I decided to read this book from cover to cover. Miller does a great job of providing the historical context and backdrop of Lincoln's life. He also does a good job of describing Lincoln as a man, flaws and all. What I liked most was how Miller explains the relationship of Lincoln and Stanton, who ended up being the Union War Secretary during the Civil War. It's a story that movies ...more
So, I read this because the Prof. I was assisting is teaching a course on Lincoln and ethics in the fall, and I did not expect to find it particularly engaging. However, being a native to Illinois, I did find it interesting to get a new perspective on the state. Lincoln lived during a time period that really ties together the whole history of our nation: go back 100 years before his presidency and the country does not yet exist, and go forward 100 years and you're within living memory of the pre ...more

This is a really interesting book. With the glut of Lincoln bios out there today it would be east write this off as just another one but it's not. This is like no other biography I've read. The focus isn't on the biographical details of Lincoln's life, those are presupposed by the author and fairly, I believe. This book's target audience has read a bio of Lincoln or three. The focus is on Lincoln's moral virtues and the exposition is fascinating. If you think you know everything there is to kno
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The stories of the growth of Lincoln is an amazing one and Miller does an excellent job fusing the events of the past with examinations of morality, virtue, and philosophy. I would recommend this book to anyone who has enough background knowledge of Lincoln. I wouldn't start with this book though if you were looking for a straight-up biography. David Donald's biography would probably be a good start. Then read this one. You'll enjoy it!!
A somewhat wordy (yet very worthwhile) exploration of Lincoln's moral thought and growth through the practical process of self-education and politics. It would help a serious person examine his or her own moral thinking/behavior and what, in his or her life, impacts that thinking/behavior. The book also, for me, adds to the general knowledge and understanding of Lincoln's life and times. Having done that, I fell I have a better grasp of some aspects of our times.
I really enjoyed this one for the first 100 pages, as it went through Lincoln who he was as a person and his morals and wasn't too historical. Then it got dry and talked about a lot of political history that wasn't very intriguing to me to I'd have to say it was three stars even though I still think he's an amazing man. I really enjoyed the "coffee table" type books this month to learn more snippets instead of from the view of the major Lincoln buffs.
More like 3.5 stars.
It's good and very good in sections, but not nearly as good as the sequel, President Lincoln: Duty of a Statesman that I thought was outstanding. I'm not a political person and this had lots of politics, but no surprise in that. Just drier and not as captivating as his other Lincoln book. Miller knows his subject and it shows. Good for fans of Lincoln.
Jan 17, 2008 Jim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know more than the basic Lincoln facts.
Shelves: lincoln-books
Very interesting book. It gave a lot of insight on how he grew up, and became the president that many of us hold dear to our hearts. It gives you a feeling of how tough it was for him to be respected by his East Coast coleagues and how tough it must have been to be elected President. Great read for someone with basic Lincoln knowledge and enjoys historical writing!
William Lee Miller paints a picture of Abraham Lincoln as a practical, partisan and ambitious politician who finally was met with “bedrock principles on which he could not compromise.”
Lincoln, according to Miller, was a “responsible realist” who had little use for political purists such as the abolitionists of the day.
Jul 07, 2008 Craig rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All Lincoln buffs
I have been a closet Lincoln fan for much of my life. I am still not sure why I chose this book to read; probably because it was new and was more of a biography of his values, not his life. Although it was tough to get through, it was very rewarding and offered insights into his character I had not considered before.
Far better than most books about Lincoln because it explores why he became the man he was. It did not dwell on stories and yarn we knew but the reasons he made decisions he did. Far more emphasis on the ethical decisions he was forced to make and the background he brought into making them.
Tara Bush
I just couldn't find the time to get through this book. It has lots of interesting insights into Lincoln's moral convictions, but you have to wade through a lot of musings to get to each tidbit. I decided it was too much work and quit my endeavor about half way through the book.
Pretty good book - might have rated a 4 star, but it did seem to come up short in developing some of the areas of virtue attributed to the president. Good addition to any Lincoln student's library.
Apr 02, 2015 Nate added it
Fascinating account examining his profound thought processes and the language over the course of years that supported his endeavors from both a tactical and strategic framework.
A very clever and unique approach to Lincoln. Miller traces the evolution and growth of character and values over the course of a lifetime.
I thought that the author here was very dry and the book seemed to organized in a odd way. It was interesting but I thought I would never finish it.
Jul 05, 2008 Will marked it as to-read
Shelves: history
Nat'l Review: "A sober look at the habits that gave rise to the creation of the loftiest soul in the American political tradition."
Bill Sloyer
Got lazy and stopped a little more than half way through, skimming the rest. I got the point and decided not to keep going.
Good book with great detail helping anyone understand the greatness of one of the best political minds in our countries history.
One of the best Lincoln books I've read---and I've read a lot.
Greg Wasserstrom
This is the greatest book on political leadership I've ever read.
Anita Williamson
Very readable. Lincoln was an extraordinary man.
Apr 30, 2007 Rabya added it
Recommends it for: everyone
i'm a big fan of abraham lincoln
need to finish this book!
annoying if not already a lincoln scholar..
Apr 16, 2012 David added it
Very interesting, but difficult read.
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William Lee Miller is Scholar in Ethics and Institutions at the Miller Center. From 1992 until his retirement in 1999, Mr. Miller was Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of Political and Social Thought and Director of the Program in Political and Social Thought at the University of Virginia. He was professor of religious studies from 1982 to 1999, and chaired the Department of Rhetoric and Communication ...more
More about William Lee Miller...
President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding The First Liberty: America's Foundation in Religious Freedom

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