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Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  630 Ratings  ·  33 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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May 23, 2014 Nathan rated it did not like it
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
Sep 19, 2011 Joe rated it liked it
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
Bill F.
This book is not for the faint of heart; or for anyone who falls asleep easily. Don't get me wrong: the book is worth reading. It looks at Abraham Lincoln from a different prospective. Rather than just Lincoln the politician, or just Lincoln the war president, William Lee Miller goes deeper, delving into the moral, philosophical and spiritual [not religious] underpinnings of Abraham Lincoln. Miller then makes a strong argument that those moral and philosphical foundations go a long way toward ex ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Excellent conversational fun-to-read style, yet very serious study.

Lincoln as a moral man is even more impressive and amazing than Lincoln the heroic legend, and Miller draws Lincoln to life as both.

Was Lincoln a Christian? Regardless, and perhaps even more important to American history and God's purpose in directing it, he acted as the perfect model of a Christian leader following God's guiding hand.

If he was not a Christian, as President his awareness of God's hand on him increased during his
Jennifer Nelson
Nov 09, 2010 Jennifer Nelson rated it it was amazing
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 really liked it  ·  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
Oct 09, 2012 George Bradford rated it really liked it
Shelves: truth, america, heroes
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
Feb 03, 2012 Kristin rated it really liked it
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
May 03, 2015 Andrew rated it it was amazing
A careful examination of Lincoln's character and virtues as revealed through his life up to his election. Not a hagiography, but a fair look at a remarkable man. Excellent for fans of Aristotle's Ethics.
Apr 13, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 07, 2012 Elise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography

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
Sep 29, 2008 Tim rated it really liked it
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!!
Apr 26, 2009 Ron rated it really liked 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.
Jul 01, 2009 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
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.
Jul 05, 2012 Rick rated it really liked it
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 liked it
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!
May 17, 2010 Ted rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 13, 2014 lc rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 06, 2014 Tara Bush rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 23, 2016 Cleon rated it it was amazing
This is an exquisite book. The writer is phenomenal. He provides an outstanding analysis of how that common man was able to navigate to the top of the country and successfully manage the most perilous and complex crisis of the nation's history.
Mar 12, 2009 Dick rated it liked it
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.
Dec 21, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing
A very clever and unique approach to Lincoln. Miller traces the evolution and growth of character and values over the course of a lifetime.
Aug 22, 2007 April rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
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
Jan 19, 2013 Bill Sloyer rated it liked it
Got lazy and stopped a little more than half way through, skimming the rest. I got the point and decided not to keep going.
Nov 07, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it
Good book with great detail helping anyone understand the greatness of one of the best political minds in our countries history.
Oct 31, 2009 Kirstin rated it it was amazing
One of the best Lincoln books I've read---and I've read a lot.
Greg Wasserstrom
Apr 07, 2012 Greg Wasserstrom rated it it was amazing
This is the greatest book on political leadership I've ever read.
Anita Williamson
Apr 04, 2012 Anita Williamson rated it liked it
Very readable. Lincoln was an extraordinary man.
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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
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