Jennifer Nelson's Reviews > A. Lincoln

A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr.
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Sep 09, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010-books, presidential-books
Read from July 30 to August 15, 2010

I’ve heard that many people see Abraham Lincoln as an enigmatic person: he was quiet, private, and never quite predictable, not a person you can pigeonhole. In this biography, Ronald White, with his meticulous research and in his detailed, poignant writing, sheds an amazing amount of light on just who this Abraham Lincoln was. In writing the story of Lincoln’s life, Mr. White carefully balances the inner man with the outer, the historic background with the everyday details, the overall political scene with the private musings of both minute and large political decisions, the flaws with the great successes; in short, he presents a realistic and compelling picture of one man’s life.

One of the themes of this book is the development of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. White discusses Abraham Lincoln’s development in speech writing, inner moral convictions, and religious thought. I especially enjoyed reading about Abraham’s religious and moral growth.

Lincoln’s words and speeches take a prominent part in this biography. Mr. White meticulously takes apart Lincoln’s speeches, taking note of word choices, the phrasing and poetry, and the development of Lincoln’s thinking that lead to the ideas presented. Not only was this utterly fascinating for me, but it really displayed the skill that Lincoln had with words.

One brilliant aspect of Mr. White’s writing is his skill in bringing you into the moment. When talking about the Republican Party convention of 1860, he tells you about the thousands of pencils scratching out votes on pads of paper as the attendees keep track of the fast paced nomination proceedings. Just before Booth enters the theater box with his malicious designs, Mr. White draws your attention to Mary slipping her hand into Abraham’s. The little details he sprinkles throughout make you feel like this really happened, that these long ago episodes of history are more than just fables.

Probably what most impressed me most was how Mr. White let Lincoln speak for himself. He tells you what Lincoln did and thought but doesn’t tell you what he thinks of it all. He lets you decide how to interpret Lincoln. I am reading through the biographies of US presidents and I find that most authors like to include commentary, if not throughout, at least in the introduction and the end and this often shapes the way you take in the information about the person you are reading about. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I found Mr. White’s approach refreshing.

Mr. White has a beautiful, elegant, understated writing style. He allows a few sparkles of humor and word play, but keeps a respectful and graceful tone throughout. This is one of the best biographies I have ever read and I recommend it to all lovers of history and especially those who have a great regard for President Abraham Lincoln.
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