Steven Peterson's Reviews > Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln by George S. McGovern
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May 29, 09

Read in January, 2008

Former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern has authored this slender biography of Abraham Lincoln. This is one more entry in "The American Presidents" series and, overall, is a solid addition.

The first chapter puts Lincoln in some context, observing that (Page 12): "Perhaps above all else, Americans continue to admire Lincoln's sense of himself. He was a common man who rose to uncommon heights and produced uncommon efforts." His beginning, as most readers know, was humble, growing up poor in Kentucky. The story proceeds with the tale of death in the family, the move to Illinois, Lincoln's early adulthood as he settled in New Salem and, later, Springfield. His early interest in politics began in Illinois.

He began as a Whig, served a term in Congress, and also was elected to the Illinois legislature. In some ways, though, it was a defeat that propelled him to national attention, with the series of Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. After his loss, Lincoln took the opportunity to make a speaking tour. In doing so, he helped position himself as a fallback candidate for President in 1860 if apparent frontrunners faltered. And, of course, that is what happened.

The story of his Cabinet filled with those who had had presidential ambitions themselves (see the fine book, "Team of Rivals," for more detail on this), the outbreak of the Civil War, his efforts to understand military theory, his struggle to find the right leaders for the Union military forces. . . . All this is told, as well as the story of his death. The book closes with an epilogue that, once more, places Lincoln in context.

The book's great strength is also its weakness. For many, a short biography is accessible and is more tempting than a longer one; hence, such slim works might produce a larger readership, with more people getting acquainted with the subject. But the cost of this is shallow coverage. Anyone considering reading this book should work through why they want to read it. An easy to read accessible volume? If so, this will work for you. A careful detailed biography? If so, you will learn little here. Try Donald's magisterial volume or White's new biography.
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