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4.18  ·  Rating details ·  31,965 ratings  ·  523 reviews
A masterful work by Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald, Lincoln is a stunning portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond b
Paperback, 720 pages
Published November 5th 1996 by Simon Schuster (first published 1995)
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  31,965 ratings  ·  523 reviews

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David Herbert Donald’s one-volume biography Lincoln gifts the reader with an excellent narrative of the life of Abraham Lincoln. As a non-American, I had superficial knowledge beforehand of how truly extraordinary Lincoln was in such extraordinary times. But after reading this 700-plus-pages book, I can say if it were not for him at that time and place, it’s doubtful that the United Sates would exists as it is today.

For the most part I did not find it a page-turner. The writing is unobtrusive, a
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So vividly written. I learned about this biography from the bibliography of John Keegan’s fine history The American Civil War. It’s quite a find. The story of Lincoln’s frontier upbringing in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois reads at moments like a fable out of Aesop, perhaps principally because of its rustic setting. Abraham Lincoln had virtually no education. He learned to read relatively late, which you would think would be a handicap. Not at all. He was completely self-taught. He read voraciou ...more
May 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
The myths of history serve the cause of political expediency. The founding fathers were canonized in order to legitimize the young United States. A war over taxes suddenly became a war of freedom. (Patrick Henry evidently determined that "Give me lower taxes without a resulting decline in services, or give me death!" did not work as well as "Give me liberty, or give me death.") Out of this mythmaking we were given George Washington, the father of our Country, a man who still comes to us across t ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
This was a brilliant biography of one of the greatest Presidents in US history. It dispels quite a few myths about Lincoln while diving into his psychological makeup and his complex decision-making process. A deeply involved person, Lincoln assumed total control of the US in 1860 just after the start of the Civil War and faced an enormous amount of challenges. He was far from perfect, but his skills at self-analysis and self-confidence saved both himself and the country. Unfortunately, he was mu ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone Interested in American History
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List - History
Ever since historians have been polled to rank United States Presidents, Abraham Lincoln has consistently landed in the top three; many consider him our greatest president. Which is not to say Lincoln doesn't have strong detractors. Many of my politically inclined friends have attacked him left and right: For his appalling record on civil liberties and violation of constitutional principles--and some claim that Lincoln should not be seen as a champion of equal rights and racial justice--I've eve ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've owned this book for years, and finally read it. It was grand, just unfortnuate for Donald I read this after Caro, so 4-stars and not 5. I'll review more in a few.
Mikey B.
As I am not a Civil War buff it was with some trepidation that I read this almost 600 page biography on Lincoln. However I was delightfully surprised and found it very readable. Mr. Donald gives a good portrait of the era and Lincoln’s background. The focus is on Lincoln – there are very little details on Civil War battles or persons who had no personal influence on Lincoln (such as Robert E. Lee). Perhaps there is too much on internecine rivalries, such as that between Lincoln and Chase. Also t ...more
Charles Finch
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it's a historian's biography. Nobody could write a more scrupulous single-volume account of the passage of a 19th-century human being's day. So I learned a lot about Lincoln - but never quite felt I knew Lincoln. It doesn't approach him through anything but his story. I'm not looking for wild leaps, but the best biographers (Caro, obviously) make cautions forays into the mind and character of their subjects that illuminate them. This book, beyond reiterating Lincoln's fondness for his chi ...more
Doreen Petersen
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: presidents
Excellent, outstanding book!! The man, the Presidency, the legend. His life was cut far too short by a cowardly act. Would that the US have learned it's lesson from this tragedy but alas we have not. What does this say about us as a nation? My heart grieves for all those senselessly lost.
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
What a difference! Last week I read Jon Meacham's ponderous and extremely boring "American Lion". I picked up this book because I had a feeling it was going to be great. I needed to read an example of a great biography. "Lincoln" did not disappoint.

While Donald used as many quotes as Meacham used in "American Lion", the difference was in execution. Donald used the quotes to advance the history while Meacham just tried to fit as much information as possible into in each paragraph.

While the first
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent treatment of the life of Abraham Lincoln, and I highly recommend it for history buffs. (It isn't my favorite, however. See my note to "A. Lincoln" by Ronald C. White for that honor.) Professor Donald brings you into the Illinois frontier of the 1830s and 1840s, into the small-town squares for the legendary debates between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, into the White House as the Civil War rages all around, and even into the presidential box at Ford's Theater.

Its shortcomin
Jamie Collins
This is probably a better book than my three stars would indicate, but my degree of interest in Lincoln wasn’t quite equal to the level of detail here. For the most part I did not find it a page-turner, and I often had to force myself to pick it back up, particularly the early chapters which largely concerned local Illinois politics.

I’m glad I stuck with it, and as you’d expect, the narrative became more interesting once Lincoln enters the presidential race. I’m not very knowledgeable about the
Gary Hoggatt
David Herbert Donald's 1996 biography Lincoln has been called the best single volume Lincoln biography of the period. Though this is my first Lincoln bio, I'd be surprised to read a better. Donald does a fantastic job of making Lincoln come alive and allowing the reader to join the 16th president on the amazing journey that was his life.

Donald's framing device is that the reader is presented with the information Lincoln knew at the time. This reduces the frequent historical tendency to second gu
Steven Peterson
Nov 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a rock solid biography of Abraham Lincoln. The biography is richened by the availability since 1947 of the Abraham Lincoln papers, not hitherto available since they were sealed in 1890. As much as possible the author uses primary sources and liberally uses Lincoln's own words. At the outset, Donald makes a few observations about Lincoln. For instance, he notes that (page 14) ". . .this biography highlights a basic trait of character evident throughout Lincoln's life: the essential passiv ...more
On the cover of my paperback edition to this book, Geoffrey C. Ward, one of the writers behind the great documentary "Ken Burns' The Civil War," is quoted as saying that his book is "richly researched." That is a a bit of an understatement. Mr. Donald, who seems to specialize in mid-19th century American history, has brought nearly every available bit of information on Lincoln to bear in order to illuminate one of the most complicated historical figures. One of the greatest strengths of this bio ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it

Published in 1995, David Herbert Donald’s “Lincoln” is often considered the quintessential Lincoln biography. Donald, the grandson of a Union cavalry officer, was a long-time history professor at Harvard. He also wrote nearly three-dozen books and is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (for his biographies of Charles Sumner and Thomas Wolfe). Best remembered as a leading authority on Abraham Lincoln, Donald died in 2009.

Donald’s “Lincoln” is widely regarded a
Randall Wallace
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Five stars for showing Americans that Lincoln, like Martin Luther King, may now be loved universally, but he sure wasn’t during most of his important years. DKG likes to push her “special” Lincoln Team of Rivals theory but: wasn’t the history of prior American politics the forming of unusual alliances to get the job done including odious patronage, non-stop party feuds and petty duels between seemingly grown men? Once Lincoln enters politics most of this book shows not how Goodwin’s Team of Riva ...more
Jeremy Perron
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In my first review with Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington, I pointed out that there were certain American icons I did not think too much about. `Honest Abe' was just another one, a perfect do-gooder who could not possibly measure up to the marble statues we have of him. I found that after reading this book, although Lincoln was from a perfect human being (who is), he was an incredible individual who earned his place as one of the greatest presidents in history.

The man who would be
Michael Perkins
I love history. I love biography. Lincoln is one of the most fascinating American originals. He may be our greatest President.

The facts, sometimes in pedantic fashion, are all here. But the writing is plodding, dry, dead, two-dimensional.

The author constantly tells us that Lincoln was humorous and a popular raconteur, but he never gives any direct sense of that to the reader. We have to take his word for it.

There are some utterly engaging biographies that read like novels. One example is "The
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In May of 2014, on two separate occasions, I ran into a man I was fortunate enough to have worked for and learned a lot from. The second time I saw him, I was having lunch with a friend, and he came into the restaurant alone. I invited him to join us. The conversation turned to our mutual love of reading.

He told me that everyone should read a biography of Abraham Lincoln. So that night, I found this prize winning biography and got started.

This biography seemed so well-balanced and documented t
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I think I read more memoirs/autobiographies because true biographies often end up as hagiographies or hack jobs. I often wonder how any other human can understand another enough to write a definitive story of their life.

Having said that, I believe Donald has done an admirable job with this book. This is probably the most balanced, objective view of a man a lot of people might tend to put on a pedestal (myself included). And actually, this book did much to make me truly appreciate Lincoln, even k
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
A good look at Lincoln's life that remains interesting despite its necessary length. I enjoyed learning about his early years and seeing how greatly they shaped him. He was really strong, largely self-taught, and great at managing people of opposing personalities/interests. It was good to learn about his weak points too, like being indecisive in many things and too lenient with people he liked. Lincoln's views on race and slavery were nuanced and he's often wrongly portrayed as either a champion ...more
Oct 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Tuthfully, this book deserves 5 stars. It was so well researched and so well done. The only reason I gave it 3 stars is that it took me forever to get through it (and to be honest, I didn't get all the way through. It's over 700 pages or 33 CD's if you listen to it on Audio and it was due back to the library when I was ~80% through) because it almost read like an encyclopedia/text book. So, if you're a civil war buff/history buff/Lincoln buff, this is a 5 star, excellent book. But if you aren't, ...more
A masterpiece biography of Abraham Lincoln by Harvard professor David Herbert Donald, winner of two previous Pulitzer Prizes, and it’s fairly amazing that he didn’t win a third for this one . . . although I think I understand why.

Donald’s stated mission was twofold:

(1) Present Lincoln chiefly from his perspective, so as to eliminate the many issues peripheral to the man and his presidency which could easily bog down such a monumental work, and

(2) Diligently document the circumstances behind eac
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
This took a long time to get through. Here's why:

1) It is strict chronicle with no emphasis and very little editorializing. That is to say, it's history as one thing after another. At one point I thought the Battle of Gettysburg must have happened already and so I went back and realized that Donald covered it in a paragraph-and-a-half and it didn't register. This has something to do with the book's narrow focus on Lincoln himself, so I get that, but still, it would be nice to know what's importa
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lincoln has always been my favorite president, so I figured it was about time I read a definitive biography about him. This is a good book, but sometimes it was hard to get through the dense details. I like how it shows Lincoln as a human, with strengths and weaknesses and a great deal of misfortune. He wasn't perfect, and had some whacky ideas (his initial solution to ending slavery was to send African-Americans to a colony in Central America). I loved reading about the political drama that sur ...more
Daniela Celhay
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
After reading Days of Fire, Bush comments that Lincoln had a very difficult time in office. This is probably not the ideal book to start with among the many titles of or about Lincoln out there (too long)because like the author adds, this book is more about Lincoln's evolution as a political figure.
Joseph Belser
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an epic chronicle of Lincoln’s life that reflects the sheer complexity and pragmatism of the man.
Bill Weaver
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
We know sooooooo much about Lincoln. There are so many parts of this book--his relationship with his cabinet, managing the civil war, passing the 13th amendment--that were pages here but others have written entire books on. This book felt incredibly long, but I could also tell that the author was leaving so much of the story on the cutting room floor. Anyway, here were takeaways I wrote as I read that I thought were interesting.
Lincoln was completely disinterested in his lineage, even for politi
Brent Ecenbarger
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, presidents
To all outward appearances, he was less prepared to be president of the United States than any other man who had run for that high office. Without family, tradition or wealth, he had received only the briefest of formal schooling. Now fifty years old, he had no administrative experience of any sort; he had never been Governor of his state, or even mayor of Springfield. A profound student of the Constitution and of the writings of the Founding Fathers, he had limited acquaintance with the governm ...more
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Majoring in history and sociology, Donald earned his bachelor degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned his PhD in 1946 under the eminent, leading Lincoln scholar, James G. Randall at the University of Illinois. Randall as a mentor had a big influence on Donald's life and career, and encouraged his protégé to write his dissertation on Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon. T ...more
“Douglas claimed that in his New Salem days Lincoln “could ruin more liquor than all the boys of the town together”—a charge that was not merely inaccurate but singularly inappropriate from a senator known to have a fondness for drink—and Lincoln jeered that Douglas’s popular-sovereignty doctrine was “as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” 2 likes
“His closing promise of survival for “government of the people, by the people, for the people” may have had its origin in Daniel Webster’s 1830 speech calling the American government “made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people,” but more probably he derived it from a sermon of Theodore Parker, to which Herndon had called his attention, defining democracy as “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” 2 likes
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