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Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words
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Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  675 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Abraham Lincoln now occupies an unparalleled place in American history, but when he was first elected president, a skeptical writer asked, “Who will write this ignorant man’s state papers?” Literary ability was, indeed, the last thing the public expected from the folksy, self-educated “rail-splitter,” but the forceful qualities of Lincoln’s writing eventually surprised his ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by Knopf
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Jul 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
I put off reading this book for a while, because I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to examine every unrevealed meaning, every literary influence and every word choice of Lincoln’s every document and speech. It can be effective and interesting in small doses, as in books that dig into a specific speech, or in parts of Ronald White’s A. Lincoln. But as the basis for an entire book?

Thankfully, this book, which focuses on Lincoln’s skills as a writer by reviewing a selection of his greatest wor
Aaron Million
One might think that parsing Abraham Lincoln's writing - sometimes literally line-by-line - would be less than enthralling. But not so with Douglas Wilson's book. He manages to keep Lincoln fresh and hits on several different speeches and letters; it is not an all-inclusive list. The usual suspects are here: both Inaugural Addresses, the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation. But also included are Lincoln's seemingly off-the-cuff remarks to his friends in Springfield as he embark ...more
Steve Smits
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In light of today's presidential practice of communicating via impulsive, shallow and boorish "tweets" it is inspiring to study the magnificent writing skill of our greatest president. This book is a deep analysis of Lincoln's approach to writing and his mastery of communicating complex ideas to the general public in an accessible fashion.

Lincoln used writing to crystallize and communicate his thinking on the principles and values that defined and gave meaning to the purposes of the war. For Li
Nov 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Lincoln’s Sword tells the story of how Lincoln developed his writing skills, how they served him for a time as a hidden presidential asset, how it gradually became clear that he possessed a formidable literary talent, and it reveals how writing came to play an increasingly important role in his presidency. “By the time he came to write the Gettysburg Address,” Wilson says, “Lincoln was attempting to help put the horrific carnage of the Civil War in a positive light, and at the same time to do it ...more
Ryan Asmussen
Apr 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Sword is such a strong example of compelling writing -- clear, insightful, particular, judicious, and passionate -- that I'd like to use a portion of it in my two high school courses as a model for my students. With every chapter, I found myself more impressed by Wilson's ability to take what, for some, would be a relatively dry subject (the rewrite re: diction, syntactical arrangement, etc.) and fashion from it such a compelling intellectual narrative. Sword effectively caused me to reevaluate ...more
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: English and History Majors
Shelves: bio
Though academic and occasionally dry, Lincoln's Sword is remarkably fascinating. No one expected the country-bumpkin president to be a literary master, yet that is exactly what he proved to be. Wilson looks at Lincoln's evolving ability as a writer and the way he influenced America during the Civil War with his words.
Not an 'easy' read, but worth the time, especially as a study on Lincoln and the use of words and writing styles during this time.
SJ Loria
Jul 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Writing – the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye – is the great invention of the world." -Lincoln

Every once in a while, a human being comes along that the planet wasn't expecting – Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein – Lincoln was that person in US history.

The greatest case for American exceptionalism is Abraham Lincoln. At exactly the most crucial time in our nation's history, the greatest thinker to be elected president is elected president. And the greatest t
Aug 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Persuasion it is said, resembles a two-edged sword: the one side sharpened by reason, the other by emotion; and in the hands of a master there is no obstacle that can resist its force. If this is right, then it will do as a bridge between Douglas Wilson's book title "Lincoln's Sword" and the book's theme of Lincoln's writing and persuasive force. There are many areas that deserve comment, but I will restrict myself to a few only: the consistency of this theme; Wilson's ability to draw it out; th ...more
William Monaco
Amazing insight and analysis of Lincoln's best known speeches and writing I was less familiar with. I never thought a book on syntax, tone, and writing would be this engaging! ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Douglas L. Wilson, codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and 1999 Lincoln Prize winner for Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, has again won the Lincoln Prize for Lincoln's Sword. Wilson says the book resulted from his work transcribing Lincoln's most famous writings for the Library of Congress, where he was struck by Lincoln's literary craftsmanship and penchant for revision. While a few reviewers criticize Wilson's academic prose sty

Ryan Young
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
enjoyed this immensely. my copy of the book was marked up by a great man who read it before me. a spiritual descendant of lincoln himself, i read this book through his eyes as well as my own.

story of lincoln's presidency seen through the lens of his writing process. he spent countless hours developing his different speeches and public communiques. he edited them to death and took great care to say exactly what he meant.

lincoln carefully considered his position regarding the secession of the sev
Brian Eshleman
Most of my reviews are positive, but this is an unusually good book. It shows how Lincoln used his writing both to shape and to show his thinking. For him, his first response on an issue, no matter how critical or emotional it was, was to get his thoughts down in writing. From there, he could gain an objective perspective and shift his own thinking by degrees as he changed his wording. The author is able to show this by comparing the various drafts Lincoln went through and then his insistence on ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in language, or Lincoln
Recommended to Melodee by: Rebecca
Shelves: biography
This book deals with the writings and writing style of Lincoln. This is an area that has been neglected or entirely overlooked. It is very informative, and brings out the nuances of diction that one would tend to overlook if they were not pointed out, simply because his works read so easily. The book shines a new light on one of Lincoln's real talents, while at the same time telling us more about him as a person and politician. ...more
Knight Of
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was an interesting look into Lincoln's writing and how he used many tools of the trade to make his point. I'm studying this kind of work in many of my English classes and it was fun seeing how the elements of writing that I was taught in school are reflected in works like Lincoln's. ...more
Oct 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book. Lincoln was a gifted man. The enduring nature of his words is a testimony to his understanding and skill.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting look at the processes Lincoln followed in his writing. Unlike what's done today, he was very hands on with all of his major addresses other key documents. I found this book fascinating. ...more
Luke Swanson
Apr 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read quite a few books about Lincoln, and this is one of my favorites. The book uses Lincoln’s writings and revisions to explore his psychology and historical surroundings. The chapters on the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural could stand on their own as brilliant essays. Highly recommended.
Peter C Lyon
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A testament to Knox College scholarship. Proud to be an alum! Great job, Professor Wilson!
Seamus Reilly
Feb 03, 2022 rated it it was amazing
An exquisite examination of Lincoln and his attention to the documents he created.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Drafts, letters, speeches, and the reactions of the public are all in here. Amazing research & scholarship. Every rhetoric student should read this. The author goes a little too far in picking apart the effects of individual words (especially in the Appendix) and marveling at Lincoln's abilities, but Lincoln is the premier American writer and this book drives the point home. ...more
One of a spate of books out recently -- no big surprise, given Obama's Illinoisness and studious evocation of Lincoln -- about the 16th president's ability as a writer and rhetorician. I haven't read the others, but I can say that there's a great 2005 article in the "American Scholar" about the subject that backs up Wilson's analysis of Lincoln's inaugurals, and the overall thesis: that Lincoln was a writer of extraordinary acuity.

This book can be a bit heavy going at times, but it's a terrific
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Keith by: Lincoln's Hand
Shelves: history
This plooding book seems to me to leave out the more intersting personal interactions that so shaped many of these documents. Wilson does disucss who helped Lincoln by making suggesions, but the context comes across as missing.

The material on the Emancipation Proclamation was interesting, but seemed to be missing something.

In short, the book concentrated on comparing various versions of Lincoln's various manuscripts. For those whowant a study of various versions of documents, this is their text.
Matt Austin
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
For all Lincoln enthusiasts, this is a must-read book! Mr. Wilson does a great job outlining Lincoln's under appreciated talent as an extraordinary writer. In addition, Mr. Wilson describes how methodical and detailed Lincoln was, often going through numerous drafts, meticulously re-writing passages, and reading his writing aloud in order to assess the impact each word had on an audience. I have never given much thought to Lincoln's writing abilities; in fact, I took his talent for granted. Afte ...more
Matt Carton
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
First read this when it came out in 06. Decided to reread this as I develop a unit on Lincoln's writings. I love books about process and I love books about craft (see The Noble Approach and Geek Sublime, which I read earlier this year). Everything anyone wants to know about the craft of writing can be found in this book. And Wilson lets us know in uncertain terms that not only was Lincoln a great president, but also one of the bets writers the U.S. has ever produced.
Andrea Engle
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2016
Phenomenal praise for Lincoln's brilliance as a writer ... examines how his prose persuaded, educated and inspired the American public ... explores in great detail Lincoln's process of writing his letters and speeches, and the impact they had on American Literature, especially the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural ... relies heavily on the magnificent collection of Lincoln papers in the Library of Congress ... a magnificent book ... ...more
Jan 15, 2009 rated it liked it
I put this down, probably mostly because I'd just read Team of Rivals and was thoroughly Lincolned. The sustained focus on his writings is revealing & rich, but takes some tenacity. I would like to finish this some time when I've had a longer break between Lincoln books. ...more
Sandy Barnes
A great discussion of Lincoln's writing. Especially his attention to the rhythm of what his speeches sounded like when read aloud. He did this with his other writings also. Rhythm and cadence means a lot ...more
Susan Sons
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A must-read for anyone interested in political writing, or persuasive speaking in general.
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Thorough analysis of Lincoln's writing. Explained in context and with copies of original documents. ...more
Rob Harris
Lincoln is always worth a read.
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Douglas Lawson Wilson, born 1935

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