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Lincoln's Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  424 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
A timely and intimate look into Abraham Lincoln’s White House through the lives of his two closest aides and confidants

Lincoln’s official secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay enjoyed more access, witnessed more history, and knew Lincoln better than anyone outside of the president’s immediate family. Hay and Nicolay were the gatekeepers of the Lincoln legacy. They read po
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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Viking (first published October 17th 2013)
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Louise

I've long wondered how Lincoln has escaped criticism for a four year war and how he became the great emancipator. The "team of rivals" is a sad euphemism when applied to Gen. McClellan who let the possibility of early victories vanish. Lincoln's stated war goals did not include freeing slaves. A book analyzing Lincoln's profile is long overdue. I was disappointed that only a small portion of the book was devoted to the "war over Lincoln's image".

For those unacquainted with John Hay and John Geor
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Steven Peterson
Apr 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
John Nicolay and John Hay lived in the White House with President Abraham Lincoln from the beginning to his assassination. This is a story of their lives and, more centrally, of their effort to present an image of Lincoln that, in their view, would do him justice.

The work begins with the earlier years in the lives of both "boys" (as Lincoln referred to them). Hay, a wannabe poet, at Brown University in Providence, after having been born in Salem, Indiana. And Nicolay, born in Germany and later s
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Dick
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book for those who are interested in Lincoln or wonder how it is that Lincoln has become almost a deity in American history. The last time I checked there were some 12,000 books written on Lincoln.

After Lincoln's death there were many who wrote about him and their relationship with him - often times clearly indicating that they were much closer to Lincoln than they were. Many - perhaps the vast majority - wrote those books and other publications to cash in on Lincoln and hi
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David Kent
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Everyone knows Abraham Lincoln, in part because of the diligent work done by his two secretaries – John G. Nicolay and John Hay. But little has been done to illuminate the two men themselves. Zeitz has done us all a favor by accomplishing just that.

Subtitled “John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image,” Lincoln’s Boys is a history of Lincoln, a history of the times, and a history of Lincoln’s two private secretaries. One quickly comes to realize that “secretary” is a misnomer, as Ni
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El
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program.

I have not read a specific biography about Abraham Lincoln, but like most Americans, feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the topic based on what we learned in school. He's been portrayed in literature and movies, always as this soft-spoken, gentle giant sort of person, who pulled himself up by his bootstraps as a young person in Springfield, Illinois, who taught himself everything he learned. Something I have never real
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Cindy Matthews
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book for Civil War buffs and armchair historians. We owe a lot to John Hay and John Nicolay for recording the history they witnessed and sharing their insights of the man who made it all happen. A book that should be read by all who would pervert civil liberties and deny rights to those different from themselves whom they don't particularly like... Amazing how things don't change even after 150 years! Lincoln's image as the Great Emancipator may have been a product of Hay and Nicolay's ...more
Karen
Mar 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I didn't know too much about Lincoln's secretaries John Hay & John Nicolay so that part of the book was very interesting. I was disappointed though as I thought more of the book would be devoted to Lincoln's presidential years. The last part of this book dealt with Hays & Nicolay's writing of Lincoln's biography and preserving an accurate account of Lincoln's historical importance. I gave it 3 stars because the book left me unsatisfied and with thoughts there should have been more writte ...more
CaroKilia
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lincolniana
3,75/5

The first half was not as informative as I expected it to be... But the second half sure was. A very pleasant read that makes you think about how History is made and written.
Amy
Sep 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
With as strong credentials as Joshua Zeitz has, I expected more from this biography. The premise sounded intriguing, I'm fascinated by politics, and love reading biographies. I fit an intended reading audience pretty well.
However, I am also rather well acquainted with Lincoln. I have spent countless hours debating his presidency, motivation, and assassination with other students. I have read numerous biographies.
That said, I have never read anything about John Hay or John Nicolay, and assumed t
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Brian
I won this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for my honest review.

This isn't so much a biography of Abraham Lincoln and his two secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, as much as it is a look at the relationship between the three men and how Hay and Nicolay were able to control Lincoln's image after his death. There are two main parts to the book, the first is a standard biography of the three men with most of the emphasis on Lincoln's presidency, when all three worke
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Patricia
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it
I loved the first half of this book, detailing how the lives of John Nikolay and John Hayes came to intersect with Lincoln's life and death. But the book seemed drier and less interesting as it went on. Still, the story of how Lincoln's secretaries shaped his legacy is worth reading.

BTW, I posted this review earlier with a link to a children's book by mistake.
Carol Wise
Jul 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Forced myself through 275 pages for no apparent reason.
David Valentino
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
How History Gets Shaped

Events happen, such as Lincoln's election as president, the prewar battles, and the Civil War. However, as Zeitz demonstrates, history itself gets shaped. His book is worthwhile as a history of the period, much of it concise and trenchant. His biographies of John Hay and John Nicolay are focused and comprehensive. But it's the characterization of Lincoln, the Lincoln we know, or, as Zeitz puts it, the Lincoln Memorial Lincoln and the revisionist histories of the Civil War
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Sebastian Jaymes
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As I write this I realize that it is another book about presidents chiefs of staff, though they were not called so at the time. I'm all about the American civil war history which is what draws me to Lincoln. Fascinating to me after reading many memoirs of civil war generals and their staffs to see how Lincoln was supported by these two talented men.
Jim Gallen
Feb 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“Lincoln’s Boys” is really a triple biography. The two primary figures are John Hay and John Nicolay, the two young men who traveled from Illinois to serve as Lincoln’s secretaries and devoted much of their remaining lives to the promotion of his image. The third character is Lincoln himself: Lincoln they man with whom they lived and worked and the Lincoln of legend.

John Nicolay was a young Bavarian immigrant was a lively dancer and talented musician who served as de-facto executive director of
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P.e. lolo
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book about the two men who became the secretaries for President Lincoln. It begins with a chapter each of their early lives before they meet Lincoln. Nicolay, who was trying to get an interview with Lincoln after his nomination was disappointed at first when the answer was no but then found out that he was hired to be with Mr. Lincoln while he campaigning. This turned into a full time job when he was elected. Hay got the job thru a friend of Mr. Lincoln and though both these ...more
Darlene Cruz
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinarily phenomenal! John Hay & John Nicolay's detailed account of their humble start in life and expressive steps to Washington with President Lincoln. If you need to get to the President you would have to past through Nicolay and Hay's, "the Gate Keepers to the President." Nicolay reputation in Washington, "the bull dog in the anteroom, a grim Cerebus of Teutonic descent, while Hay is chivalrous, brilliant, with the gift of gab that infect his listeners. Hay's enjoyed the stares, "I ...more
Kathi
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had not heard of Joshua Zeitz until I read his "Lincoln’s Boys," but I felt pleased for him as soon as I read the cover of his book. Prominently placed right under “New York Times Bestseller,” was an almost equally powerful endorsement—this from Ken Burns, whose name to me is synonymous with knowledge of the Civil War. Burns called "Boys" “a wonderful, welcome book” about how Abraham Lincoln’s legacy came to be.

Many of Abraham Lincoln’s titles that we grew up hearing—the log-splitter, “Honest
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Caroline
Apr 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
In any biography of Lincoln or book on the Civil War John Hay and George Nicolay will always be mentioned, but rarely in any detail or depth. During his time in the White House they were Lincoln's shadows, his private secretaries, one of whom was with him at almost any time wherever he went. Indeed, John Hay was at his side when he died. And yet few of those books focus on Hay or Nicolay themselves, despite the fact that outside of Lincoln's immediate family they probably knew him more intimatel ...more
Sean Chick
Mar 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Most of the book is a lackluster biography of Hay and Nicolay. The part on memory is interesting, but also troubling. Zeitz effectively lays out the flaws in other works on Lincoln (in particular Herndon) and the various historical interpretations of Lincoln and the war until discussing today. Here he has only praise, even saying Hay and Nicolay had the last word on Lincoln and the war. That we have reached a kind of consensus that is basically correct. hahahahahahahahahahaha Doesn't everybody i ...more
Brian
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
If everything in this book is true and accurate, we owe much or most of what we know about Lincoln's motives during his presidency and how we perceive Lincoln's legacy to the decades long work of John Nicolay and John Hay. These two men, Lincoln's private secretaries during his administration and then unselfish biographers beginning some fifteen or so years after his assassination, wrote a 10 volume history of Lincoln and his administration using their access to Lincoln's private papers granted ...more
Tiffany
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have always been a big admirer of Lincoln. I think he was the right man to lead our country at the right time. This book was less about Lincoln, specifically, and about his Presidential secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. It was fascinating to see how Lincoln influenced everyone who worked close to him, especially Hay and Nicolay. It was also great to shed an oft forgotten light on the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes and to find out more about the lives of two men so greatly i ...more
Ionia
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have great respect for this book, having just finished it and now feeling as though I understand things about the former president and those closest to him that I did not before.

It is not a secret that I am somewhat of a Lincoln freak, so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. I expected this book to be well organised and interesting. What I didn't expect was the level of careful detail the author included about the lives of John Nicolay and John Hay. He was meticulous in his research
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Casey Wheeler
I decided to read this book as I am interested in American History and Abraham Lincoln in particular. I did not know anything about John Hay or John Nicolay other that they were Lincoln's secretaries and guardians of the gate so to speak for access to the President. This is the first book by Joshua Zeitz that I have read.

This book is not a full biography on either man, but delves more into the relationship between the two of them and with Lincoln. It does provide background on both men from thei
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Tami
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Haven't received my copy yet, just received notice I had won. 1/24/14
Received my copy and hope to start soon. Have 5 others plus my current read in front. 2/4/14
Started 2/18/14
Finished 2/28/14 Don't judge the book by how long it took me to finish. This was during a really busy time for me at work.



Normally I would recap the book here first and then give my thoughts, but I found this part of the GoodReads blurb pretty much sums the books up nicely "A timely and intimate look into Abraham Lincoln’s
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Phil
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having read a number of books about Lincoln, I was curious and eager to learn more about John Hay and "George" Nicolay. For obvious reasons, the reader of this book must wait until the later chapters for the story implied in the subtitle, "the War for Lincoln's Image." No two individuals would have been better qualified to develop a thorough biography and study of Lincoln's significance than the two secretaries who were with him nearly 24/7/365 throughout his presidency. John Hay became a promin ...more
Bruce Crawford
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Lincoln's Boys" by Joshua Zeitz is excellent. Loved it!!!

Well-researched. Well told. Does wonderful job capturing role Hayes and Nicolay played in Lincoln's White House supporting the President. How they all met and came to work together. Answered numerous questions I never thot to ask and should have. For that alone, the book is well worth reading.

Better yet was the story after Lincoln's assignation. I loved learning about the role these two men and Robert Todd Lincoln played in setting and
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Sue
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lincoln’s Boys is an excellent book by Joshua Zeitz. It is focused on the lives of Lincoln’s two secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay and their year's long but successful attempt to write a definitive biography of Lincoln. Like many others I’ve read quite a bit about Lincoln but very little about the two secretaries whose important positions at that time more closely relate to the Chief of Staff position today. It was interesting to read about their failures and successes, their close relation ...more
Glenn Robinson
Jun 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Extremely fascinating bio of President Lincoln's 2 secretaries. The life from childhood to death. Imagine being an orphan at 12 and then serving the president of the US for 4 plus years! Hay and Nicholay spent 15 plus years going over all the papers of Lincoln to write a 10 volume bio that was designed to keep Lincoln in the mind of the Americans. As politics go, within 20 years of Lincolns death, there was a feeling that he would become an obscure president, that he would be viewed as a trample ...more
Amy
If you've read any biography about Abraham Lincoln, you will know who John Hay and John George Nicolay are -- Lincoln's young personal secretaries just prior to and during his presidency.

Much has been written about John Hay, including a book published in 2013 by John Taliaferro, entitled "All the great prizes : the life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt". Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Nicolay, and while this is not really a biography about either man, much can be learned about N
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Josh Zeitz has taught American history and politics at Cambridge University, Harvard University, and Princeton University. He is the author of several books on American political and social history and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Smithsonian Magazine, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Dissent, American Heritage, and Mother Jones.

Josh also appeared as a commentator
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