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Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln
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Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  666 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were the preeminent self-made men of their time. In this masterful dual biography, award-winning HarvardUniversity scholar John Stauffer describes the transformations in the lives of these two giants during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty. As Douglass and ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 3rd 2008 by Twelve (first published October 22nd 2008)
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Mar 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a book that David Blight the noted historian suggested that our group in a Teaching American History grant should read before going on a Civil War tour this summer. It is a pleasant read. It makes me want to read more on Frederick Douglass, which I plan on doing. One of the great insights that I received from this book centered on Lincoln. Lincoln today would be called a flip flopper but in reality he evolved as a thinker and as a person and was still evolving at the time of his death. H ...more
Stauffer's book sets out to offer a dual biography of two of America's great public figures, but the book fails to tell the story of either life particularly well. Douglass is presented as by far the more forward-looking of the pair, as Lincoln only bends toward Douglass's views with the passage of time and through political expediency (though their friendship continues in earnest despite Lincoln's reservations). The intellectual history of the self-made man is a leitmotif of the book, but serio ...more
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great addition to the parallel lives concept

The most thought-provoking and controversial parts are on the Lincoln side.

1. Was he really that much of, not just a moderate, but even a conservative, toward the "slave power" before, say, middle 1862? We have a solid argument for "yes" in this book.

2. Was Lincoln gay? The author himself says sexual lines were more fluid at that time, and never suggests that Lincoln actually had intercourse with Joshua Speed, nor does he call Lincoln gay. I'll go alon
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you peruse my bookshelf, you'll see that I read a lot about Lincoln and about 19th-century US history. I couldn't resist this dual biography--I don't expect to read much new about Lincoln, but new perspectives on Lincoln always intrigue me. And I had never read a biography of Douglass, just his first autobiography. This book shows how these two men "made" themselves and were made by their times, how they fought slavery in their different ways, how Douglass criticized Lincoln's policies and sp ...more
Jan 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Having read this book makes me want to read Stauffer's book on interracial friendship, which I suspect displays the height and heft of his analytical abilities. This book felt thin-ish...pitched to occasions like the Lincoln Bicentennial and Obama's election rather than a needed-to-be-done, long-pondered biographical and historical study. The parallels between Douglass and Lincoln that Stauffer structured his book around sometimes seemed strained. Also, Stauffer made Frederick Douglass a much mo ...more
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"There is no explicit evidence that Lincoln and [Joshua] Speed enjoyed carnal love," admits the author. Yet he spends several pages painting a picture of Lincoln enjoying the favors of prostitutes as well as claiming that even as he married Mary Todd, he apparently was still enamored with his previous male roommate.

I found this to be quite disgusting and totally at odds with his thesis as found in his preface.

A simple bit of editing would do wonders.
Dec 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
Was interesting and an easy read, but I only gave the book one star because I believe the author has an agenda rather than presenting historical fact. He gleaned that President Lincoln had homosexual acts with dear friend Joshua Speed. (Siting he slept with him in a boarding house - common practice of the time- and stated that he loved him dearly - also common of the time). How can you trust any of the rest of the book.
Jul 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
It started out great, I found it very interesting, but when I got to the chapter that the author began to explain Lincoln's homosexual relationship with his best friend and how Christians didn't have a problem with that back then, I had enough.
Glenn Robinson
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Extremely fascinating bio of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and the trials and tribulations both men faced, the issues of the days and how they dealt with these and the friendship that developed.

We all know the issues that each man faced, but not so much in details. This is a well researched book that takes a very insightful approach to how Douglass dealt with John Brown and the Raid, his hundreds of speeches and how he got around the country, and his influence in the Abolition move
Joel Maqueira
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting read.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A gateway drug for more historical and biographical material on these two extraordinary Americans. Fascinating!
Aug 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Pretty good. Difficult to blend basically two biographies into one. Worth the read
May 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A revealing portrait of the two great self-made men of the 19th century whose political differences nonetheless did not prevent them from becoming friends. The author's commitment to realism - showing each of the protagonists in all of his glory and shame - adds to both the heft and the credibility of this fascinating character study.

As the story ably unfolds, we begin to see parallels in these two great, flawed men (including domineering wives, a commitment to oratory as a professional differen
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
My wife got this book from our local library and I took a look at it immediately since I have read a number of books on Lincoln (and just saw the movie Lincoln). My first turn of the pages drew me to read more and take the book from my wife to read (with her consent of course). The book is just wonderful to read, brings the characters to life and also educates the reader about both men, their three encounters in 1863, 1864 and 1865. The book reveals how both men changed with time, experience and ...more
Nov 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Loved this dual biography of Lincoln and Douglass. There was a good deal I hadn't known plus new light shed on pivotal events in our history. One thing very interesting to me is not only how far as a nation we've come since the mid-19th century but also how in some respects we've actually lost progress. I was shocked to learn during Lincoln's time there was no distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Any sex outside marriage was frowned upon, but it did not matter who with. Lincoln ...more
Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm a little mixed on my feelings on this book. If I could have given it 3 1/2 stars I would. The history in this book is fascinating. The parallels and comparisons between these two amazing self-made men was interesting. I picked up this book excited to learn more about Lincoln and hoping I would enjoy learning something about Douglass. At book's end, I found that I was completely amazed at Douglass and felt a little less than I had before toward Lincoln. Overall, I enjoyed the book and would r ...more
May 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Having recently read Goodwin's book about Lincoln I couldn't help but conpare that book with John Stauffer's Giants. Stauffer's slant seemed to be anti-Lincoln, but that could just be because many of the wonderful qualities of his character were not shown in this book. Goodwin did a much better job of showing the essence of his character. And Stauffer's assertion that Lincoln is gay I thought was completely ludicrous--talk about judging a historical figure by 2010 Western cultural mores! The mos ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've always had a love-hate relationship with History. I find the lives of those who can reach from the past and continue to influence our future absolutely fascinating, but I want to read a history book as much as I want sandpaper to my eyeballs. Fortunately, this is no average history book. Mr. Stauffer manages to convey the lives of these two formidable men, their struggles, and the political climate of the time, in a way that is both fascinating and informative. If you've come to equate read ...more
Jan 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Christmas gift from Kate. Having read Team of Rivals last year and, more recently, March, I've now read three books about the civil war era. This book compares the intersecting lives of two giants of American history, both self made men. Lincoln is, of course, the better known of the two, still, I learned some new things about him. Frederick Douglass I knew much less about. Douglass was welcomed 'as a brother' into the White House by Lincoln. Though he criticized Lincoln for not taking up the ab ...more
Aug 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Gotta love summer reading books. But Giants was definitely readable and likeable. It chronicles the histories of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in a sort of dual-biography. It's really neat though, because it points out the many parallels in their lives (and there really were a lot!) And because Stauffer is only writing about two men, rather than, say a movement or an entire nation, he can sort of tell a story. We can read about the details and little things that really make a man who he ...more
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Very informative. Not difficult to read and while I had already read Douglass' 3 autobiographies I had not really read much on Lincoln and I like what I found out in this book. About his upbringing and how he was raised and how ' back in the day ' parents could lease out their kids for work and make them hand back the money they earned while working. Geez. Child Labor anyone ? How Lincoln's thoughts about colonization and emancipation evolved over the years. It made me kind of think ...more
Anthony Murphy
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: College Students, History Fans, Lincoln Fans
Recommended to Anthony by: Barnes and Noble
I went to a book signing for this gentleman which got me even more excited about this book! This book functions as a double biography of Lincoln and Douglass. I never though a history book would be so intersting. I also liked that Stauffer's discription of 1800 Illinois sounded so exotic since I live in Illinois. This book shows the improbable journey of these men and how they cross paths thoughout history.

There was an intersting ending with Stauffer's thought on Obama's election and his connect
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a good book. I really like History, but it is hard for me to understand and I read this book very slowly. I learned that Lincoln was skilled more at being a Politician and not a Humanitarian. He was politically "callous" towards blacks and initially felt that exporting them out of the country was the best answer. The more impressive character in this book was Frederick Douglas. He rose out of slavery to become one of the most influential and successful figures in history. He deserves as ...more
Diane Heath
This biography of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas tries to make comparisons of the two men leading "parallel lives" but shows the contrast more. There are a few aspects in Lincoln's life claimed by this author that have been disproved by other authors and biographies. Since I am less familiar with that many of Douglass's life stories I cannot comment on the accuracy, The version presented here seems to mesh with previous readings on his life. In any case, it is an interesting look at ...more
Oct 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
This is a book that was well written, but I felt like Stauffer had an agenda. There are parts that I felt that he was adding gossip in an effort to compromise the reputation of Lincoln, when he didn't have the documentation to prove his assertions and conclusions.

However, while parts of it I found speculative, the book also offers an insight into many of the challenges and difficulties that were consuming the American nation of this time. It is worth the read, but I wouldn't say it was spectacu
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely incredible. It gave a very thorough background of the lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln from childhood into their infamous adult lives. Reading the book made me stop and realize how many potential great leaders our country may have missed out on because of the color of their skin. It made me thankful for leaders like Douglass who spent their lives working to bring more fairness and equality to our country. It also provided an in-depth (more honest) perspect ...more
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
FANTASTIC book, and one of the most well-written and readable books I have read in a while. Doesn't treat Lincoln with kid gloves, which as a Lincoln enthusiast I appreciate. It also discusses in detail Douglass' ever-evolving relationship with Lincoln, his frustrations with Lincoln as president, and his understanding of Lincoln's precarious situation as president years after Lincoln's assassination. Highly recommended!
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In this book, John Stauffer does an amazing job of weaving together the lives of two of America's greatest statesmen. Both were born poor, one slave, one free, and became self made men. They rose through society through sheer force of will. But a man does not become great on his own. Mr. Stauffer does a great job of portraying the help these two men received, and the effects they had on each other. I can't wait to read this book again!
Kristi Starr
Dec 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
A good read and interesting parallel between two men of similar origin and with meteoric rises. Each man was able to - and not afraid to - reinvent himself when the occasion mandated. My biggest issue - I've never heard anyone question Lincoln's sexuality and physical relationship with another man. Unsure of "scholarship" as it relates to Lincoln and Speed's relationship. Still, a good comparison and contrast of two American icons.
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I have read several books on Lincoln. I always enjoy getting a new viewpoint on our great Republican President. This is the first book I have read detailing Frederick Douglass' life. I really enjoyed learning more about him. I like Stauffer's honest writing. He doesn't gloss over many of Lincoln's shortcomings.
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He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1999 and is the Chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English and African American Studies at Harvard University. He has written and lectured widely on slavery and abolition, social protest, the dilemmas of self-making, and photography.

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