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Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  761 ratings  ·  80 reviews

“Fred Kaplan’s Lincoln offers penetrating insights on Lincoln’s ability to explain complex ideas in language accessible to a broad range of readers and listeners.” — James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books

“A fine, invaluable book. . . . Certain to become essential to our understanding of the 16th president. . . . Kaplan meticulously analyzes how Lincoln’s steadil

Kindle Edition, 418 pages
Published (first published October 28th 2008)
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✨Bean's Books✨
This book has a lot of information. Almost to the point, I would say, of having way too much information. The author seems to repeat himself several times and the quotes that he cites seem to do the same. The chapters are extremely long as well. There are only 8 chapters in this book.
However, all in all, it was a good read, I learned a lot about our 16th president, and I'm glad that I have read it.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with interest in the subject.
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exploration of the effects of being articulate, well-spoken and obsessed with learning is especially relevant after watching Obama use those three traits to take the presidency. It's the author's point that Lincoln's log cabin story has obscured how impressive a writer and speaker he really was. More importantly, we forget that with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt we've never really had a president before with equal deftness in reading, writing and speaking. Normally they are good at one ...more
Dan Wilson
I'm glad I picked this book up as I'm interested in learning more about Lincoln outside of his extremely well documented presidency. Learning more about his self-education and what writers deeply influenced him, particularly to the point where he would frequently quote them in both formal and informal speech, was incredibly useful. However, I found the book itself to be rather a slog. Mr. Kaplan's writing often seems designed to be inaccessible, taking linguistic perambulations so convoluted as ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A succinct and persuasive look at our greatest president's literary history. The author narrates the influence great writing and writers had on Abraham Lincoln in his life and times. Even though there were a couple of typos, the text flowed smoothly and the pace was brisk. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about our 16th president's political career as well as anyone interested in the Civil War in general. ...more
Dec 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A hybrid book that never quite decides whether to be a biography laced with lit crit or a literary study in biographical context. Kaplan traces a few major influences -- the Bible, Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, and Emerson -- through Lincoln's life & writing; he finds some interesting echoes but rides his horses too hard. He is best at showing Lincoln's essayist approach to speechwriting and his faith in the power of words to move the nation. ...more
This was okay, but Douglas Wilson's "Lincoln's Sword" is a much better biography of Lincoln as a writer. Kaplan has some good insights, but much of the time he sounds like a college sophomore showing off in a mid-term exam: "Like Emerson, [Lincoln:] had the gift of aphoristic vividness in arranging linguistic tropes into effective combinations and shifting viewpoints." Ugh. ...more
I really like words, and I really like Abraham Lincoln, so I was pretty excited to read this book. It took me a couple of months to get through it though, partly because almost every time I sat down to read it I would start dozing within 15 minutes. I love that one of my favorite presidents is the most well read president, but the writing of this biography wasn't particularly exciting. ...more
Mar 22, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
What an intriguing take on a Lincoln biography! Kaplan's thesis is that years of immersing himself in literature and honing his ability to express an argument prepared Lincoln for his final role as the nation's communicator. I liked this approach of chronicling Lincoln's development as a thinker and writer. Any bookworm would appreciate young Lincoln's obsession with reading. One interesting theme was Lincoln's own religious skepticism and his need to connect with a very religious nation in an h ...more
Lukas Sotola
A fun discussion of Lincoln's reading and writing life. It's clear that there were parts of this book that Kaplan enjoyed writing (i.e., the parts about Lincoln's reading and writing life, naturally) and parts that he was less interested in (i.e., politics, campaigning, his personal life), and the latter are always a bit more of a chore to get through. However, I don't think that would stop anybody--especially bookish people--from enjoying and learning a lot from this book, both about the main s ...more
Apr 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A close, detailed study of Lincoln’s writing, especially as it relates to his reading and his largely self-taught education. Highly recommended for an understanding of Lincoln’s inner life and its relation to his political career.
Aaron Million
This book lives up to its' title: this is an Abraham Lincoln biography, but only where his writing is concerned. Major events in Lincoln's life are viewed through the prism of his written words and also of his literary predilections. In fact, much of the early chapters seem more devoted to what Lincoln read as a child and while he was growing up, than what he wrote. This is not surprising as it is true for most of us through the first two decades of life: what we read as a child can help to shap ...more
David Goldman
A fascinating subject but a pretty mediocre book.  The most interesting part is the review of Lincoln's early influences of the great humanist writers that seem to stay with Lincoln throughout his career.  It's also interesting so much of Lincoln's very early success was basically because he could actually read and write.  Yet, there is very little insight into Lincoln's writing that one doesn't get just be reading it.  The author tends to repeat nearly judgements throughout the book without exp ...more
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Some annoying errors marred it (Jackson did something as president in 1815--not!) early. Later, it got almost throw-across-the-room inaccurate, particularly on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. I realize the guy is an English prof, but he should have his basic facts down, like the differences between territories and states. Those errors will lead some astray, and they will just bother others (like me) to no end. The earlier part of this is better than the later part, and it's hard to believe how relative ...more
Lincoln is perhaps one of the most-written-about figures in American history, so it's a challenge to find a new angle to approach him from. It's a challenge Kaplan attempts but does not quite meet in a book about Lincoln specifically as a writer, examining his literary influences. Unfortunately, in the absence of definite evidence, much of Kaplan's book takes the form of "Considering X was published when Lincoln was 20, and was very popular, is it not possible it affected his thinking and writin ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biographies are hit or miss. If its someone you really like you can sit there and soak up the gory details, but if its someone you are just discovering, who really cares what kind of woman his great aunt Trudy was? The cool thing about this biography is that it had a theme. It looked at how Lincoln was a product of what he read. I swear that is the only reason I made it through the whole thing. Otherwise it would have been just one fact after another, an exercise in memorization, and I would not ...more
Constantin Minov
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A stoical character, an entirely self-taught man with a strong work ethic.Lincoln was obsessed with words, for him each sentence had to be well crafted and each public speech had to be well polished. He was also obsessed with learning because he understood that manual labor wouldn't get him any opportunity to change his poverty status. This book is about what Lincoln did as a word crafter and how his public speaking skills made him became one of best well-spoken president of the US. This book br ...more
Sarah Milner
I rarely quit a book ...

But, for whatever reason, every time I sat down to read it, I fell asleep. Or was quickly distracted. Or something more exciting came along, and so I dropped the book to focus on that new thing. I think this biography suffered from the fact that I had just recently finished Kearns Goodwin's, "Team of Rivals", which is amazing and already touched on all these topics. It was a valiant effort, but I have other titles calling my name.
Nick Woodall
This was an excellent book. It really focused on Lincoln's writings and how he drafted them, especially giving homage to his word choice. Woven throughout the book was history writ large. I read this book at the same time I was reading Team of Rivals. It was very interesting reading both books and seeing how they meshed, and especially what Lincoln thought as we was writing. ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Matter of fact account of Lincoln's relationship with words and writers and how the well intentioned idea and the well phrased rhetoric can coexist. Especially recommended for literati people who need an injection of nonfiction once in a while. ...more
Dec 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
This book was more political than personal, not my thing.
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very detailed study of the influences on Lincoln's prose style. Well done, but tedious. ...more
Heather the Banjo Queen
This was an interesting book, but it was fairly dry and loaded with lots of facts in a rather artless way. When it was time to turn it in, I wasn't finshed and probably won't check it out again. ...more
Kay Dewitt
Had interesting aspects but kind of draggy
Held my attention just enough to slog through 5-15 pages at a time. Was glad to be done with it.
A decent read, brilliant idea of looking at Lincoln's development as a writer to his progress in his career but could have been cut down in size by a hundred pages or so. ...more
April Camuso
The premise was good, but I would say the book could be about 200 pages shorter. Honestly I skimmed the second half. Sometimes concise is good.
Feb 03, 2014 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I think I am just not in the right mood for this. It has some interesting parts, but to me it reads more like a literary criticism than a biography.
Lewis Millholland
My grandboss asked me in our monthly 1:1 why I'd gotten the flu shot and I answered to increase herd immunity. That wasn't the answer he wanted and he asked more pointed questions until his inquiry culminated in: "You know how they make flu shots, right?" To which I answered, "Yes," which was also the right answer. He knew there was an element of annual guesswork in choosing the flu strains to prevent against and he wanted me to know that he knew.

But I wasn't mad, because I've been the same way.
Richard Subber
This is a book I could put down. I did.

I give it good marks for subject, elegant delivery of good information, prose style, and the author’s literate assessment of primary sources.

Lincoln is the most written-about president, with good reason.

Kaplan offers a well-informed, systematic investigation of Lincoln’s reading habits and writing skills.

I know a published author who widely and deeply savored the exploration of Lincoln’s love affair with language and meaning. Likewise, I’m a writer and I wa
alex guns
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lincoln
Lincoln was the first person to be a published poet before taking the office of the president (there’s an argument JQA was as well but without going in detail here, it’s obviously false). How we see the civil war is due largely to his work in framing and reframing the northern cause through his writing. There may be no way to know a historical figure as protean as Lincoln, but looking at the books he loved, emulated, and transcended is probably the best place to dig.

That’s why this is a hard tw
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