Monday, 23 February 2009

“Our Lincoln”, Edited by Eric Foner (W.W. Norton)


A collection of eleven essays that take a new look at the 16th US President

In 1876, Frederick Douglass observed at the dedication of Freedmans Monument, that “No man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln.” What Our Lincoln seeks (in a way) to do is prove Douglass wrong, to coincide with Lincoln’s bicentennial.

The collection of essays is expansive in its breadth of subject. Some more typical themes are given attention – Lincoln’s religious views (Andrew Delbanco and Richard Carwardine write particularly good articles on this subject), and more study on Lincoln’s perspectives on slavery, race and citizenship (James Oakes, Eric Foner, and Manisha Sinha). Some of these essays are focused on less-popular fields of study, however, and this is where Our Lincoln is particularly interesting. James M. McPherson, one of America’s most accomplished and renowned Civil War scholars has written a very good (if a tad dry) essay about Lincoln as commander-in-chief – a surprisingly neglected field of study. Sean Wilentz, another of America’s premiere historians discusses (in the best essay) Lincoln’s evolving political positions in the context of party politics (paying attention to his Whig partisanship and ideology even after the party was defunct). Other areas given attention are Lincoln’s family life (Catherine Clinton), his place in politics and memory (a particularly good essay by David W. Blight), and also his literary style (included in Andrew Delbanco’s essay). The authors place Lincoln in his time and also in the broader American political and historical context.

The book will offer plenty for any student of Lincoln, the Civil War or American history as a whole. Comprised of intelligently argued positions, well-crafted and composed essays, Our Lincoln is a valuable addition to the study of America’s 16th, favourite president.

Further Reading: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2009); James M. McPherson’s Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander In Chief (2008); Harold Holzer’s Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln & the Great Secession Winter (April 2009); Fred Kaplan’s Lincoln: the Biography of a Writer (2008); Sean Wilentz’s The Best American History Essays on Lincoln (2008) & The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2007)

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