Lincoln In The World: The Making Of A Statesman And Te Dawn Of American Power, by Kevin Peraino
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Broadway Books in exchange for an honest review.]
Lincoln authors looking for relatively fresh areas of his life and career to work about  have a difficult challenge with all of the books that have been written about the Illinois man who was perhaps our nation’s greatest president. This book, written by a veteran foreign correspondent, takes the approach that we can learn something new about Lincoln based upon his behavior with regards to foreign policy. This is not an entirely new approach, although it does not cover Lincoln’s actions in extending recognition to nations like Haiti and San Marino  that had previously not received positive attention from the United States, but it is a worthwhile one. Pointing our look at Lincoln to the wider world and Lincoln’s behavior towards it is a useful way to examine America’s place in the wider world of the mid nineteenth century, as a way of pointing to early trends in America’s approach towards other nations.
The book is organized into six comparisons with Lincoln that take place in a chronological fashion from the beginning of Lincoln’s career to the repercussions of his presidency after his death. First comes Lincoln vs. Herndon, which contrasts Lincoln’s principled opposition to the Mexican-American War and more cerebral approach with Herndon’s more emotional approach, giving us a chance to see Lincoln take an unpopular stance at the beginning of his career. After this comes Lincoln vs. Seward, which examines the difference between Lincoln and his combative Secretary of State, who nonetheless were very similar in their approach. Then comes Lincoln vs. Palmerston, showing how the leaders of the US and Britain were both a bit cold-blooded and cerebral and interested in realpolitik, although Palmerston was far more amoral, looking at how both England and the United States handled diplomacy during the Civil War. After this comes Lincoln vs. Marx, which is not so much of a contrast since it largely examines how both sought to influence the course of history through the media. Then comes Lincoln vs. Napoleon, which examines how both France and the United States dealt with the French invasion of Mexico, which ultimately ended up in French defeat. Finally there is a brief chapter on Lincoln vs. Lincoln, which examines the later career of Lincoln’s secretary Hay.
What makes this book particularly valuable is that it points to a divide that exists in American foreign policy between a skeptical and modest desire for realistic benefit or a tendency towards self-righteous moral crusades. That divide did not only cut through Lincoln, nor through the American foreign policy approach, but it is a line that in some fashion cuts through every single one of us. To what extent are we confident about our beliefs and our desire to remake the world in our own image, and to what extent do we seek to act based on the reality of the situation. We strive to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves, and that is true not only in our personal lives but also in our behavior as leaders. Lincoln was certainly not perfect in straddling the divide between pragmatism and idealism, for it is something that all of us have to wrestle with. Let us hope we do so as ably as Lincoln did, as this book wisely points out.
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