Book Review: Lincoln: The Biography Of A Writer

Lincoln: The Biography Of A Writer, by Fred Kaplan

In a marketplace of books that is crowded with books about Abraham Lincoln, quite a few of which have found their way into my own reading collection [1], it is always intriguing to see how an author seeks to differentiate himself from other authors and his (or her) book from others’. In this particular case, Kaplan takes the inspired approach of viewing Lincoln as a writer in the canon of American literature, and viewing his writings from the point of view of their literary antecedents, and viewing the speeches as organized essays rather than merely political works. It is surprising, given the obviously studied and literary quality of much of Lincoln’s writing and its poetic resonance that this is not a more common approach to handling Lincoln’s writing, but it is good that Kaplan finds a successful niche that allows him to draw notable insights from Lincoln’s writings as literature.

In terms of its structure and organization, the book is fairly conventional. The book begins with the childhood of Lincoln, looks at his young adulthood where he sought to make his way in the world, his early success politically as a state legislator for Illinois where his organized mind and skill at writing was an obvious advantage, and his frustrated romantic relationships, culminating in a policy match with a woman who did not appreciate his writing skills, a period of eclipse between 1849 and 1854, and then his rapid rise to national prominence and his time in the presidency. To be sure, the author is not alone in looking at this particular narrative, but the fact that he digs up some impressive and obscure writings of Lincoln, including Lincoln’s one case before the United States Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Taney wrote a hostile review that served as a precedent for Dred Scott, something that sounds entirely like Taney’s phony brand of original interpretation, and the fact that he goes through the effort to figure out Lincoln’s reading, which is no easy task because Lincoln was a notoriously voracious reader despite living a busy life.

It is these touches that make this an immensely worthwhile book. Despite the fact that this book can be a bit harsh on Mary Todd Lincoln as well as Stephen Douglas, although no more harsh than Harry Jaffa, it should be noted, the author generally appreciates the broad-mindedness of Lincoln and points out over and over again that Lincoln was strongly affected by the pessimism of his Calvinistic upbringing even if he was not conventionally religious at any point during his adult life. Despite this fact, Lincoln’s use of biblical language was notable, and he was clearly deeply influenced by his reading of the Bible, as well as numerous less elevated texts. Part of the joy of reading a book like this is a “spot the influence” game that demonstrates Lincoln’s command of the English language and immense intellectual achievements despite his lack of formal education. It is the combination of aspiration and perspiration that make Lincoln’s self-education so notable, and within the grasp of anyone who can read widely and well and is willing to put forth the immense effort required to overcome a background of difficulties. In light of his achievement as a writer and reader, it is all the more sad that Lincoln was so distant from his own family, many of whom simply could not relate to his drive to understand his world and improve his station through mental effort, drives that were frequent and underlying aspects of much of his writings. This particular book will do much in helping others to see Lincoln as one of America’s foremost literary minds, including being a greatly underrated poet.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Book Review: Lincoln: The Biography Of A Writer

  1. Pingback: Book Review: One Man Great Enough | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: President Lincoln: The Duty Of A Statesman | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: How To Analyze The Works Of Abraham Lincoln | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Lincoln On Leadership | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Great Comeback | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Non-Book Review: John De Courcy: Prince Of Ulster | Edge Induced Cohesion

  7. Pingback: Double Wide, Single Minded | Edge Induced Cohesion

  8. Pingback: Book Review: Lincoln In His Own Words | Edge Induced Cohesion

  9. Pingback: Book Review: Lincoln And His Generals | Edge Induced Cohesion

  10. Pingback: Audiobook Review: A Treasury Of Foolishly Forgotten Americans | Edge Induced Cohesion

  11. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life | Edge Induced Cohesion

  12. Pingback: Book Review: Lincoln For President | Edge Induced Cohesion

  13. Pingback: Book Review: Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians On Our Sixteenth President | Edge Induced Cohesion

  14. Pingback: Book Review: Abraham Lincoln’s Extraordinary Era | Edge Induced Cohesion

  15. Pingback: Book Review: The Case Of Abraham Lincoln | Edge Induced Cohesion

  16. Pingback: Book Review: A Just And Generous Nation | Edge Induced Cohesion

  17. Pingback: Book Review: Abraham Lincoln In The Post-Heroic Era | Edge Induced Cohesion

  18. Pingback: Book Review: Lincoln: A President For The Ages | Edge Induced Cohesion

  19. Pingback: Book Review: Land Of Lincoln | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s