Book Review: Abraham Lincoln’s World

Abraham Lincoln’s World, by Geneviere Foster

While looking for books in my local library system about Abraham Lincoln, I came across this book, written by a Christian historian who wrote a series of related books for juvenile audiences that in many ways hold up well to today on several levels. Although this is not a book that contains footnotes or endnotes to its sources, contrary to established standards of historiography, the book is written in a way that introduces its readers to a surprisingly wide-ranging view not only of certain incidents in the life of its subject, Abraham Lincoln, but also a series of stories about those who lived and were influential in history at the time of Abraham Lincoln. Moreover, this is done in such a way that it gives honor and credit to not only presidents and prime ministers but also inventors and scholars, not only men but women, not only adults but children, and not only Americans and Europeans but people from the Middle East, Latin America, and East Asia, as well as the people of various tribes of the “first peoples” of North America. The book takes a broadminded set of people it considers of particular importance, most of whom are at least roughly the same age as Abraham Lincoln, and then provides brief but characteristic vignettes of them at different stages of life, while doing the same with Abraham Lincoln. The end result is a history that is both informative and fascinating, and a worthy model of writing history not only for younger audiences, but for older ones as well.

In terms of its contents, the book is divided into five parts, labeling them as follows: When Abraham Lincoln Was Born In Kentucky, When Abraham Lincoln Was A Boy In Indiana, When Abraham Lincoln Kept Store In Illinois, When Abraham Lincoln Was A Lawyer From Illinois, and When Abraham Lincoln Was President Of The United States. Within each of these five parts is a series of stories that deals with a wide variety of people, including the following: Louis Napoleon, Simon Bolivar, Andrew Jackson, Dolly Madison, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, the Marquis de Lafayette, Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, Ferdinand de Lesseps, Mohammed Said, David Livingstone [1], Li Hung Chang, Prince Albert, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Otto von Bismarck, Buffalo Bill Cody, Florence Nightingale, Benito Juarez, and Hans Christian Anderson, among others. The resulting stories not only delve deep into letters and diaries and biographies for their stories, and show a focus on tales with romance or tragic pathos or irony, but they serve to give a broad-minded approach that can praise the peacemaking efforts of Prince Albert and castigating the fierceness of Otto von Bismarck on the one hand while simultaneously praising the spunk and spirit of young Harriet Beecher Stowe, the ambitions and rectitude of Mexico’s Benito Juarez, and the sadness of the loyalty of Cherokees to the United States repaid with theft and forced exile and massive death. Despite this sorrow, the book as a whole has as its refrain that one cannot fight the future, giving it an optimistic tone of progress that seems unfathomable today.

Although this is a book that would not pass muster as an academic history, it was written with other intents in mind. For one, in showing the humanity of its subjects, and to a great extent allowing the stories about them to be told as close as possible to their own diaries and letters and the writing of mostly sympathetic eyewitnesses, the author furthers her own Christian ideals of demonstrating the common nature of mankind, so that we should be understanding of and compassionate towards all. The people here are shown as being loyal to parents and mentors, concerned with the well-being of their people, and those who are less honorable are openly criticized by the author for their lack of integrity, although the author makes it a habit of making the most generous appraisal possible of various words and deeds discussed here. Besides a benign view of divine providence, the book also on one occasion strikingly invokes the principle in the Third Commandment wherein the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation, speaking with regards to German militarism [2] and the whirlwind that the world would suffer in the aftermath of German unification through force and fraud. Through it all, the reader of the book is guided to cheer on the success of the various people, and to see the connections between seemingly disparate threads of narrative told in episodic ways that serve to provide the reader with a contextual understanding of the times in which Abraham Lincoln and his contemporaries lived told with the sympathetic perspective of a compassionate and broad-minded Christian historian who clearly takes history and the proper historical education of young people seriously.

[1] See, for example:

[2] 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.
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