Book Review: Lincoln Raw

Lincoln Raw:  A Biographical Novel, by D.L. Fowler

[Note:  This book was provided without charge by Author’s Den.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone who reads a lot about Abraham Lincoln [1], I viewed this book with a bit of concern.  Would the author have something worthwhile to say about Abraham Lincoln that was not said in fourteen thousand or so other books?  To be sure, the author provides a good account of his own desire to write about Lincoln from the inside, but this only increased my concern, since Lincoln was a particularly complicated person and hard to get right, as the many ways that he is viewed and the many causes he is enlisted for attest to.  Likewise, the size of the book at more than 400 pages put me off a bit too and delayed my reading of this book until a polite e-mail reminded me that I had promised to read and review the book and pointed me to my duty, even if it was not one I necessarily looked forward to.  That said, even though I still am not sure that the author’s approach in writing from the perspective of Lincoln was the best one, I can say with confidence that the author did at least do his homework in reading a great deal about Lincoln’s life and so he presents at least a plausible Lincoln whose complexity keeps this book in the realm of historical fiction and not fantasy or propaganda.

As a novel, this somewhat lengthy effort begins on the last day of Lincoln’s life (spoiler alert) and then goes back to Lincoln’s childhood and then covers Lincoln’s life in a generally chronological fashion.  The author shows an obvious awareness of the historiography of Lincoln’s career from his melancholy, the doubts he had about his mother’s legitimacy (and even his own), even some of the more obscure aspects of Lincoln’s time on the circuit court ridings.  The author presents Lincoln as a man of deep melancholy and frustrated ambition, a permissive father and a longsuffering husband, but someone who also had a rather cold and implacable heart towards his father, whom he despised for being abusive and cruel, hostile to his own educational ambitions, and willing to treat his son like a slave.  The novel also shows Lincoln’s political ambitions and how he worked out his own rhetoric in the face of competing advice and immensely difficult conditions.  The book could have done with a bit more of Lincoln’s genuinely funny sense of humor, including the way that he punctured Cass’ ambitions in 1848 as a member of the House of Representatives with a reference to his own ineffectual military service.  Still, the book was long enough and had no need to be longer, even though it ended as Lincoln was preparing for his first inaugural and thus does not include much of his Civil War experience.

Overall, this book adopts the psychological approach to Lincoln that has become increasingly popular over the last few decades.  The novel mercifully avoids at least some of the speculation about Lincoln and sex, while showing him as generally awkward about intimacy, which seems a pretty fair approach to take.  Lincoln is presented as a complex person with a great deal of tension between his devotion to law and his passionate longings for justice.  Even though I have a few quibbles with some aspects of the author’s presentation of Lincoln and his behavior–I would argue he was probably not as gallant as the author suggests about the Shields matter that provoked his abortive duel of honor.  Even so, despite this, I think there is much to appreciate about this book.  Many people who read this book will not be Lincoln scholars who pour over his writings and reflect upon his biography, and will be unaware that he had a deep interest in the Bible but was not a technical Christian, or that he had deep criticism for abolitionists, largely on account of their disobedience of the law and their lack of kindness towards the plight of whites in slave states who they looked down on self-righteously, in the manner of contemporary liberals.  All in all, this is a good book, and someone reading it would be genuinely informed by some excellent scholarship about Lincoln.  If you like reading novels that put themselves in the place of historical characters and are fond of Abraham Lincoln, there will be much to enjoy here.

[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, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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