Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reading Lincoln

Richmond is excited about the November 16th opening of Stephen Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.  For 53 days last fall, Lincoln-sightings titillated Richmond and Petersburg, and the filming contributed millions to the local economy. For a lucky few, tonight’s two back-to-back invitation-only screenings at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown will bring some of Hollywood’s glamour to Richmond.  The movie’s wide release next week promises to nurture and renew our enthusiasm for its subject.

Lincoln was based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin’s book explored a facet of Lincoln’s presidency of particular relevance in the wake of 2012’s polarized election: how he was able to convince his three rivals for the Republican nomination -- Salmon Chase, William Seward, and Edward Bates --  to join his Cabinet and unite for a common cause.  In 1862, he appointed his former professional rival William Stanton as Secretary of War, who became perhaps his greatest admirer. Goodwin's focus on the relationships between the men and Lincoln’s deft and insightful management of a brilliant but fractious “team of rivals” attracted Spielberg’s cinematic attentions and formed the basis for his dramatic recreation of Lincoln’s last four months.

But let’s not forget the wealth of other Lincoln biographies available.  A partial list, compiled from various sources, appears below.

Best Books About Abraham Lincoln
* available @RPL
Selected by Michael Burlingame,  history professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield and the author of "Abraham Lincoln: A Life" and "The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln.
for the Wall Street Journal 2/13/10

* Douglas L. Wilson’s Honor's Voice (1998) a “comprehensive view of Lincoln's path to maturity”

* Kenneth J. Winkle’s The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln (2001) “a strikingly original study that locates Lincoln in the context of his time and place”
* Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Lincoln's Melancholy (2005) how Lincoln's tendency to depression helped shape his character”

*Jennifer Fleischner’s Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly (2003) a dual biography of Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, a former slave
*William H. Herndon’s Lincoln (originally 1889) “classic work by Lincoln's law partner, . . . the most influential biography of Lincoln ever written”
Selected by Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln scholar and the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College         

* Benjamin P. Thomas’s Abraham Lincoln (1952) “the best and most-readable of all single-volume Lincoln biographies”

Michael Burlingame’s The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (1994) “for those who want to probe more deeply into the ‘private’ Lincoln”

Mark E. Steiner’s An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln (2007) “an easily-understood overview of the various facets of Lincoln’s law practice”

* Kenneth J. Winkle’s The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln (2001). “. . . the ‘social history’ of Abraham Lincoln . . .[his] social milieu in Illinois, his friends, his associates . . . in the decades before the Civil War”

Harry V. Jaffa in Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1959). a “magisterial treatment of the great debates [that] shows Lincoln in his greatest moment”

Selected by the readers of GoodReads                              
*Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)
*David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln (1995)

*James L. Swanson’s Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (2006)

*Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years & the War Years (originally 1954)
*Gore Vidal’s Lincoln (1984)

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