McPherson’s Abraham Lincoln


Here’s another variant on an earlier post, included partly because it will appear in this coming Friday’s Haysville Sun Times and partly because it includes details about our Lincoln Mosaic unveiling on February 12th and the two book discussions we have scheduled for February 16th and 21st.

Ten Score Years
A Review of James M. McPherson’s Abraham Lincoln
Haysville Sun Times Friday February 6th
By Ken Bell

In just six more days, all across America there will be celebrations in honor of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. With the approach of these bicentennial celebrations, the outpouring of new books about America’s 16th president has reached a crescendo. Literally dozens of titles have appeared in the last two or three years, with many more to come. There are almost too many good new Lincoln books for any individual person to read in several years, much less during the next few weeks. That’s why James M. McPherson’s wonderful brief biography of Abraham Lincoln is such an important book.

It is so important that the Haysville Community Library will be sponsoring a special book discussion expressly concerned with this book at 7:00 pm on President’s Day, Monday, February 16th. It’s one of three special events scheduled at your library for the Lincoln Bicentennial.

The McPherson biography of Lincoln is a very slender, compact volume, just 65 pages of text, with a few pages of notes and bibliography. Yet David Herbert Donald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln (1995) describes it as “a gem . . . the very best brief biography of our sixteenth president ever written.” It is a judgment with which I heartily concur.

Written crisply and lucidly, the text flows easily and relates all the most crucial aspects and events of Lincoln’s life and ideas in a form which can be read, if desired, at a single sitting, or savored in tiny morsels. In so brief a compass it cannot, of course, explore all the nuances and details of a complex man acting amid the stresses and strains of complicated times. But that is the task of the many excellent extensive biographies, including Michael Burlingame’s three volume behemoth due to be released later this month, or books focused on more restricted facets of Lincoln’s life, such as McPherson’s own superb Tried by War or Doris Kearns Goodwin’s exquisite Pulitzer Prize-winning Team of Rivals.

As McPherson expresses it himself in the preface to his book, “during this bicentennial commemoration of his birth, a large number of excellent biographies and other books about Lincoln have appeared and continue to appear. Most of these are substantial works; one definitive multivolume biography runs well over half a million words. Amid this cascade of information, I believe there is room for a brief biography that captures the essential events and meaning of Lincoln’s life without oversimplification or overgeneralization. This is what I have tried to do in the following pages.” He has succeeded admirably.

Moreover, the book is crowned by an abbreviated but very astute five-page bibliography that serves as an excellent guide to further explorations. If you wish to begin exploring the life and times of our greatest president, this is an excellent place to begin. If , on the other hand, you have almost no time to devote to such an endeavor, this compact jewel is beyond doubt the one book for you.

In fact, we’re so convinced that this little book is the perfect way to meet so many different needs and priorities, we’ve decided to offer the first twenty attendees to our Monday night book discussion a free copy of their own.

If you can’t attend that evening session, you should also know that we have another Lincoln book discussion set for Saturday, February 21st at 2 pm, when Clark Killion will return to the library for a spirited review of Lincoln’s ethics, reviewing and discussing two great books by William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues and President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman.

Finally, on Lincoln’s birthday itself (Thursday February 12th) and as a prelude to our book discussions, the Haysville Community Library will be unveiling our own Haysville version of a Lincoln Bicentennial Mosaic Sculpture. If you have no time for anything else, drop by the library for a quick view.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 2:45 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] sources, McGovern’s biography is not so stunningly incisive as James McPherson’s very brief Abraham Lincoln, nor so voluminous as many of the new biographies appearing in this bicentennial year of […]

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