Since his assassination Abraham Lincoln has become the most written about American in history and his life has crossed over to film and cable television ‘documentaries’. Early written portraits of Lincoln included elements that bordered myth, however the increased gathering of sources and attention to detail the story of Lincoln life has outgrown those earlier “mythic” elements to an even richer story. A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, Jr., has emerged as not only the finest biography of the 16th President of the United States, but the most in-depth and fantastically written.
White begins his biography by describing how Abraham Lincoln wrote his longest autobiography during the campaign of 1860, which was scant of detail and length to the frustration of newspaper editors. White then gives the reader a short, but detailed Lincoln family biography not only giving Lincoln’s place within the whole of American history even greater context but giving the reader a taste of the depth of his research and what they’re about to read.
White describes Lincoln’s early life in the context of frontier life and how it transformed as the frontier in which he lived transformed into a center of population and commerce. Lincoln’s early Illinois political campaigns and career are examined, with White highlighting elements that showed Lincoln’s progression not only as a politician and lawyer but as a leader as well. After the earlier successes in his political career up to 1848, Lincoln would not find election day success for himself until 1860 but White shows how the political leader Lincoln emerged not only in Illinois but onto the national stage to would springboard him to the Republican nomination and eventually the White House.
The progression of Lincoln’s executive and military leadership are fascinatingly written by White as Lincoln’s presidency covers the last half of the biography. However, it is White’s examination of Lincoln’s evolving policy and speeches during this time that truly gives the reader a better understanding of the man himself.
Having read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, I was introduced to many of the things White would highlight and truly give understanding to the reader. Although Goodwin’s description and analysis of the 1860 and 1864 Presidential elections in Team of Rivals is superior to that found in White’s A. Lincoln, it is minor to the fact that with White one gets a fuller sense of Abraham Lincoln himself while with Goodwin he is seen in connection and comparison with his cabinet.
If you read one Lincoln biography or if you have read a hundred, I can not recommend A. Lincoln enough. Ronald C. White, Jr., book is the crowning achievement in Lincoln biographies and will be for decades to come.