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The 15 Best Books on President Abraham Lincoln
Essential books on abraham lincoln.
There are countless books on Abraham Lincoln, and it comes with good reason, aside from being elected America’s sixteenth President (1861-1865), he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy and preserved the Union while serving as Commander-in-Chief amidst a brutal Civil War.
“Of our political revolution of ’76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth,” Lincoln remarked. “In it the world has found a solution of the long mooted problem, as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind.”
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best books on Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln’s character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times, here was a man who led the country out of slavery and preserved a shattered Union – in short, one of the greatest presidents this country has ever seen.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.
Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.
It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.
We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.
This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.
Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills
The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation “a new birth of freedom” in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece.
By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.
Lincoln’s Sword by Douglas L. Wilson
Widely considered in his own time as a genial but provincial lightweight who was out of place in the presidency, Abraham Lincoln astonished his allies and confounded his adversaries by producing a series of speeches and public letters so provocative that they helped revolutionize public opinion on such critical issues as civil liberties, the use of black soldiers, and the emancipation of slaves. This is a brilliant and unprecedented examination of how Lincoln used the power of words to not only build his political career but to keep the country united during the Civil War.
The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner
Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review , this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln’s lifelong engagement with the nation’s critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln’s greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth.
Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer
As a divided nation plunges into the deepest crisis in its history, Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Washington and his inauguration – an inauguration Southerners have vowed to prevent. Lincoln on the Verge charts these pivotal thirteen days of travel, as Lincoln discovers his power, speaks directly to the public, and sees his country up close.
Drawing on new research, this riveting account reveals the president-elect as a work in progress, showing him on the verge of greatness, as he foils an assassination attempt, forges an unbreakable bond with the American people, and overcomes formidable obstacles in order to take his oath of office.
A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White
Through meticulous research of the newly completed Lincoln Legal Papers, as well as of recently discovered letters and photographs, White provides a portrait of Lincoln’s personal, political, and moral evolution.
White shows us Lincoln as a man who would leave a trail of thoughts in his wake, jotting ideas on scraps of paper and filing them in his top hat or the bottom drawer of his desk; a country lawyer who asked questions in order to figure out his own thinking on an issue, as much as to argue the case; a hands-on commander in chief who, as soldiers and sailors watched in amazement, commandeered a boat and ordered an attack on Confederate shore batteries at the tip of the Virginia peninsula; a man who struggled with the immorality of slavery and as president acted publicly and privately to outlaw it forever; and finally, a president involved in a religious odyssey who wrote, for his own eyes only, a profound meditation on “the will of God” in the Civil War that would become the basis of his finest address.
Most enlightening, the man who comes into focus in this gem among books on Abraham Lincoln is a person of intellectual curiosity, comfortable with ambiguity, and unafraid to “think anew and act anew.”
Tried by War by James M. McPherson
As we celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, this study by preeminent, bestselling Civil War historian James M. McPherson provides a rare, fresh take on one of the most enigmatic figures in American history. Tried by War offers a revelatory (and timely) portrait of leadership during the greatest crisis our nation has ever endured. Suspenseful and inspiring, this is the story of how Lincoln, with almost no previous military experience before entering the White House, assumed the powers associated with the role of Commander in Chief, and through his strategic insight and will to fight changed the course of the war and saved the Union.
Honor’s Voice by Douglas L. Wilson
Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable emergence from the rural Midwest and his rise to the presidency have been the stuff of romance and legend. But as Douglas L. Wilson shows us in Honor’s Voice, Lincoln’s transformation was not one long triumphal march, but a process that was more than once seriously derailed. There were times, in his journey from storekeeper and mill operator to lawyer and member of the Illinois state legislature, when Lincoln lost his nerve and self-confidence – on at least two occasions he became so despondent as to appear suicidal – and when his acute emotional vulnerabilities were exposed.
Focusing on the crucial years between 1831 and 1842, Wilson’s skillful analysis of the testimonies and writings of Lincoln’s contemporaries reveals the individual behind the legends. We see Lincoln as a boy: not the dutiful son studying by firelight, but the stubborn rebel determined to make something of himself. We see him as a young man: not the ascendant statesman, but the canny local politician who was renowned for his talents in wrestling and storytelling (as well as for his extensive store of off-color jokes).
Wilson also reconstructs Lincoln’s frequently anguished personal life: his religious skepticism, recurrent bouts of depression, and difficult relationships with women – from Ann Rutledge to Mary Owens to Mary Todd.
Abraham Lincoln by Lord Charnwood
No other narrative account of Abraham Lincoln’s life has inspired such widespread and lasting acclaim as Charnwood’s Abraham Lincoln: A Biography . Written by a native of England and originally published in 1916, the biography is a rare blend of beautiful prose and profound historical insight. Charnwood’s study of Lincoln’s statesmanship introduced generations of Americans to the life and politics of Lincoln and the author’s observations are so comprehensive and well-supported that any serious study of Lincoln must respond to his conclusions.
Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk
Giving shape to the deep depression that pervaded Lincoln’s adult life, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy reveals how this illness influenced both the president’s character and his leadership. Lincoln forged a hard path toward mental health from the time he was a young man. Shenk draws from historical records, interviews with Lincoln scholars, and contemporary research on depression to understand the nature of his unhappiness. In the process, he discovers that the President’s coping strategies; among them, a rich sense of humor and a tendency toward quiet reflection; ultimately helped him to lead the nation through its greatest turmoil.
Lincoln at Cooper Union by Harold Holzer
This favorite among books on Abraham Lincoln explores his most influential and widely reported pre-presidential address – an extraordinary appeal by the western politician to the eastern elite that propelled him toward the Republican nomination for president. Delivered in New York in February 1860, the Cooper Union speech dispelled doubts about Lincoln’s suitability for the presidency and reassured conservatives of his moderation while reaffirming his opposition to slavery to Republican progressives.
Award-winning Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer places Lincoln and his speech in the context of the times – an era of racism, politicized journalism, and public oratory as entertainment – and shows how the candidate framed the speech as an opportunity to continue his famous “debates” with his archrival Democrat Stephen A. Douglas on the question of slavery.
Holzer describes the enormous risk Lincoln took by appearing in New York, where he exposed himself to the country’s most critical audience and took on Republican Senator William Henry Seward of New York, the front runner, in his own backyard. Then he recounts a brilliant and innovative public relations campaign, as Lincoln took the speech “on the road” in his successful quest for the presidency.
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years by Carl Sandberg
Originally published in six volumes, Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln was called “the greatest historical biography of our generation.” Sandburg distilled this work into one volume that became one of the definitive books on Abraham Lincoln.
We Are Lincoln Men by David Herbert Donald
Though Abraham Lincoln had hundreds of acquaintances and dozens of admirers, he had almost no intimate friends. Behind his mask of affability and endless stream of humorous anecdotes, he maintained an inviolate reserve that only a few were ever able to penetrate.
Professor Donald’s remarkable book offers a fresh way of looking at Abraham Lincoln, both as a man who needed friendship and as a leader who understood the importance of friendship in the management of men. Donald penetrates Lincoln’s mysterious reserve to offer a new picture of the president’s inner life and to explain his unsurpassed political skills.
The Lincolns: Portraits of a Marriage by Daniel Mark
Although the private lives of political couples have in our era become front-page news, the true story of this extraordinary and tragic first family has never been fully told. The Lincolns eclipses earlier accounts with riveting new information that makes husband and wife, president and first lady, come alive in all their proud accomplishments and earthy humanity.
Award-winning biographer and poet Daniel Mark Epstein gives a fresh close-up view of the couple’s life in Springfield, Illinois (of their twenty-two years of marriage, all but six were spent there), and dramatizes with stunning immediacy how the Lincolns’ ascent to the White House brought both dazzling power and the slow, secret unraveling of the couple’s unique bond.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Abraham Lincoln, be sure to check out our list of The 10 Best Books on President George Washington !
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History Books » American History » Books on American Presidents
The best books on abraham lincoln, recommended by ted widmer.
He came from humble beginnings and never went to high school. Going into the presidency, he had limited political experience and lacked business, legislative and military achievements. The one thing he did not lack was a moral compass, says historian and author Ted Widmer . He picks the best books on the ups and downs and Shakespearean-style plot twists that were the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.
Interview by Eve Gerber
Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer
Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Douglas L Wilson
Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills
Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory by Harold Holzer
They Knew Lincoln by John E Washington
1 Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer
2 lincoln's sword: the presidency and the power of words by douglas l wilson, 3 lincoln at gettysburg: the words that remade america by garry wills, 4 emancipating lincoln: the proclamation in text, context, and memory by harold holzer, 5 they knew lincoln by john e washington.
There are more than 16,000 books about Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president. You’ve agreed to choose the best reading about Old Abe and I insisted that we discuss your thrilling Lincoln on the Verge among the five. Before we hit the books, please introduce our international audience to Abraham Lincoln.
There’s so much to admire about Abraham Lincoln. He comes along at a crucial moment, when every American knew a crisis was coming. Almost all historians would say he handled that crisis extremely well. He prevailed in a military contest, he deepened democracy, he expanded education, and he strengthened infrastructure. He expanded the role of the president in American life. And most importantly of all, he dealt a fatal blow to slavery.
His surprising literary capacity, which few knew about when they voted for him, was key to the impact he had. As president, he delivered extraordinary public addresses that are Shakespearian in some ways and biblical in other ways.
He’s emotionally interesting. Abraham Lincoln has more highs and lows than perhaps any other president. He’s very strong, but vulnerable also. That makes him an attractive central figure for a history book. And he’s tragically struck down at the moment of his greatest triumph, immediately after winning the Civil War . That seems almost like a plot twist out of Shakespeare . So he continues to fascinate.
When Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860, his supporters highlighted his bootstraps biography. His rise from a log cabin in Kentucky to the White House is astonishing. What are those basic biographical facts?
His campaign brilliantly turned his disadvantages into advantages. He had a very low level of education, just a few years of school here and there. He didn’t go to high school or university. He had a negligible role in national politics before he became president–just one two-year term as a congressman that was 12 years in the past. He lacked legislative, business and military achievements. But the one thing that was not lacking was a moral compass. And so he came along when America was lost and he really helped us to find our bearings.
Your riveting book, Lincoln on the Verge, focuses on Abraham Lincoln at the precipice of his presidency. Please tell us about the book and the importance of that period you write about.
It’s a story about Abraham Lincoln’s 13-day train trip to his inauguration. We tend to have a static image of Lincoln, posed in a photograph or standing stiffly in a daguerreotype. But he was a man of action. I wanted to show him moving.
Along his train trip to Washington, Lincoln is meeting thousands of people every day. He’s improving his ability to sway people with a speech. Trying to keep the country together was physical as well as intellectual work. He was shaking tens of thousands of hands to keep America from falling apart. It was a physical ordeal but one that he was well-qualified for. We don’t think of Abraham Lincoln as a young man, but he had just turned 52 and he was still vigorous.
“There’s so much to admire about Abraham Lincoln”
This journey also shows America in all of its different shadings. It’s a country that is different, not only between North and South, but between the northern, southern, western and eastern parts of individual states. Southern Ohio is really different from Northern Ohio. Pennsylvania is very diverse. Following Lincoln on this trip through America allows me to show the complexity of the country in the nineteenth century.
America is clearly complicated in 2021 too. Reading about the dramatic differences between nineteenth century Americans, from one region to the next, still resonates today.
One of the things that made the book so gripping for me is how efficiently and effectively you explained what a dangerous moment it was for America’s democracy. Can you encapsulate that aspect of the book?
That too felt resonant to me because of all the upheaval we passed through in 2020. Democracy was not working well in 1860, in DC and around the world. The federal government wasn’t very effective and the lame duck president, James Buchanan, was lame in every way. He was imbecilic in meetings. Southern slave interests had controlled the US government almost without exception since 1789. The vast majority of free people in this huge and complicated country did not want to be governed by slaveowners and their representatives in Washington.
In Congress, disagreements boiled over, resulting in abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner nearly being paralyzed after he was brutally beaten by a South Carolinian congressman. Congress was not functioning. There was barely any compromise or negotiation.
1860 is really the end of an era. It’s the failure of the first chapter of American history . They tried a form of democracy from 1789 to 1860. When Lincoln was elected, half the country wouldn’t accept it and so they seceded. That was a sign of an inconsistent commitment to democracy on their part.
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Lincoln had gargantuan challenges. It was up to him to reunite the country. But if he won the war by just crushing the South in a bloodbath, he couldn’t have brought the country back together and it would have been far harder for the country to function as a democracy again. So, he wants to win by persuading all of the people that democracy is worth the gargantuan effort to preserve the union.
Around the world, people have their eye on the U.S. because democracy is failing all over. Germany’s 1848 revolution has failed. In France, likewise, a revolution in 1848 has failed. In Italy , popular uprisings were faltering. So, if American democracy had completely collapsed, it could’ve been the final nail in the coffin for democracy. If Lincoln had failed, democracy might have been seen as just another strange utopian movement.
Lincoln had to keep this complicated country united, defend democracy at home and around the world, and begin to offer the benefits of citizenship to all of the Americans who had been denied it, including formerly enslaved Americans. These benefits included voting, education, jury service and running for office. It’s remarkable how many of these goals he accomplished in four years.
One of your recommended books is about the strength that made Abraham Lincoln such an effective president. Tell us about Lincoln’s Sword by historian Douglas Wilson.
Douglas Wilson is a superb Lincoln scholar, based at Knox College in Illinois. He’s an extremely close reader of Lincoln. Lincoln’s words are very important because they are kind of scripture for Americans. Sometimes the words are hard to pin down because three or four people hearing a Lincoln speech might each write them down differently. Douglas Wilson meticulously verifies every word spoken and helps us to understand Lincoln’s writing process. With all of the most famous Lincoln speeches, Wilson tells us why the speech needed to be given, the process of writing the speech, and the various iterations of the speech. His intense literary focus is exciting. Every time I read Douglas Wilson’s work, I feel re-energized by Lincoln’s words.
According to Richard Norton Smith, Wilson “reconstructs the man by deconstructing his words.” What does Abraham Lincoln’s writing reveal about him?
It reveals a lawyer’s logic. There is a remarkable clarity to Lincoln’s arguments that builds from paragraph to paragraph. That is Lincoln the lawyer who was very used to persuading juries in Illinois. But poetical inspiration is also evident in Lincoln’s word choices. His writing shows that Lincoln was a deep reader, especially of Shakespeare and the King James Bible . We wouldn’t love Lincoln if he just made clear arguments. Lincoln got to us emotionally with the beauty of his words. Wilson breaks down, sentence by sentence, how Lincoln moved public opinion with specific words.
That leads us to a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Garry Wills about one of Lincoln’s most powerful speeches, delivered in 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery for war dead. Tell us about Lincoln at Gettysburg.
It’s a wonderful book that concentrates all of the author’s formidable erudition on a single short speech. The Gettysburg Address is only 272 words. It probably took him three minutes to say. Wills makes the moment crackle with electricity. He explains how Lincoln wrote the address, on the way to Gettysburg. He deconstructs the speech itself and contextualizes it. All of American history was pivoting, in these three minutes, from a states-based way of thinking about our society to a nation-based way of thinking. In this speech, Lincoln re-dedicated the United States to citizenship for all of its people. Up until this point, African-Americans were largely excluded from citizenship. In this speech, Wills shows Lincoln is realigning the stars of our country to make us a federal union that is stronger than the states and dedicated to the rights of all of citizens, including African-Americans. It was a big step forward.
The phrase from those 272 words that has resounded ever since is “a new birth of freedom.” What does that phrase mean?
Those words were crucial, and they refer, I believe, to the Emancipation Proclamation which had already happened, also to the ongoing process of emancipating African Americans and working toward the reconstruction amendments that would follow the Civil War. The 13th Amendment, which abolishes involuntary servitude, happens while Lincoln is still alive. The 14th Amendment comes into force a few years later. It promises “equal protection under the law” and provides all of the rights of citizenship to anyone born in the United States. And the 15th Amendment, preventing states and the federal government from denying a man the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” is ratified in 1870. So, a “new birth of freedom” basically means that America is finally focused on living up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, the founders wrote that “all men are created equal.” The 13th and 14th and 15th amendments made that idea legally enforceable.
Next is Harold Holzer’s Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context and Memory . The Emancipation Proclamation declared that, as of New Year’s Day of 1863, enslaved people in the rebelling states would be free “thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
It’s hard for me to pick a single Harold Holzer book because there are so many, and they’re all so good. Emancipating Lincoln is very cogent and relatively short. Three chapters from three talks he gave at Harvard, about what made the Emancipation Proclamation such a remarkable document. The Emancipation Proclamation had more of an impact on policy and law than Lincoln’s speeches, which are far more familiar to students of history.
“His surprising literary capacity…was key to the impact he had”
And Holzer is also restoring how hard it was for Lincoln to do that. That is important because we sometimes take him for granted, or worse, take potshots at him. Recently statues of him have been torn down and his name has been stripped from public schools. It is possible to find imperfect things that were not racially sensitive to our pitch-perfect ears. But what Harold Holzer brilliantly demonstrated is that emancipation was politically difficult to achieve, and had a huge impact, as African-Americans, in particular, understood. It’s a beautiful small book that restores Lincoln to what was probably his most important role, the role of the emancipator, the man who ended slavery.
In his introduction, Holzer casts Emancipating Lincoln as a reply to “harsh revisionist scholarship” that stripped Lincoln of credit for abolition and “the new birth of freedom” he called for at Gettysburg. Revisionism, needless to say, is nothing new. One of the statues you’re referring to was across the river from me in Boston. The only text my middle schooler receives, in a social studies class focused on 1860 onwards, casts Lincoln as a cynical politician who was adamantly opposed to equal rights for Black Americans. How and why has Lincoln’s reputation risen and fallen in the 158 years since he signed the Emancipation Proclamation?
That statue was built after Lincoln died; he had nothing to do with it. It’s troubling in many ways, the body language is wrong but, still, we should proceed cautiously, and listen to the voices of Lincoln’s time.
If Frederick Douglass , who takes a backseat to no one as a courageous uncompromising witness for his people, were alive, he’d be appalled by those who assess Lincoln out of context. Douglass was skeptical when Lincoln won. Lincoln moved slowly against slavery at first. But four years later, when he saw what Lincoln had done, he was filled with praise for him. By 1865, after the Emancipation Proclamation and the North’s victory, and the second inaugural, and Lincoln’s final speech promising the vote for African-American veterans, it was clear that he had moved America a great distance.
Finally, please tell me about the last Abraham Lincoln book on your list, John E. Washington’s They Knew Lincoln.
It’s a great book and an unusual book, first published in 1942 by an African American teacher who grew up in the shadow of the Capitol. The book was recently republished with an excellent introduction by historian Kate Masur. John E. Washington gathered a lot of fantastic oral history and documents to tell the untold story of the African Americans who knew Lincoln.
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Black Americans from many walks of life came into contact with Lincoln. There were African Americans working in the White House. He was friendly with a young man named William Johnson who worked in the Treasury Department. His barber back in Illinois, William De Fleurville, was born in Haiti and they knew one another well. The stories in this book deepen our understanding of Lincoln and his presidency. It wasn’t just white men in blue uniforms; there were many African Americans playing important roles behind the scenes.
By reconstructing the lives of the African American people who knew Lincoln is Washington originating social history of the sort that became popular in the 1960s?
I’m sure we could find earlier examples of social history. For instance, there are really interesting books written about the experience of average soldiers in the American Revolution. But despite the efforts of historians like W.E.B. Dubois, there had not been enough work focused on the African Americans during the civil war. This book helps to fix that imbalance and shows how much Lincoln’s presidency depended on the aid he received from others in his extended household.
Last question: As you pointed out earlier, like the thirteen days you wrote about in Lincoln on the Verge , the United States just passed through a period between presidencies when democracy was under great strain. What lessons does Lincoln’s life offer about how the present president, Joe Biden , can deal with the divisions in America? What lessons does Lincoln’s life offer for all leaders?
There’s a great lesson to be learned from Lincoln’s efforts to speak to all Americans. Lincoln always takes pains to speak to the South. He always was striving to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as he said in the second inaugural. To survive, the United States needs presidents who are focused on the entire country, not just the party or interest groups that elect them. I’m encouraged that President Biden has been that way so far.
Lincoln also provides an example of action. Although he was a little slow coming out of the box, when the South attacked Fort Sumter, he responded with alacrity, raised the Northern Army and ramped up an overwhelming military response. While leading the war, he signed the Morrill Act in 1862, which expanded our public education system with land grant colleges. He signed the Homestead Act, which helped immigrants and ultimately freed slaves start new communities in the West. He helped the railroad and telegraph stretch across the country. He did not hesitate in using the powers of the presidency to act boldly and push actions through Congress that he believed would help Americans. That has also been true of Joe Biden to date.
So far, Biden’s combination of unifying rhetoric and focused action has been impressive and yes, Lincolnian.
February 12, 2021
Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at [email protected]
Edward (Ted) Ladd Widmer is a historian, author and librarian who served as speechwriter in the Clinton White House. He is a professor at Macaulay Honors College, part of City University of New York.
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In a 24-hour, Internet-fueled news cycle, political campaign reporters often seem to be focused on what just happened, and only what just happened. But presidential candidates profess to take a longer view: They consciously link their critiques and promises to the influential figures and debates of the past.
In a new series, Morning Edition will take a fresh look at American political history, beginning with the figure who loomed over the 2008 and 2012 campaign — that tall, well-spoken senator from Illinois, often hailed for his significance in the history of American race relations. No, not President Obama. We're talking about Abraham Lincoln.
President Obama and presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum each have put forward their own narratives of the life of Lincoln, fine-tuned to their own political purposes. But their versions of Lincoln are just drops in a veritable ocean of books — almost 15,000, to be precise — that assay Lincoln's legacy.
Where should a reader begin? Perhaps the most well-known biography is Lincoln , by the late historian David Herbert Donald. Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University and author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery , recommends Donald's book as the best one-volume account of Lincoln's life.
"[Donald] avoided the two pitfalls that people fall into. One is just hagiography — you know, [Lincoln] was born with a pen in his hand ready to sign the Emancipation Proclamation; and the other is the opposite, of course — [he was] just a racist or didn't really care about slavery at all. Donald sort of navigates between them," Foner says.
David Herbert Donald was an American historian who specialized in the Civil War and Reconstruction. David Schaefer/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster hide caption
David Herbert Donald was an American historian who specialized in the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Foner notes, however, that the book is not without its flaws — notably that Donald's portrayal of Lincoln may have been influenced by current events in the mid-'90s, particularly by President Clinton.
"[Donald] sort of sees Lincoln as a person without any deep convictions," Foner says. "I think he sort of saw Lincoln as a Clinton figure — buffeted by events, not clear what he stood for. I don't think that's a very persuasive picture of Lincoln."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln , recommends a book that shows how Lincoln prevailed under pressure during the Civil War: Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.
"He is such a narrative genius, McPherson ... what he's done is to mix together the battles, Lincoln's leadership, the home front, the finances, the Cabinet, all together, but it drives forward as a story, and you don't know until finally, perhaps, Atlanta, whether the North is really going to win this war," Goodwin says.
Lincoln's strategically brilliant decisions were gambles at the time, she says.
"We know the ending — we know that he was martyred, we know that the war was won. But the people living then certainly didn't know that, and I think that's what McPherson's pace allows us to see," Goodwin says.
Battle Cry Of Freedom
But Lincoln's political persona is but one dimension of the man. Andy Ferguson, senior editor of The Weekly Standard and author of Land of Lincoln , recommends an out of print book, In the Footsteps of the Lincolns . The book's author, Ida Tarbell, the iconic muckraking journalist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exposes Lincoln's roots in the frontier culture of the Midwest.
Ferguson says Tarbell was obsessed with Lincoln throughout her life. "After World War I, she went and sort of fulfilled a part of her obsession that she had always wanted to, which was to retrace Lincoln's movements with his family since he was a little boy, from Kentucky to Indiana and into Illinois. And as she did this, there were still people alive who knew the Lincolns. It's a part of time that we can't really get access to any other way," Ferguson says.
In the days when Lincoln was growing up, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois were remote areas struggling to develop. "It was just a couple of steps up from the Bronze Age, really," Ferguson says.
But rather than embracing his hardscrabble background, Foner says, Lincoln distanced himself from frontier culture.
"He doesn't like hunting, he's not a violent person, he doesn't hate Indians, he doesn't drink . And he understands very early — and where this comes from, who knows — that the way to get ahead is through your mind, not through just hard physical labor, which is what his father does. [Lincoln] gets as far away from the frontier as he can, pretty early," Foner says.
As often as political candidates today employ Lincoln's name for their own purposes, there are certain aspects to Lincoln that modern-day candidates won't adopt. For instance, Foner says he would love to see a political candidate of any party forthrightly say, "I have changed my mind," because that's what Lincoln did over and over again during the Civil War.
James M. McPherson is a professor emeritus of history at Princeton University. Patricia McPherson/ hide caption
James M. McPherson is a professor emeritus of history at Princeton University.
"Lincoln was a flip-flopper, if you want to use the terminology of modern politics. We don't seem to allow our politicians to do that anymore," Foner says.
Ferguson says that even when politicians do change their minds, political speechwriters are tasked with making it seem like the politician's views remained consistent.
Goodwin adds that she would like to see politicians emulate Lincoln's sense of humor. She tells a story about a time when Lincoln was accused of being two-faced, and he replied, "If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this face?"
"That ability to laugh at yourself, to look at yourself from the outside in, means a certain kind of confidence — means taking the world seriously, but not taking yourself so seriously at every moment. It is in such short supply in our campaigns," Goodwin says.
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Books news & features, forget lincoln logs: a tower of books to honor abe.
The 25 best books about Abraham Lincoln
At least 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln , the 16th president of the United States. If you wish to learn about the man who led the North during the American Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 then you are not going to be restricted by choice. (AbeBooks alone has more than 67,000 copies of books with ‘Abraham Lincoln’ in the title).
No-one knows exactly how many books have been written about Honest Abe but in 2012 Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington DC constructed a 34-foot pillar of unique titles about Lincoln and it contained more than 15,000 books.
Books have been written about his childhood, his politics, his wartime leadership, his married life, his death, his speeches, his generals and admirals, his writing, his mental health and his legal career. There are biographies, history books, picture books, children’s books and fictional novels based on his life.
In recent years, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin has received a great deal of attention. In 2008, the then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama declared, if elected, he would want “a team of rivals” in his Cabinet. “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me. I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone,” he told Time Magazine. Obama, a keen reader, acknowledged the influence of Goodwin's book several times as he campaigned to become president.
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald, published in 1996, is also widely acknowledged as one of the better biographies of the man. Manhunt by James L. Swanson is a very readable book about the murder of the president, the motives of his killer John Wilkes Booth and the desperate manhunt over 12 days.
If you want to completely shake up history, then Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith might appeal (and that’s fiction by the way). Gore Vidal also wrote a historical novel about the man.
The best books about Abraham Lincoln
More essential reading lists
History for Everyone
The 20 Best Books about Abraham Lincoln
It’s not easy to narrow down the list of 16,000 books about Lincoln to just twenty, but we tried. Get to know more about the 16 th US president, and see for yourself why the man is so revered by many. This list of the 20 best books about Abraham Lincoln will give you a good dose of rich history, valuable facts, and interesting info that will surely satisfy the history buff in you.
NOTE: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry. Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.”
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Leadership tells the story of how they all collided (Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson) with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others. Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?”
The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul by Brian Kilmeade
“Abraham Lincoln was White, born impoverished on a frontier farm. Frederick Douglass was Black, a child of slavery who had risked his life escaping to freedom in the North. Neither man had a formal education, and neither had had an easy path to influence. No one would have expected them to become friends—or to transform the country. But Lincoln and Douglass believed in their nation’s greatness. They were determined to make the grand democratic experiment live up to its ideals.”
The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President – and Why It Failed by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
“The conspirators were part of a white supremacist secret society that didn’t want an abolitionist in the White House. They planned an elaborate scheme to assassinate the President-elect in Baltimore as Lincoln’s inauguration train passed through, en route to the nation’s capital. The plot was investigated by famed detective Allan Pinkerton, who infiltrated the group with undercover agents, including Kate Warne, one of the first female private detectives in America.”
Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips
“Only ten days before Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861, the Confederate States of America seceded from the Union, taking all Federal agencies, forts, and arenas within their territory. To make matters worse, Lincoln, who was elected by a minority of the popular vote, was thought of by his own advisors as nothing more than a gawky second-rate country lawyer with no leadership experience.”
Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer
“As a divided nation plunges into the deepest crisis in its history, Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Washington and his inauguration—an inauguration Southerners have vowed to prevent. Lincoln on the Verge charts these pivotal thirteen days of travel, as Lincoln discovers his power, speaks directly to the public, and sees his country up close. Drawing on new research, this riveting account reveals the president-elect as a work in progress, showing him on the verge of greatness, as he foils an assassination attempt, forges an unbreakable bond with the American people, and overcomes formidable obstacles in order to take his oath of office.”
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
“Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln’s character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times, here was a man who led the country out of slavery and preserved a shattered Union—in short, one of the greatest presidents this country has ever seen.”
A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White
“Through meticulous research of the newly completed Lincoln Legal Papers, as well as of recently discovered letters and photographs, White provides a portrait of Lincoln’s personal, political, and moral evolution. White shows us Lincoln as a man who would leave a trail of thoughts in his wake, jotting ideas on scraps of paper and filing them in his top hat or the bottom drawer of his desk; a country lawyer who asked questions in order to figure out his own thinking on an issue, as much as to argue the case; a hands-on commander in chief who, as soldiers and sailors watched in amazement, commandeered a boat and ordered an attack on Confederate shore batteries at the tip of the Virginia peninsula; a man who struggled with the immorality of slavery and as president acted publicly and privately to outlaw it forever; and finally, a president involved in a religious odyssey who wrote, for his own eyes only, a profound meditation on “the will of God” in the Civil War that would become the basis of his finest address.”
Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times by David S. Reynolds
“It was a country growing up and being pulled apart at the same time, with a democratic popular culture that reflected the country’s contradictions. Lincoln’s lineage was considered auspicious by Emerson, Whitman, and others who prophesied that a new man from the West would emerge to balance North and South. From New England Puritan stock on his father’s side and Virginia Cavalier gentry on his mother’s, Lincoln was linked by blood to the central conflict of the age. And an enduring theme of his life, Reynolds shows, was his genius for striking a balance between opposing forces. Lacking formal schooling but with an unquenchable thirst for self-improvement, Lincoln had a talent for wrestling and bawdy jokes that made him popular with his peers, even as his appetite for poetry and prodigious gifts for memorization set him apart from them through his childhood, his years as a lawyer, and his entrance into politics.”
The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: A Book of Quotations by Abraham Lincoln and Bob Blaisdell
“The most eloquent of American presidents, Lincoln seemed to have a comment — sagacious or humorous — on just about anything that mattered. This concise compendium offers his astute observations on a variety of subjects—from women to warfare.”
Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk
“Giving shape to the deep depression that pervaded the sixteenth president’s adult life, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy reveals how this illness influenced both the president’s character and his leadership. Lincoln forged a hard path toward mental health from the time he was a young man. Shenk draws from historical record, interviews with Lincoln scholars, and contemporary research on depression to understand the nature of his unhappiness. In the process, he discovers that the President’s coping strategies — among them, a rich sense of humor and a tendency toward quiet reflection — ultimately helped him to lead the nation through its greatest turmoil.”
With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates
“Oates masterfully charts, with the pacing of a novel, Lincoln’s rise from bitter poverty in America’s midwestern frontier to become a self-made success in business, law, and regional politics. The second half of this riveting work examines his legendary leadership on the national stage as president during one of the country’s most tumultuous and bloody periods, the Civil War years, which concluded tragically with Lincoln’s assassination.”
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner
“Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln’s lifelong engagement with the nation’s critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln’s greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth.”
Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Achorn
“Edward Achorn reveals the nation’s capital on that momentous day―with its mud, sewage, and saloons, its prostitutes, spies, reporters, social-climbing spouses and power-hungry politicians―as a microcosm of all the opposing forces that had driven the country apart. A host of characters, unknown and famous, had converged on Washington―from grievously wounded Union colonel Selden Connor in a Washington hospital and the embarrassingly drunk new vice president, Andrew Johnson, to poet-journalist Walt Whitman; from soldiers’ advocate Clara Barton and African American leader and Lincoln critic-turned-admirer Frederick Douglass (who called the speech “a sacred effort”) to conflicted actor John Wilkes Booth―all swirling around the complex figure of Lincoln.”
Lincoln and the Fight for Peace by John Avlon
“The power of Lincoln’s personal example in the closing days of the war offers a portrait of a peacemaker. He did not demonize people he disagreed with. He used humor, logic, and scripture to depolarize bitter debates. Balancing moral courage with moderation, Lincoln believed that decency could be the most practical form of politics, but he understood that people were more inclined to listen to reason when greeted from a position of strength. Ulysses S. Grant’s famously generous terms of surrender to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox that April were an expression of a president’s belief that a soft peace should follow a hard war.”
The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution by James Oakes
“Lincoln adopted the antislavery view that the Constitution made freedom the rule in the United States, slavery the exception. Where federal power prevailed, so did freedom. Where state power prevailed, that state determined the status of slavery, and the federal government could not interfere. It would take state action to achieve the final abolition of American slavery. With this understanding, Lincoln and his antislavery allies used every tool available to undermine the institution. Wherever the Constitution empowered direct federal action―in the western territories, in the District of Columbia, over the slave trade―they intervened. As a congressman in 1849 Lincoln sponsored a bill to abolish slavery in Washington, DC. He reentered politics in 1854 to oppose what he considered the unconstitutional opening of the territories to slavery by the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He attempted to persuade states to abolish slavery by supporting gradual abolition with compensation for slaveholders and the colonization of free Blacks abroad.”
Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About Our Greatest President by Ronald C. White
“Now, renowned Lincoln historian Ronald C. White walks readers through twelve of Lincoln’s most important private notes, showcasing our greatest president’s brilliance and empathy, but also his very human anxieties and ambitions. We look over Lincoln’s shoulder as he grapples with the problem of slavery, attempting to find convincing rebuttals to those who supported the evil institution (“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”); prepares for his historic debates with Stephen Douglas; expresses his private feelings after a defeated bid for a Senate seat (“With me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure”); voices his concerns about the new Republican Party’s long-term prospects; develops an argument for national unity amidst a secession crisis that would ultimately rend the nation in two; and, for a president many have viewed as not religious, develops a sophisticated theological reflection in the midst of the Civil War (“it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party”). Additionally, in a historic first, all 111 Lincoln notes are transcribed in the appendix, a gift to scholars and Lincoln buffs alike.”
A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln by Sidney Blumenthal
“The first of a multivolume history of Lincoln as a political genius – from his obscure beginnings to his presidency, his assassination, and the overthrow of his post-Civil War dreams of Reconstruction. This first volume traces Lincoln from his painful youth, describing himself as “a slave”, to his emergence as the man we recognize as Abraham Lincoln.”
Lincoln’s Mentors: The Education of a Leader by Michael J. Gerhardt
“As Michael J. Gerhardt reveals, Lincoln’s reemergence followed the same path he had taken before, in which he read voraciously and learned from the successes, failures, oratory, and political maneuvering of a surprisingly diverse handful of men, some of whom he had never met but others of whom he knew intimately—Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, John Todd Stuart, and Orville Browning. From their experiences and his own, Lincoln learned valuable lessons on leadership, mastering party politics, campaigning, conventions, understanding and using executive power, managing a cabinet, speechwriting and oratory, and—what would become his most enduring legacy—developing policies and rhetoric to match a constitutional vision that spoke to the monumental challenges of his time.”
Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler
“Abraham Lincoln’s two great legacies to history—his extraordinary power as a writer and his leadership during the Civil War—come together in this close study of the President’s use of the telegraph. Invented less than two decades before he entered office, the telegraph came into its own during the Civil War. In a jewel–box of historical writing, Wheeler captures Lincoln as he adapted his folksy rhetorical style to the telegraph, creating an intimate bond with his generals that would ultimately help win the war.”
For further reading about Abraham Lincoln, here are a few more that are worth checking out:
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
“The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history–the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry troops on a wild, 12-day chase from the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness.”
Lincoln and the Irish: The Untold Story of How the Irish Helped Abraham Lincoln Save the Union by Niall O’Dowd
“When he was voted into the White House, Lincoln surrounded himself with Irish staff, much to the chagrin of a senior aide who complained about the Hibernian cabal. And the Irish would repay Lincoln’s faith—their numbers and courage would help swing the Civil War in his favor, and among them would be some of his best generals and staunchest advocates.”
Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America by Stephen Mansfield
“Abraham Lincoln is the most beloved of all U.S. presidents. He freed the slaves, gave the world some of its most beautiful phrases, and redefined the meaning of America. He did all of this with wisdom, compassion, and wit. Yet, throughout his life, Lincoln fought with God. In his early years in Illinois, he rejected even the existence of God and became the village atheist. In time, this changed but still he wrestled with the truth of the Bible, preachers, doctrines, the will of God, the providence of God, and then, finally, God’s purposes in the Civil War. Still, on the day he was shot, Lincoln said he longed to go to Jerusalem to walk in the Savior’s steps.”
Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War by Roger Lowenstein
“Roger Lowenstein reveals the largely untold story of how Lincoln used the urgency of the Civil War to transform a union of states into a nation. Through a financial lens, he explores how this second American revolution, led by Lincoln, his cabinet, and a Congress studded with towering statesmen, changed the direction of the country and established a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Abraham Lincoln and Mexico: A History of Courage, Intrigue and Unlikely Friendships by Michael Hogan
“This book by a noted Ph.D. historian is one of the best books available about historical relations between the United States and Mexico. It shines new light on reasons for the US invasion of Mexico in 1846, opposition by Abraham Lincoln and other politicians to the unjustified and unconstitutional decision by President Polk to go to war, the importance of the ensuing war against Mexico, the resulting territorial seizures by the United States, the impact both nationally and internationally to both countries, the troubling legacy even today, and the result of silences that have been pervasive over the years regarding this conflict. It examines all aspects of this history based on actual documents in government, university, and private institutions in both the US and Mexico, including citations to these documents and the complete text for many of them in the Appendix.”
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There are about 15,000 books on Abraham Lincoln — here are the 7 you should read
In less than two centuries, about 15,000 books have been written on Abraham Lincoln and his presidency.
Trying to weed through the options in order to figure out which ones are actually worth reading is a pretty daunting task.
In honor of Lincoln's birthday on Wednesday, we've put together a list of seven great books about the 16th president of the US — each dealing with a different facet of his presidency.
Whether you're looking for the overall story, an analysis of his political career, or even something on the Gettysburg address, we've got it here.
1. "Lincoln" by David Herbert Donald
Why you want to read it:
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Herbert Donald tells the story of Lincoln's ascent from rural Kentucky to his presidency during the Civil War.
This one's a great option for anyone who wants an easy, flowing account of one of the most complex presidencies.
Book: $13.54 Kindle: $14.99
2. "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Why you want to read it:
Doris Kearns Goodwin examines Lincoln's political genius through a multi-biography of him and his team of personal and political competitors.
She outlines how he brought together disgruntled opponents and harnessed their talents to keep the Union together.
Book: $14.28 Kindle: $11.99
3. "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" by James M. McPherson
This book focuses on the Civil War, not just on Lincoln. But arguably, it's impossible to understand one without the other.
"Likely to become the standard one-volume history of our Civil War, this [book] vivifies, with palpable immediacy, scholarly acumen and interpretive skill, events foreshadowing the conflict, the war itself and its basic issue: slavery," writes Publishers Weekly.
4. "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade American" by Garry Willis
The book examines Lincoln's Gettysburg address in the context of its historical and cultural frame.
"Garry Wills has given our nation's greatest gathering of words . . . new urgency . . . demonstrating that Lincoln's words still have power," wrote The New York Times' William McFeely.
Book: $13.36 Kindle: $13.99
5. "Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History" by Richard Wightman Fox
“In his sweeping discussion of Lincoln's physical body (how people viewed it during his lifetime or interpreted it after his death), Richard Wightman Fox deftly traces the high-stakes cultural battle—waged in poetry, prose, art, and film—over the meaning of Lincoln, man and myth, from his day to our own," writes Brenda Wineapple.
Book: $16.96 Kindle: $14.16
6. "A. Lincoln: A Biography" by Ronald C. White Jr.
Thanks to a reader suggestion!
"If you read one book about Lincoln, make it 'A. Lincoln,'" according to the USA Today.
Book: $14.28 Kindle: $11.99
BONUS: 7. "Lincoln: A Novel" by Gore Vidal
Technically, this one's a work of historical fiction, so we're labeling this as a bonus. Nevertheless, it's an incredible work that's worth the read.
"Superb . . . a grand entertainment. . . . A plausible and human Lincoln, of us and yet beyond us," wrote Yale professor Harold Bloom.
Book: $12.40 Kindle: $11.78
Watch: What Happened When A Bunch Of Young Boys Were Told To Hit A Girl
Now in paperback, this award-winning biography has been hailed as the definitive portrait of Lincoln. Named One of the 10 Top Lincoln Books by Chicago Tribune Named One of the 5 Best Books of 2009 by The Atlantic Winner, 2008 PROSE Award for Best Book in U.S. History and Biography/Autobiography, Association of American Publishers Winner, 2010 Lincoln Prize from the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College In the first multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln to be published in decades, Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame offers a fresh look at the life of one of America’s greatest presidents...
Now in paperback, this award-winning biography has been hailed as the definitive portrait of Lincoln. Named One of the 10 Top Lincoln Books by Chicago Tribune Named One of the 5 Best Books of 2009 by The Atlantic Winner, 2008 PROSE Award for Best Book in U.S. History and Biography/Autobiography, Association of American Publishers Winner, 2010 Lincoln Prize from the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College In the first multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln to be published in decades, Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame offers a fresh look at the life of one of America’s greatest presidents. Incorporating the field notes of earlier biographers, along with decades of research in multiple manuscript archives and long-neglected newspapers, this remarkable work will both alter and reinforce our current understanding of America’s sixteenth president.
Volume 1 covers Lincoln’s early childhood, his experiences as a farm boy in Indiana and Illinois, his legal training, and the political ambition that led to a term in Congress in the 1840s. In volume 2, Burlingame examines Lincoln’s life during his presidency and the Civil War, narrating in fascinating detail the crisis over Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s own battles with relentless office seekers, hostile newspaper editors, and incompetent field commanders. Burlingame also offers new interpretations of Lincoln’s private life, discussing his marriage to Mary Todd and the untimely deaths of two sons to disease.
But through it all—his difficult childhood, his contentious political career, a fratricidal war, and tragic personal losses—Lincoln preserved a keen sense of humor and acquired a psychological maturity that proved to be the North’s most valuable asset in winning the Civil War.
Published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, this landmark publication establishes Burlingame as the most assiduous Lincoln biographer of recent memory and brings Lincoln alive to modern readers as never before.
C. Fraser Smith
John Gilbert McCurdy
John K. Brown
This book supplants [Carl] Sandburg and supersedes all other biographies. Future Lincoln books cannot be written without it, and from no other book can a general reader learn so much about Abraham Lincoln. It is the essential title for the bicentennial.
A complete view of Lincoln's life... thorough.
A monumental boxed effort that weighs in at 10 pounds... The result is a picture of Lincoln from all sides, in a style that is relentless but not daunting.
A magisterial enterprise.
If you aspire to Ultimate Lincoln Knowledge this is a must-read.
These monumental volumes deserve a wide readership.
Burlingame is a towering figure in Lincoln scholarship, and students of the 16th president have been waiting for this book for years. For all his learning—Burlingame may know more about Lincoln and his era than anyone in the world—his take on his subject is fresh, and he doesn't gloss over Lincoln's less appealing attributes. Abraham Lincoln comes as close to being the definitive biography as anything the world has seen in decades.
An exhaustive and stylishly written biography.
A stunning feat of research.
The two-volume set is being heralded as the ultimate new biography of Lincoln, an essential work to be used by all future biographers of the 16th president.
The granddaddy of all the recent books [on Lincoln] is Michael Burlingame's Abraham Lincoln: A Life ... monumental in size, depth and scholarship, this is the new standard biography of our time and surpasses all other life portraits of our 16th president, and is the most important book of the bicentennial.
No review could do complete justice to the magnificent two-volume biography that has been so well-wrought by Michael Burlingame.
The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth has generated a plethora of Lincoln-related items, but none impresses more than this two-volume biography... Essential.
The author knows more about Lincoln than any other living person.
Most thorough account of the development of Lincoln as a man and politician against the backdrop of America's struggle to mature as an idea and a nation... Not a Lincoln for our times, but the Lincoln of his times, and future biographers would do well to take note(s).
This magisterial work tells a rich, thoroughly documented, birth-to-death story of America's greatest president. Its bulk is formidable, but it holds countless rewards for undaunted readers.
Burlingame very likely knows more about Lincoln than anyone who's ever lived, including Mary Todd, and his biography, 20 years in the writing, has a revelation on every page, dug out during the biographer's tireless research into musty libraries and forgotten attics that no one has ever thought to look in before. If there is anything knowable that you want to know about Lincoln, this is the place to find it.
A monumental and meticulous two-volume study of the 16th president... should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in Lincoln.
Lincoln scholars have waited anxiously for this book for decades. Its triumphant publication proves it was well worth the wait. Few scholars have written with greater insight about the psychology of Lincoln. No one in recent history has uncovered more fresh sources than Michael Burlingame. This profound and masterful portrait will be read and studied for years to come.
The remarkable breadth of Burlingame's research has resulted in a book unlike anything else written about Lincoln. It will be a major contribution to the field.
Burlingame has developed a familiarity with the details of Lincoln's life that is truly authoritative, even definitive, and he has genuinely earned his reputation for knowing more about Lincoln than just about anyone who has ever studied him.
Author's Note 1. "I Have Seen a Good Deal of the Back Side of This World" Childhood in Kentucky (1809–1816) 2. "I Used to Be a Slave" Boyhood and Adolescence in Indiana (1816–1830) 3. "Separated from His
Author's Note 1. "I Have Seen a Good Deal of the Back Side of This World" Childhood in Kentucky (1809–1816) 2. "I Used to Be a Slave" Boyhood and Adolescence in Indiana (1816–1830) 3. "Separated from His Father, He Studied English Grammar" New Salem (1831–1834) 4. "A Napoleon of Astuteness and Political Finesse" Frontier Legislator (1834–1837) 5. "We Must Fight the Devil with Fire" Slasher-Gaff Politico in Springfield (1837–1841) 6. "It Would Just Kill Me to Marry Mary Todd" Courtship and Marriage (1840–1842) 7. "I Have Got the Preacher by the Balls" Pursuing a Seat in Congress (1843–1847) 8. "A Strong but Judicious Enemy to Slavery" Congressman Lincoln (1847–1849) 9. "I Was Losing Interest in Politics and Went to the Practice of the Law with Greater Earnestness Than Ever Before" Midlife Crisis (1849–1854) 10. "Aroused as He Had Never Been Before" Reentering Politics (1854–1855) 11. "Unite with Us, and Help Us to Triumph" Building the Illinois Republican Party (1855–1857) 12. "A House Divided" Lincoln vs. Douglas (1857–1858) 13. A David Greater than the Democratic Goliath" The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858) 14. "That Presidential Grub Gnaws Deep" Pursuing the Republican Nomination (1859–1860) 15. "The Most Available Presidential Candidate for Unadulterated Republicans" The Chicago Convention (May 1860) 16. "I Have Been Elected Mainly on the Cry 'Honest Old Abe'" The Presidential Campaign (May–November 1860) 17. "I Will Suffer Death Before I Will Consent to Any Concession or Compromise": President-elect in Springfield (1860–1861) 18. "What If I Appoint Cameron, Whose Very Name Stinks in the Nostrils of the People for His Corruption?": Cabinet-Making in Springfield (1860–1861) 19. "The Man Does Not Live Who Is More Devoted to Peace Than I Am, But It May Be Necessary to Put the Foot Down Firmly" From Springfield to Washington, February 11-22, 1861 20. "I Am Now Going To Be Master" Inauguration, February 23-March 4, 1861 21. "A Man So Busy Letting Rooms in One End of His House, That He Can't Stop to Put Out the Fire that is Burning in the Other" Distributing Patronage, March-April 1861 22. "You Can Have No Conflict Without Being Yourselves the Aggressors" The Fort Sumter Crisis, March-April 1861 23. "I Intend to Give Blows" The Hundred Days, April-July 1861 24. "Sitzkrieg" The Phony War, August 1861-January 1862 25. "This Damned Old House" The Lincoln Family in the Executive Mansion 26. "I Expect to Maintain This Contest Until Successful, or Till I Die, or Am Conquered, or My Term Expires, or Congress or the Country Forsakes Me": From the Slough of Despond to the Gates of Richmond, January-July, 1862 27. "The Hour Comes for Dealing with Slavery" January-July 1862 28. "Would You Prosecute the War with Elder-Stalk Squirts, Charged with Rose Water?" The Soft War Turns Hard, July-September 1862 29. "The Great Event of the Nineteenth Century" September-December 1862 30. "Go Forward, and Give Us Victories" From the Mud March to Gettysburg, January-July 1863 31. "The Signs Look Better" Victory at the Polls and in the Field, July-November 1863 32. "I Hope to Stand Firm Enough to Not Go Backward, and YetNot Go Forward Fast Enough to Wreck the Country's Cause": Reconstruction and Renomination, November 1863-June 1864 33. "Hold on with a Bulldog Grip and Chew and Choke as Much as Possible" The Grand Offensive, May-August, 1864 34. "The Wisest Radical of All" Reelection, September-November, 1864 35. "Let the Thing Be Pressed" Victory at Last, November 1864-April 1865 36. "I Feel a Presentiment That I Shall Not Outlast theRebellion. When It Is Over, My Work Will Be Done" April 9-15, 1865 Notes
Michael Burlingame, Ph.D.
Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 2
Michael Burlingame on Book TV
Lincoln Studies Center
July/August 2009 Atlantic Monthly
Dr. Alvin Jones interviews Professor Michael Burlingame
Accolades from The Atlantic
New Books in American Studies review
JHU Press Blog post: On whether Lincoln ordered an attack on the retreating Lee
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The Story of Abraham Lincoln
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Table of Contents
- Rave and Reviews
About The Book
- Helpful definitions —Increase your knowledge with a glossary of easy-to-understand definitions for the more advanced words and ideas discussed.
- Lasting change —Learn about how Abraham made the world a better place for future generations.
- Visual timeline —Unlike many other Abraham Lincoln books for kids, this one includes a timeline so you can see how he grew into a great leader.
About The Author
CARLA JABLONSKI is an award-winning author and the editor of dozens of books for middle-grade and young adult readers. She often writes for Disney Press and has authored two books in the biography series STEM Stars about women in science and technology.
- Publisher: Rockridge Press (September 14, 2021)
- Length: 76 pages
- ISBN13: 9781638788270
- Ages: 6 - 9
- Lexile ® 750L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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- Lexile ® 691 - 790
- Children's Non-Fiction > History > United States > Civil War Period (1850-1877)
- Children's Non-Fiction > Biography & Autobiography > Political
Raves and Reviews
“Jablonski's fact-filled biography of Abraham Lincoln is an informative, insightful, and entertaining read that will have kids turning the pages as they learn his important and inspiring story. While some readers might be familiar with Lincoln's presidency, Jablonski's book starts with his childhood and includes interesting details about his life and family. Her well-researched book is filled with rich back matter, including a glossary, test yourself questions, interactive graphics and maps, and "think tanks" that encourage readers to visualize his life and to make deeper connections. I am excited to put this book on my library shelf, and I know that it is going to be popular with my elementary students.” —Soline Holmes, Librarian at Academy of the Sacred Heart
“One thing that really impressed me about this installment in the youth biography series is the thought that went into the Think Tank questions. Throughout the book, at least once per chapter, a Think Tank question encourages critical, creative, and empathetic thinking from the reader . This is an amazing tool to help children to engage with the text beyond the words on the page!” —Jen K.
“Excellent book on our 16th president. It is colorful and easy to read. The biography is loaded with information about his life, his family, and his presidency. I would recommend this book both for children and for adults who want to learn more about Mr. Lincoln and his impact on American history.” —S. Strelecki
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The Best Books on President Lincoln
Which of the approximately 15,000 books written on President Lincoln should you read? In honor of our greatest leader Allen Barra picks the best reads.
Two years ago, Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theater in Washington, declared that there are more books written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person than Jesus Christ. The estimate then was over 15,000, nearly half of which were included in a tower of books to honor Abe . This makes the life and legacy of our 16th president intimidating to the newcomer, but here’s ten nonfiction works and one novel that will guide the novice through the halls of Lincoln lit.
Abraham Lincoln by Lord Charnwood (1916)
Godfrey Rathbone Benson, the first Baron Charnwood, was an Oxford educated philosopher, politician (both in the House of Commons and as Mayor of Lichfield) and historian whose biographies on both Lincoln (1916) and Theodore Roosevelt (1923) offer a foreign perspective of our greatest president: “When an English writer tells again this tale, which has been well told already and in which there can remain no important new facts to disclose, he must endeavor to make clear to Englishmen circumstances and conditions which are familiar to Americans.” In other words, Charnwood tells the story as if it had not been told before. This makes it an ideal beginning place for American readers nearly a hundred years after its publication. Available in several paperback editions and e-book.
Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America by Garry Wills (1993)
A Pulitzer Prize-winning account by our greatest political writer of how Lincoln wrote the 272 words that has become our country’s most important document since the writings of the Founding Fathers. No other work explains why the Gettysburg Address is the linchpin of Lincoln’s political thought and how it has affected American politics ever since.
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald (1995)
Generally regarded by aficionados as one of if not the best single-volume biography of Lincoln. Donald, who died in 2009, was praised by Eric Foner (professor of history at Columbia and author of The Fiery Trial; Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery ) for “Avoiding the two pitfalls that people fall into. One is just hagiography—you know [Lincoln] was born with a pen in his hand ready to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and the other is the opposite, of course, [Lincoln was] just a racist or didn’t really care about slavery at all. Donald navigates between them.”
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (2003) and Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2008) by James M. McPherson
Though it is not a biography of Lincoln, Battle Cry of Freedom is one of the best books about how Lincoln handled the crises of the War, from military to political to social situations. Doris Kearns Goodwin recommended this book on NPR a few years ago, saying that McPherson “is such a narrative genius …what he’s done is to mix together the battles, Lincoln’s leadership, the home front, the finances, the Cabinet, all together, but it drives forward as a story, and you don’t know until finally, perhaps, Atlanta, whether the North is really going to win this war.”
In Tried by War , McPherson maintains that Lincoln’s role as Commander in Chief has been underexamined.; he argues, convincingly, that the President’s violation of civil liberties was not so great as many actions taken by later chief executives in less critical circumstances. His operational device to his commanders was often perceptive—he seemed to have a firmer grasp of grand strategy than some of his generals, particularly McClellan. Though Lincoln was an amateur on the subject of war, McPherson believes he was our greatest war leader.
Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President by Harold Holzer (2005) and Emancipating Lincoln—The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (2012) by Harold Holzer
Holzer, perhaps our greatest contemporary Lincoln scholar, has written and edited numerous essential volumes, including Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies and Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 . In Lincoln at Cooper Union he does for Lincoln’s 1860 speech what Garry Wills did for the Gettysburg Address. Holzer makes a convincing case that the speech not only made Lincoln the leading Republican candidate for president but defined the policies on which he was elected.
Perhaps Holzer’s most outstanding recent work is Emancipating Lincoln . Compact and precise—just 172 pages of text and 23 pages of notes—the book is a model of lucid historical writing. There is probably no important document in our country’s history that even Civil War students know so little about than the Emancipation Proclamation. Much of the story, it turns out, is in the back story. Lincoln, once convinced of both the economic and moral validity of freeing the slaves, agonized over the process, rewriting his proclamation three times. (He tested the waters, so to speak, by first abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, ending, in Holzer’s words, “the incomprehensible anomaly that permitted slavery to exist in the capital of the United States until the second year of a pro-slavery rebellion against the government.”
Short on literary flourish, the Proclamation was long on impact. Its reputation in our own time has declined so much that the Proclamation “is now often viewed not as revolutionary but as delayed, insufficient, and insincere.” Holzer, though, makes a reasoned argument that the lack of fire in Lincoln’s prose was deliberate as he did not wish to enflame moderates and that, whatever it did not accomplish at the moment was largely irrelevant; once the Proclamation was made slavery was doomed. Perhaps Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew said it best: “a poor document, but a mighty act.”
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2006)
It took 141 years after the death of Lincoln for a book to appear which put into detail his genius for reading character and establishing relationships. Lincoln found admirable traits in, among others, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates, Edwin M. Stanton, four men who not only sought the Republican nomination for president in 1860 but held Lincoln himself in contempt. (Stanton referred to the President as “a long-armed ape.”—and you thought Obama got no respect.) No other history has probed the backgrounds of Lincoln’s cabinet members in such depth nor revealed the machinations that Lincoln used to mold a winning team from such disparate players. ( Team of Rivals served as the historical basis for Spielberg’s film Lincoln. )
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan (2008)
Just when you thought there were no new angles to approach Lincoln from, Fred Kaplan, a distinguished professor emeritus of English at Queens College and, among others, author of The Singular Mark Twain, defined Lincoln through his own words, words that were shaped through early exposure to Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Aesop’s Fables, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Bunyon, the speeches of Henry Clay, Classical writers, and poets such as Thomas Gray and Oliver Wendell Holmes and others. “For Lincoln,” writes Kaplan, “words mattered immensely. His increasing skill in their use during his lifetime, and his valuation of their power, mark him as the one president who is both a national leader and a genius with language.” William Dean Howells called Mark Twain the “Lincoln of our literature. Lincoln, Kaplan claims, “was the Twain of our politics.” Kaplan, the editor and critic, and Lincoln, the writer, are a wonderful combination.
Lincoln and the World by Kevin Peraino (2013)
“There can be no new Lincoln stories,” one of the President’s former secretaries wrote in 1900, “the stories are all told.” And yet, as Kevin Peraino writes in his compelling book, Lincoln in the World, “One of the unexpected joys of studying Lincoln in the 21st-century is how much astonishing new material about him has come to light.”
Lincoln in the World focuses on several distinct challenges that defined “Lincolnian foreign policy.” As a young Congressman, he opposed President Polk’s aggressive policy towards Mexico and the subsequent war. (His enemies in Illinois dubbed him “the Benedict Arnold of our district.”) He struggled with his brilliant but irascible secretary of state, William Seward, to control the direction of foreign policy. His standoff with British prime minister Lord Palmerston over the Trent affair, in which U.S. sailors forcibly boarded a British ship to remove Confederate agents. Wisely, he decided to appease the British.) He also engaged in an ongoing chess match with Napoleon III over France’s interference in Mexico.
The thread that runs through each episode is Lincoln’s common sense, good judgment and, above all, patience. He often proved “more adept at the arts of diplomacy that then polished and gold-braided envoys of Europe.” Lincoln in the World isn’t the first work to point out Lincoln’s brilliance as a seminal foreign policy president, but it is the first to gather all the key episodes. Among the choice nuggets Peraino unearths is a letter to Lincoln from none other than Karl Marx, who congratulated him on “the triumphant war cry of your reelection.”
Lincoln by Gore Vidal (1984)
Probably the greatest fictional account of Lincoln’s presidency as well as Vidal’s best novel. Lincoln is seen mostly through the eyes of those who knew him—Vidal’s scholarship is admirable, and he seems to draw from every period source who came in contact with the man Vidal has described as “the American Bismarck.” In other words, the philosophy behind the fiction is that Lincoln did not so much preserve his country as create it, an idea that derives from Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore (no relation to Vidal) but which Vidal brings to life. Vidal uses modern literary technique to bring period detail to life.
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Five Best: Books on Abraham and Mary Lincoln
Selected by michael burlingame, the author of ‘an american marriage: the untold story of abraham lincoln and mary todd.’.
June 11, 2021 10:41 am ET
Mrs. Abraham Lincoln
By W.A. Evans (1932)
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President Abraham Lincoln preserved the Union during the American Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved people.
Early life, parents, and education, how tall was abraham lincoln, wrestling hobby and legal career, wife and children, political career, lincoln and slavery, senate race, u.s. president, civil war begins, emancipation proclamation, gettysburg address, civil war ends and lincoln’s reelection, assassination and funeral, abraham lincoln’s hat, abraham lincoln in movies and tv, who was abraham lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16 th president of the United States , serving from 1861 to 1865, and is regarded as one of America’s greatest heroes due to his roles in guiding the Union through the Civil War and working to emancipate enslaved people. His eloquent support of democracy and insistence that the Union was worth saving embody the ideals of self-government that all nations strive to achieve. In 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves across the Confederacy. Lincoln’s rise from humble beginnings to achieving the highest office in the land is a remarkable story, and his death is equally notably. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865, at age 56, as the country was slowly beginning to reunify following the war. Lincoln’s distinctively humane personality and incredible impact on the nation have endowed him with an enduring legacy.
FULL NAME: Abraham Lincoln BORN: February 12, 1809 DIED: April 15, 1865 BIRTHPLACE: Hodgenville, Kentucky SPOUSE: Mary Todd Lincoln (m. 1842) CHILDREN: Robert Todd Lincoln , Edward Baker Lincoln, William Wallace Lincoln, and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Aquarius HEIGHT: 6 feet 4 inches
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, to parents Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln in rural Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Thomas was a strong and determined pioneer who found a moderate level of prosperity and was well respected in the community. The couple had two other children: Lincoln’s older sister, Sarah, and younger brother, Thomas, who died in infancy. His death wasn’t the only tragedy the family would endure.
In 1817, the Lincolns were forced to move from young Abraham’s Kentucky birthplace to Perry County, Indiana, due to a land dispute. In Indiana, the family “squatted” on public land to scrap out a living in a crude shelter, hunting game and farming a small plot. Lincoln’s father was eventually able to buy the land.
When Lincoln was 9 years old, his 34-year-old mother died of tremetol, more commonly known as milk sickness, on October 5, 1818. The event was devastating to the young boy, who grew more alienated from his father and quietly resented the hard work placed on him at an early age.
In December 1819, just over a year after his mother’s death, Lincoln’s father Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a Kentucky widow with three children of her own. She was a strong and affectionate woman with whom Lincoln quickly bonded.
Although both his parents were most likely illiterate, Thomas’ new wife Sarah encouraged Lincoln to read. It was while growing into manhood that Lincoln received his formal education—an estimated total of 18 months—a few days or weeks at a time.
Reading material was in short supply in the Indiana wilderness. Neighbors recalled how Lincoln would walk for miles to borrow a book. He undoubtedly read the family Bible and probably other popular books at that time such as Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progres s, and Aesop’s Fable s.
In March 1830, the family again migrated, this time to Macon County, Illinois. When his father moved the family again to Coles County, 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, making a living in manual labor.
Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches tall, rawboned and lanky yet muscular and physically strong. He spoke with a backwoods twang and walked with a long-striding gait. He was known for his skill in wielding an ax and early on made a living splitting wood for fire and rail fencing.
Young Lincoln eventually migrated to the small community of New Salem, Illinois, where over a period of years he worked as a shopkeeper, postmaster, and eventually general store owner. It was through working with the public that Lincoln acquired social skills and honed a storytelling talent that made him popular with the locals.
Not surprising given his imposing frame, Lincoln was an excellent wrestler and had only one recorded loss—to Hank Thompson in 1832—over a span of 12 years. A shopkeeper who employed Lincoln in New Salem, Illinois, reportedly arranged bouts for him as a way to promote the business. Lincoln notably beat a local champion named Jack Armstrong and became somewhat of a hero. (The National Wrestling Hall of Fame posthumously gave Lincoln its Outstanding American Award in 1992.)
When the Black Hawk War broke out in 1832 between the United States and Native Americans, the volunteers in the area elected Lincoln to be their captain. He saw no combat during this time, save for “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes,” but was able to make several important political connections.
As he was starting his political career in the early 1830s, Lincoln decided to become a lawyer. He taught himself the law by reading William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England . After being admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, and began to practice in the John T. Stuart law firm.
In 1844, Lincoln partnered with William Herndon in the practice of law. Although the two had different jurisprudent styles, they developed a close professional and personal relationship.
Lincoln made a good living in his early years as a lawyer but found that Springfield alone didn’t offer enough work. So to supplement his income, he followed the court as it made its rounds on the circuit to the various county seats in Illinois.
On November 4, 1842, Lincoln wed Mary Todd , a high-spirited, well-educated woman from a distinguished Kentucky family. Although they were married until Lincoln’s death, their relationship had a history of instability.
When the couple became engaged in 1840, many of their friends and family couldn’t understand Mary’s attraction; at times, Lincoln questioned it himself. In 1841, the engagement was suddenly broken off, most likely at Lincoln’s initiative. Mary and Lincoln met later at a social function and eventually did get married.
The couple had four sons— Robert Todd , Edward Baker, William Wallace, and Thomas “Tad”—of whom only Robert survived to adulthood.
Before marrying Todd, Lincoln was involved with other potential matches. Around 1837, he purportedly met and became romantically involved with Anne Rutledge. Before they had a chance to be engaged, a wave of typhoid fever came over New Salem, and Anne died at age 22.
Her death was said to have left Lincoln severely depressed. However, several historians disagree on the extent of Lincoln’s relationship with Rutledge, and his level of sorrow at her death might be more the makings of legend.
About a year after the death of Rutledge, Lincoln courted Mary Owens. The two saw each other for a few months, and marriage was considered. But in time, Lincoln called off the match.
In 1834, Lincoln began his political career and was elected to the Illinois state legislature as a member of the Whig Party . More than a decade later, from 1847 to 1849, he served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives. His foray into national politics seemed to be as unremarkable as it was brief. He was the lone Whig from Illinois, showing party loyalty but finding few political allies.
As a congressman, Lincoln used his term in office to speak out against the Mexican-American War and supported Zachary Taylor for president in 1848. His criticism of the war made him unpopular back home, and he decided not to run for second term. Instead, he returned to Springfield to practice law.
By the 1850s, the railroad industry was moving west, and Illinois found itself becoming a major hub for various companies. Lincoln served as a lobbyist for the Illinois Central Railroad as its company attorney.
Success in several court cases brought other business clients as well, including banks, insurance companies, and manufacturing firms. Lincoln also worked in some criminal trials.
In one case, a witness claimed that he could identify Lincoln’s client who was accused of murder, because of the intense light from a full moon. Lincoln referred to an almanac and proved that the night in question had been too dark for the witness to see anything clearly. His client was acquitted.
As a member of the Illinois state legislature, Lincoln supported the Whig politics of government-sponsored infrastructure and protective tariffs. This political understanding led him to formulate his early views on slavery, not so much as a moral wrong, but as an impediment to economic development.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act , which repealed the Missouri Compromise , allowing individual states and territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. The law provoked violent opposition in Kansas and Illinois, and it gave rise to today’s Republican Party .
This awakened Lincoln’s political zeal once again, and his views on slavery moved more toward moral indignation. Lincoln joined the Republican Party in 1856.
In 1857, the Supreme Court issued its controversial Dred Scott decision, declaring Black people were not citizens and had no inherent rights. Although Lincoln felt Black people weren’t equal to whites, he believed America’s founders intended that all men were created with certain inalienable rights.
Lincoln decided to challenge sitting U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas for his seat. In his nomination acceptance speech, he criticized Douglas, the Supreme Court , and President James Buchanan for promoting slavery then declared “a house divided cannot stand.”
During Lincoln’s 1858 U.S. Senate campaign against Douglas, he participated in seven debates held in different cities across Illinois. The two candidates didn’t disappoint, giving stirring debates on issues such as states’ rights and western expansion. But the central issue was slavery.
Newspapers intensely covered the debates, often times with partisan commentary. In the end, the state legislature elected Douglas, but the exposure vaulted Lincoln into national politics.
With his newly enhanced political profile, in 1860, political operatives in Illinois organized a campaign to support Lincoln for the presidency. On May 18, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Lincoln surpassed better-known candidates such as William Seward of New York and Salmon P. Chase of Ohio. Lincoln’s nomination was due, in part, to his moderate views on slavery, his support for improving the national infrastructure, and the protective tariff.
In the November 1860 general election, Lincoln faced his friend and rival Stephen Douglas, this time besting him in a four-way race that included John C. Breckinridge of the Northern Democrats and John Bell of the Constitution Party. Lincoln received not quite 40 percent of the popular vote but carried 180 of 303 Electoral College votes, thus winning the U.S. presidency. He grew his trademark beard after his election.
Following his election to the presidency in 1860, Lincoln selected a strong cabinet composed of many of his political rivals, including William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Edwin Stanton.
Formed out the adage “Hold your friends close and your enemies closer,” Lincoln’s cabinet became one of his strongest assets in his first term in office, and he would need them as the clouds of war gathered over the nation the following year.
Before Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and by April, the U.S. military installation Fort Sumter was under siege in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, the guns stationed to protect the harbor blazed toward the fort, signaling the start of the U.S. Civil War , America’s costliest and bloodiest war.
The newly President Lincoln responded to the crisis wielding powers as no other president before him: He distributed $2 million from the Treasury for war material without an appropriation from Congress; he called for 75,000 volunteers into military service without a declaration of war; and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing for the arrest and imprisonment of suspected Confederate States sympathizers without a warrant.
Crushing the rebellion would be difficult under any circumstances, but the Civil War, after decades of white-hot partisan politics, was especially onerous. From all directions, Lincoln faced disparagement and defiance. He was often at odds with his generals, his cabinet, his party, and a majority of the American people.
On January 1, 1863, Lincoln delivered his official Emancipation Proclamation , reshaping the cause of the Civil War from saving the Union to abolishing slavery.
The Union Army’s first year and a half of battlefield defeats made it difficult to keep morale high and support strong for a reunification of the nation. And the Union victory at Antietam on September 22, 1862, while by no means conclusive, was hopeful. It gave Lincoln the confidence to officially change the goals of the war. On that same day, he issued a preliminary proclamation that slaves in states rebelling against the Union would be free as of January 1.
The Emancipation Proclamation stated that all individuals who were held as enslaved people in rebellious states “henceforward shall be free.” The action was more symbolic than effective because the North didn’t control any states in rebellion, and the proclamation didn’t apply to border states, Tennessee, or some Louisiana parishes.
As a result, the Union army shared the Proclamation’s mandate only after it had taken control of Confederate territory. In the far reaches of western Texas, that day finally came on June 19, 1865—more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. For decades, many Black Americans have celebrated this anniversary, known as Juneteenth or Emancipation Day, and in 2021, President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a national holiday.
Still, the Emancipation Proclamation did have some immediate impact. It permitted Black Americans to serve in the Union Army for the first time, which contributed to the eventual Union victory. The historic declaration also paved the way for the passage of the 13 th Amendment that ended legal slavery in the United States.
On November 19, 1863, Lincoln delivered what would become his most famous speech and one of the most important speeches in American history: the Gettysburg Address .
Addressing a crowd of around 15,000 people, Lincoln delivered his 272-word speech at one of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War, the Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. The Civil War, Lincoln said, was the ultimate test of the preservation of the Union created in 1776, and the people who died at Gettysburg fought to uphold this cause.
Lincoln evoked the Declaration of Independence , saying it was up to the living to ensure that the “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” and this Union was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
A common interpretation was that the president was expanding the cause of the Civil War from simply reunifying the Union to also fighting for equality and abolishing slavery.
Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the war effort gradually improved for the North, though more by attrition than by brilliant military victories.
But by 1864, the Confederate armies had eluded major defeat and Lincoln was convinced he’d be a one-term president. His nemesis George B. McClellan , the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, challenged him for the presidency, but the contest wasn’t even close. Lincoln received 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 243 electoral votes.
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee , commander of the Army of Virginia, surrendered his forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant . The Civil War was for all intents and purposes over.
Reconstruction had already began during the Civil War, as early as 1863 in areas firmly under Union military control, and Lincoln favored a policy of quick reunification with a minimum of retribution. He was confronted by a radical group of Republicans in Congress that wanted complete allegiance and repentance from former Confederates. Before a political debate had any chance to firmly develop, Lincoln was killed.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, by well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. Lincoln was taken to the Petersen House across the street and laid in a coma for nine hours before dying the next morning. He was 56. His death was mourned by millions of citizens in the North and South alike.
Lincoln’s body first lay in state at the U. S. Capitol. About 600 invited guests attended a funeral in the East Room of the White House on April 19, though an inconsolable Mary Todd Lincoln wasn’t present.
His body was transported to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois, by a funeral train. Newspapers publicized the schedule of the train, which made stops along various cities that played roles in Lincoln’s path to Washington. In 10 cities, the casket was removed and placed in public for memorial services. Lincoln was finally placed in a tomb on May 4.
On the day of Lincoln’s death, Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the 17 th president at the Kirkwood House hotel in Washington.
Lincoln, already taller than most, is known for his distinctive top hats. Although it’s unclear when he began wearing them, historians believe he likely chose the style as a gimmick.
He wore a top hat to Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination. Following his death, the War Department preserved the hat until 1867 when, with Mary Todd Lincoln’s approval, it was transferred to the Patent Office and the Smithsonian Institution. Worried about the commotion it might cause, the Smithsonian stored the hat in a basement instead of putting it on display. It was finally exhibited in 1893, and it’s now one of the Institution’s most treasured items.
Lincoln is frequently cited by historians and average citizens alike as America’s greatest president. An aggressively activist commander-in-chief, Lincoln used every power at his disposal to assure victory in the Civil War and end slavery in the United States.
Some scholars doubt that the Union would have been preserved had another person of lesser character been in the White House. According to historian Michael Burlingame , “No president in American history ever faced a greater crisis and no president ever accomplished as much.”
Lincoln’s philosophy was perhaps best summed up in his Second Inaugural Address , when he stated, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The Lincoln Memorial
Since its dedication in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington has honored the president’s legacy. Inspired by the Greek Parthenon, the monument features a 19-foot high statue of Lincoln and engravings of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Former President William Howard Taft served as chair of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, which oversaw its design and construction.
The monument is the most visited in the city, attracting around 8 million people per year. Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the memorial’s steps in 1963.
Lincoln has been the subject of numerous films about his life and presidency, rooted in both realism and absurdity.
Among the earlier films featuring the former president is Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), which stars Henry Fonda and focuses on Lincoln’s early life and law career. A year later, Abe Lincoln in Illinois gave a dramatized account of Lincoln’s life after leaving Kentucky.
The most notable modern film is Lincoln , the 2012 biographical drama directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln . Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.
A more fantastical depiction of Lincoln came in the 1989 comedy film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure , in which the titular characters played by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter travel back in time for the president’s help in completing their high school history report. Lincoln gives the memorable instruction to “be excellent to each other and... party on, dudes!”
Another example is the 2012 action film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , based on a 2010 novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln, who leads a secret double life hunting the immortal creatures and even fighting them during the Civil War.
Lincoln’s role during the Civil War is heavily explored in the 1990 Ken Burns documentary The Civil War , which won two Emmy Awards and two Grammys. In 2022, the History Channel aired a three-part docuseries about his life simply titled Abraham Lincoln .
- Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.
- I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
- No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other ’ s consent.
- I have learned the value of old friends by making many new ones.
- Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
- Whenever I hear anyone arguing over slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
- To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.
- Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
- Don ’ t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.
- Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.
- With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation ’ s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
- I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.
- Nearly all men can handle adversity, if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
- I ’ m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.
- We can complain because rose bushes have thorns.
- Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
- It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
Fact Check: We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us !
The Biography.com staff is a team of people-obsessed and news-hungry editors with decades of collective experience. We have worked as daily newspaper reporters, major national magazine editors, and as editors-in-chief of regional media publications. Among our ranks are book authors and award-winning journalists. Our staff also works with freelance writers, researchers, and other contributors to produce the smart, compelling profiles and articles you see on our site. To meet the team, visit our About Us page: https://www.biography.com/about/a43602329/about-us
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.
Civil War Figures
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John Wilkes Booth
The Final Days of Abraham Lincoln
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Ulysses S. Grant
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Amazon reveals the best books of 2023
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Every year the Amazon Editors read more than 1,000 books, sharing our favorites so that customers can find their next great read. Along the way, we search for the one special title that will emerge as the Best Book of the Year. This year, the Amazon Editors chose James McBride’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store . In a world that is sometimes so divisive and isolating, stories can connect us and create community. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store not only captures that sentiment, it celebrates the power of goodness and looking out for one another—even people who are (seemingly) different from us.
McBride’s novel joins prior Best Book of the Year selections from the Amazon Editors, including Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow ; Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway ; Brittany K. Barnett’s A Knock at Midnight ; Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments ; Tara Westover’s Educated ; and David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon .
Besides featuring formidable casts of female protagonists, many of our favorites this year share a common theme—they highlight the importance of found family and community. And these books also accomplish what the best ones do: Put us in other people’s shoes and expand our empathy.
Learn more about our Top 10 picks below. To view the full list, visit the Best Books of 2023 . There you’ll find the titles that round-out our overall top 20, along with picks in popular categories, like debut authors, biographies, literary fiction, history, mystery, romance, sci-fi, and everything in between.
by James McBride
"Featuring a cacophonous cast of characters you will adore and a story chock full of the social, racial, and ethnic politics of the small town in which they live, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is an irresistible novel—profound as it is ingeniously entertaining, making it one of the great American novels of our time, and why we named it the best book of 2023." —Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
by Amanda Peters
"Debut novelist Amanda Peters explores the lengths we go to for love, the cancerous impact of lies, and the unbreakable bonds of family. For fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett , this quietly beautiful book will break, then mend, your heart." —Sarah Gelman, Amazon editorial director
by Michael Finkel
"What a romp! You’ll fly through this true story of an idealistic maniac on a mission to filch priceless treasures —upping the ante with each outrageous crime. A blast to read—but also horrifying when you consider what happened to $2 billion worth of invaluable art." —Lindsay Powers, Amazon senior editor
by Rebecca Yarros
"An epic of world-building, this tale of a kingdom under duress, a deadly competition to become an elite dragon rider, and the young woman who bucks the odds to become powerful in her own right, is a thrilling, not-to-be-missed romantic fantasy." —Seira Wilson, Amazon senior editor
by Jonathan Eig
"Eig’s definitive and engrossing portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. is a remarkable feat of writing and research, revealing the gutting hardships and heroics of a man who changed the world. This is biography at its absolute finest." —Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
by Nathan Hill
"With the vibes of Jonathan Franzen novels mixed with the panache of (500) Days of Summer — Wellness is a love story, a marriage story, and a contemporary critique on our world that’s captivated (and maybe even controlled) by social media and the pursuit of domestic bliss. Utterly absorbing, funny, and familiar, Hill captures how life can be hopeful and hurtful, idiosyncratic and robotic, fated and chaotic." —Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
by Abraham Verghese
"We didn’t want this book to end—told over the course of three generations, Abraham Verghese weaves a magnetic story of how cultural, social, and racial politics play out in the lives of wives, doctors, and artists who strive to find a home and purpose in a world that is ever-shifting and ever-dangerous. Filled with characters who love deeply and dream big, this novel will sweep you off your feet." —Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
by Stephen King
"Holly is retro-King horror at its best in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse between an unassuming couple committing unspeakable crimes and Private Investigator Holly Gibney. With tension that coils tighter with every chapter, this unforgettable novel will thrill longtime King fans and newcomers alike." —Seira Wilson, Amazon senior editor
by Walter Isaacson
"You probably have strong opinions about Elon Musk. Walter Isaacson’s page-turning biography perfectly captures the troubled, brilliant, pugnacious billionaire—and how his growing power circles the globe. Packed with oh-my-God moments big and small, I couldn’t put this book down." —Lindsay Powers, Amazon senior editor
by Dennis Lehane
"Unflinching, unsparing, and unsentimental, Lehane's incendiary story is a freeway pileup of racism, mob rule, and a desperate mother pushed beyond her last limit. This moving and darkly hilarious vengeance novel was the mystery we kept returning to this year." —Vannessa Cronin, Amazon senior editor
To read more reviews and author interviews, check out Amazon Book Review .
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The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride is Amazon’s Best Book of 2023
The Amazon Books Editors’ curated list features top picks across genres to help connect customers to their next great read
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Today, the Amazon Books Editors announced their selections for the Best Books of 2023, naming James McBride’s novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store as the Best Book of the Year. The annual top 100 list is hand-picked by a team of editors who read more than a thousand books each year and share their recommendations year-round on the Amazon Book Review to help customers find their next great read. To make holiday shopping easier, the editors also break out the top 20 books in popular categories, including debut authors, memoir, romance, children’s books, cookbooks, and history. To explore the full Best Books of 2023 list, visit amazon.com/bestbooks2023 .
“Between dragon-filled romantasy ( Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros), murderous senior citizens ( Holly by Stephen King), and the definitive biography of a legend ( King: A Life by Jonathan Eig), this year’s Best Books list truly has a great read for everyone,” said Sarah Gelman, editorial director for Amazon Books. “But it was James McBride’s The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store that our team unanimously fell in love with, wanting to spend time with the residents of Pottstown, Pennsylvania’s Chicken Hill neighborhood long after the last page was turned. Centered on a mysterious murder, it is, at its heart, a story of how powerful communities can be and what it means to be American, and it’s also a hopeful (and sometimes hilarious) reminder of our own capacity for kindness and compassion.”
After being told that his book was selected by the Amazon Editors as the Best Book of 2023, McBride said, “Every moment in history is full of sadness and tests. But love is the killer of mankind’s worst diseases. It lives without boundaries. It goes everywhere. You can find it everywhere. Even in a grocery store. I’m so glad you found it in this one.”
McBride’s novel joins prior Best Book of the Year selections from the Amazon Editors, including Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow ; Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway ; Brittany K. Barnett’s A Knock at Midnight ; Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments ; Tara Westover’s Educated ; and David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon .
Reflecting on the top 100 list, senior editor Erin Kodicek noted, “Besides featuring a formidable cast of female protagonists, many of our favorites this year share a common theme—they highlight the importance of found family and community. And these books also accomplish what the best ones do: put us in other people’s shoes and expand our empathy.”
Authors of three of the top books—James McBride, Rebecca Yarros, and Abraham Verghese—will participate in an Amazon Live Author Series conversation in celebration of the Best Books of the Year selection on November 15, 2023, at 12 p.m. PST. To tune in, visit Amazon Live .
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top 10 picks of 2023, as described by the editors, are:
- The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride: “Featuring a cacophonous cast of characters you will adore, and a story chock full of the social, racial, and ethnic politics of the small town in which they live, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is an irresistible novel—profound as it is ingeniously entertaining, making it one of the great American novels of our time, and why we named it the best book of 2023.”—Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
- The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters: “Debut novelist Amanda Peters explores the lengths we go to for love, the cancerous impact of lies, and the unbreakable bonds of family. For fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett, this quietly beautiful book will break, then mend, your heart.”—Sarah Gelman, Amazon editorial director
- The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel: “What a romp! You’ll fly through this true story of an idealistic maniac on a mission to filch priceless treasures—upping the ante with each outrageous crime. A blast to read—but also horrifying when you consider what happened to $2 billion worth of invaluable art.”—Lindsay Powers, Amazon senior editor
- Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros: “An epic of world-building and story, this tale of a kingdom under duress, a deadly competition to become an elite dragon rider, and the young woman who bucks the odds to become powerful in her own right, is a thrilling, not-to-be-missed romantic fantasy.”—Seira Wilson, Amazon senior editor
- King: A Life by Jonathan Eig: “Eig’s definitive and engrossing portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. is a remarkable feat of writing and research, revealing the gutting hardships and heroics of a man who changed the world. This is biography at its absolute finest.”—Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
- Wellness by Nathan Hill: “With the vibes of Jonathan Franzen novels mixed with the panache of (500) Days of Summer , Wellness is a love story, a marriage story, and a contemporary critique of our world that’s captivated (and maybe even controlled) by social media and the pursuit of domestic bliss. Utterly absorbing, funny, and familiar, Hill captures how life can be hopeful and hurtful, idiosyncratic and robotic, fated and chaotic.”—Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
- The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese: “We didn’t want this book to end. Told over the course of three generations, Abraham Verghese weaves a magnetic story of how cultural, social, and racial politics play out in the lives of wives, doctors, and artists who strive to find a home and purpose in a world that is ever-shifting and ever-dangerous. Filled with characters who love deeply and dream big, this novel will sweep you off your feet.”—Al Woodworth, Amazon senior editor
- Holly by Stephen King: “ Holly is retro-King horror at its best in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse between an unassuming couple committing unspeakable crimes and P.I. Holly Gibney. With tension that coils tighter with every chapter, this unforgettable novel will thrill longtime King fans and newcomers alike.”—Seira Wilson, Amazon senior editor
- Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson: “You probably have strong opinions about Elon Musk. Walter Isaacson’s page-turning biography perfectly captures the troubled, brilliant, pugnacious billionaire—and how his growing power circles the globe. Packed with ‘oh-my-God’ moments big and small, I couldn’t put this book down.”—Lindsay Powers, Amazon senior editor
- Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane: “Unflinching, unsparing, and unsentimental, Dennis Lehane's incendiary story is a freeway pileup of racism, mob rule, and a desperate mother pushed beyond her last limit. This moving and darkly hilarious vengeance novel was the mystery we kept returning to this year.”—Vannessa Cronin, Amazon senior editor
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Children’s pick of 2023 is: The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Young Adult (YA) pick of 2023 is: Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Romance pick of 2023 is: Things We Left Behind by Lucy Score
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Cookbook, Food, and Wine pick of 2023 is: Big Heart Little Stove by Erin French
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top History pick of 2023 is: The Wager by David Grann
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Series pick of 2023 is: The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose
The Amazon Books Editors’ Top Science pick of 2023 is: Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, MD
For more information about the books featured on the Best Books of the Year list, as well as insightful reviews of new books, author interviews, and editor-curated roundups in popular categories, visit the Amazon Book Review at www.amazon.com/amazonbookreview . You can also follow the Amazon Books Editors’ recommendations and conversations @amazonbooks on Facebook , Twitter , and Instagram .
Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Amazon strives to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, Earth’s Best Employer, and Earth’s Safest Place to Work. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Career Choice, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, Alexa, Just Walk Out technology, Amazon Studios, and The Climate Pledge are some of the things pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews .
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Ten Best Abraham Lincoln Biographies
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Lincoln biographies? Don’t know where to start?
Lincoln is probably my favorite American president, and Abraham Lincoln books far outnumber those about any other US president. Here are ten of the best Lincoln biographies.
2. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson
This Pulitzer-prize winner is a well-crafted narrative of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during the Civil War.
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