In a handsome, giftquality volume celebrating the th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, America's top Lincoln historians offer their diverse perspectives on the life and legacy of America's sixteenth president Spanning Lincoln's life from his early career as a Springfield lawyer, to his presidential reign during one of America's most troubled historical periods, to his assassination inthese essays, developed from original CSPAN interviews, provide a compelling, composite portrait of Lincoln, one that offers up new stories and fresh insights on a defining leader Edited by CSPAN's Brian Lamb and Susan Swain, illustrated with Lamb's photographs of Lincoln landmarks, and promoted throughout the year on CSPAN, Abraham Lincoln is a wonderful compendium of information and deeplyinformed analysis that deserves a prominent place on every bookshelf

10 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President

  1. Karen Karen says:

    I attended the 13th annual Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November this year (2008). Brian Lamb was one of the speakers. He was absolutely entertaining. He said he is not a Lincoln nut like the rest of us at the conference. However, who's the one who just published a big Lincoln book?

    In addition to Brian Lamb, many of the Great American historians who appear in C-Span's Lincoln book were also at the Lincoln Forum, including Allen Guelzo, Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, Gabor Boritt, Edward Steers, and the inimitable Frank J. Williams.

    Some of the chapters in this book are presentations given at previous Lincoln Forums that C-Span broadcast. Overall, I give this book high marks because it includes a wide spectrum of views on Lincoln, including those of two of the most well-known Lincoln detractors. You won't find this array of viewpoints anywhere else. The chapters are conversational in tone, because, of course, they are largely from interviews and other events broadcast by C-Span. If you want a good introduction to the world of Lincoln, including the very best scholars today, this is the book for you.

  2. Nathan Albright Nathan Albright says:

    Before you read this book, you should be aware that this is not a book about Abraham Lincoln by historians, not all of whom are great (more on that later), but rather a book collected of excerpts, some of them exceedingly short, from people who are mostly known as writers of books about Abraham Lincoln, many of which I have read and reviewed [1]. To be sure, these people talk about Abraham Lincoln, but mostly as a way of burnishing their own reputation. Rather than being seen as historians, these people should be seen either as salesmen trying to peddle their books to a midbrow audience or as politicians looking for others to believe in their partial and biased perspective of Abraham Lincoln. One is not getting Lincoln direct, for the most part at least, but rather filtered through the research and commercial interests of the various people interviewed by C-Span, and one also gets the sense of how so much political discourse corrupts history as well as our understanding of it.

    The contents of this book are varied in size and quality to a remarkable degree. The various excerpts from interviews have been lightly edited (sometimes not nearly enough) and divided into several different categories: Lincoln's road from the log cabin to the White House, Lincoln as a wartime president, Lincoln's character, Lincoln in historical memory, and then Lincoln's words. It is only in this last section that we get to read Lincoln in his own words, as it includes his House Divided speech, a particularly controversial excerpt from the debate in Charleston with Douglas, as well as the Cooper Union address, his First and Second Inaugurals, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, and his last address. The size of the excerpts included from various people ranges from short paragraphs for many to sprawling and rambling rants for the worst among them, a historian named Lerone Bennet, Jr and an equally ersatz historian, the repugnant Thomas DiLorenzo. Fortunately, most of the historians are far better than these, even if they get far less time to talk about Lincoln. For the most part, everyone here is using Lincoln as a way to burnish their own reputation, rather than appreciating Lincoln for who he was, using Lincoln's biography and writings and speeches as proof texts in some sort of civic religious context rather than in order to better understand him and his time on their own terms.

    It is interesting, despite the flaws of this book, to see what these writers think about Lincoln, the sort of causes they wish to enlist Lincoln in, the way they wish to attack a supposed Lincoln cult or say that people are bored by Lincoln and most Lincoln defenders, who apparently have little passion in what they say. The editors of the book appear to have a somewhat cynical aim in that they wish to capitalize on the interest in Lincoln books while also subtly wishing to undermine what it was that Lincoln actually said in the their own self-promotion efforts and those of the historians they select, some of whom made repeat appearances. The book also includes a few very egregious errors that are not corrected in this book's shoddy editing, such as when one historian claims that Chase was a former Whig governor of New York, when that was Seward (81), and that Lincoln sat with photographer Alexander Gardner in February 1865 after having visited Richmond in April 1865 (162). Someone forgot to tell Abraham Lincoln he was a timelord, apparently. This sort of shoddy work shows that the book was a cash grab for everyone involved, from C-Span to the writers included in it. One wonders why they couldn't invite the wonderful political historian Harry Jaffa, given the hacks and no-names included here, even though some of the writers talk about him in absentia. Fortunately, this is a book about a worthwhile enough subject that not even C-Span can ruin it.

    [1] See, for example:

  3. Cat Cat says:

    My in laws are huge c-span fans. (fact!) so i wasn't entirely surprised when they gave me this volume as a holiday present. Out of respect to their taste, I read the book, and I found it to be alot like CSPAN: not-ready-for-prime-time enthusiasm about the subject and a missionary/monkish pursuit of a diversity of source material.

    This book is comprised of television transcripts that have been edited for printing. It's an interesting way to convey a alot of different opinions in a short number of pages, and perhaps this method deserves some histiographical inquiry? Just an idea.

  4. Kevin Kevin says:

    This book attempts - and for the most part I believe it succeeds - to present a balance view of Lincoln by presenting positions by Lincoln detractors as well as Lincoln admires. I found the essays regarding Lincoln's character to be fairly consistent with each other. Both the detractors as well as the admires agreed that Lincoln was a genius when it came to oration, writing, convincing people to join his cause, and getting things done. They also agree that Lincoln lacked true belief in the Christian religion, and said many troubling things regarding race (colonization, deportation, white supremacy, etc.). I believe that this book captures much of the true nature of who Lincoln was as a man, and I would recommend it as a fair treatment of Lincoln.

  5. Ede Ede says:

    Out of hundreds of books written on Lincoln I happened to buy this one and was in for a great disappointment. A book based on TV-series (prior to reading the book I had no idea what C-Span is) can never be a good thing but reading some of the essays by historians claiming He was truly the best president and then giving no further explanation is just a waste of time. There were actually just 2 interesting essays and the most valuable part of the book is probably Part 5, the original texts by Lincoln himself.

  6. Kathryn Kathryn says:

    I enjoyed this book very much. It is a collection interviews of historians, journalists, and writers about Abraham Lincoln. They were taken from C-SPAN's Booknotes interviews. I found the differing opinions and interpretations of Lincoln's history to be very interesting. All articles are short, but each written in the author's own style and highlighting what Lincoln information they were knowledgable and interested in.

  7. Lanita Lanita says:

    This was quite an interesting book about Abraham Lincoln. C-SPAN took all of their interviews with different authorites on Abe and converted them to essay form for this book. The result is a plethora of perspectives on Abraham, the civil war, and society in general during that time period. I loved it.

  8. Emma Emma says:

    Mixed bag of essays/interview transcripts. Some good Lincoln anecdotes and some unusual alternative viewpoints. However, the format meant a lot of material was repeated and some of the interview transcripts would have benefited from tighter editing. Perhaps more of a boomtown dip into than read cover to cover?

  9. Karen Karen says:

    A C-Span book that is most excellent! This book contains a wide variety of views on Lincoln. Providing a complete understanding of Lincoln, the state of the union at the time and the Civil War. If you love history this book is for you.

  10. Bill Bill says:

    Like having tivo'd all the good C-SPAN discussions with Lincoln authors. Nice resource.