Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Lincoln Books This Week

January tends to be the prime month to release Lincoln-specific books, and the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth has quickened the pace of publishing. This week, there are several new books being released, including these two.

On January 13

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. (Random House, 2009, hardcover, 816 pages)

This is White's third book on Lincoln, following his well received books on Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural) and Lincoln's speeches in general (The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words). I have read the first, but not the second. While White seems to have been accepted by most of the prominent Lincoln scholars, I found the first book underwhelming -- I was disappointed because I just don't think White's analysis of Lincoln's Second Inaugural matched the depth of Lincoln's writing.
Perhaps this biography is a worthy addition to the Lincoln bookshelf, but I would be more likely to recommend other new biographies: long (2000+ pages) by Michael Burlingame or short (less than 100) by James McPherson.

On January 15

Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth Century America by Barry Schwartz (University of Chicago Press, 2009, hardcover, 410 pages)

This is the second volume of Schwartz' two-part look at the history of Lincoln's reputation since his assassination. The first book (Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory) covered the period from 1865-1920, while the new book documents the years from 1920 to the present.

I am excited to see Schwartz' new book. Currently, Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory is the standard about the impact and means of Lincoln's legacy since his assassination. Schwartz, who specializes in cultural memory, focuses his analysis more narrowly than Peterson by looking to see the meaning of Lincoln in American memory, rather than chronicling the manifestations of Lincoln's legacy.

Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory was an intriguing exploration of Lincoln's place in American cultural memory. While I think that Schwartz misrepresents Lincoln's reputation during his presidency (like many, he too easily buys into the argument that the unpopular Lincoln became a legend by being assassinated), the rest of his analysis is solid.

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