Monday, February 9, 2009

NY Times Book Review: 1864

This morning, The New York Times published a prominent review of Charles Bracelen Flood's new book on Lincoln, 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History. Written by one of the Times' best, Janet Maslin, the piece praises the book not only for its well-crafted, compelling narrative, but also, more interestingly, for Flood's instincts to focus on a single year of Lincoln's life.

Click here to read the review.

Comparing 1864 to other recent Lincoln books, Maslin suggests that life-long biographies allow too little depth, while books that focus on specific aspects of Lincoln's life -- his marriage, for example -- offer too little context. Flood's book, with its focus, is implicitly 'just right.' She writes:
But the survey books can be superficial. And the narrow-turf studies can suffer from tunnel vision. Mr. Flood's "1864" compresses the multiple demands upon Lincoln into a tight time frame and thus captures a dizzying, visceral sense of why this single year took such a heavy toll.
I have yet to read Flood's book, but I sense that Maslin is on the money. In some ways, this book on Lincoln may be like Jay Winik's book April 1865. That book served as a corrective on both Civil War studies and Reconstruction studies by focusing intensely on a specific compressed period of time to attempt to really show the pressures on those making key decisions at that time. Similarly, I think Flood's book may do the same thing for Lincoln, really contextualize the pressures -- Maslin suggests 'viscerally' -- within which he formed his decisions. If Flood's book succeeds, it will do so where other books trying to consider this question have been less successful -- like William Lee Miller's President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, which I previously have reviewed.

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