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Lincoln (1995)

de David Herbert Donald

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaMencions
2,706264,284 (4.23)94
"This fully rounded biography of America's sixteenth President is the product of Donald's half-century of study of Lincoln and his times. In preparing it, Donald has drawn more extensively than any previous writer on Lincoln's personal papers and those of his contemporaries, and he has taken full advantage of the voluminous newly discovered records of Lincoln's legal practice. He presents his findings with the same literary skill and psychological understanding exhibited in his previous biographies, which have received two Pulitzer Prizes ... Much more than a political biography, Donald's Lincoln reveals the development of the future President's character and shows how his private life helped to shape his public career. In Donald's skillful hands, Lincoln emerges as a youthful, vigorous President. One of the youngest men ever to occupy the White House, he was also the husband of an even younger wife and the father of boisterous children. We witness how Lincoln's absorption with politics disrupted his family life, and how his often tumultuous marriage affected his political career. And we see a man renowned for his storytelling and his often sidesplitting humor lapse into the periods of deep melancholy to which he was prone, not only during the dark days of the Civil War but throughout his life ... Donald's strikingly original portrait of Lincoln depicts a man who was basically passive by nature, who confessed that he did not control events but events had controlled him. Yet coupled with that fatalism was an unbounded ambition that drove him to take enormous political risks and enabled him to overcome repeated defeats. Donald shows that Lincoln was a master of ambiguity and expediency--but he also stresses that Lincoln was a great moral leader, inflexibly opposed to slavery and absolutely committed to preserving the Union."--Jacket.… (més)
  1. 10
    Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest de Jan Morris (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Both David Donald and Jan Morris portray President Lincoln from personal perceptions.
  2. 00
    Freedom de William Safire (John_Vaughan)
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No American political figure, aside from perhaps Washington, is as revered as Lincoln. His steady stewardship through the country's darkest years, not to mention his successful implementation of the 13th amendment, has earned him a consistent place either at the top or near the top of historical rankings.

David Herbert Donald's biography does not shy away from the legend of Lincoln. Truly, his political leadership and humanity have earned him that distinction. However, Donald also adds more context and nuance to the man who has become myth. Everything from his depression, to his tempestuous relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, to his tendency toward moderation, to his final year are laid bare in this book.

It's this dedication to understanding Lincoln as a person that helps make Lincoln such a compelling and important read. ( )
  keithlaf | Jun 19, 2022 |
Excellent! ( )
  Rockhead515 | Jan 11, 2022 |
This was hailed as the biography for its generation when it appeared in 1995, but I waited until a generation elapsed (26 years) before reading it. It remains an impressive read.
In its outline, the book presents a familiar story. While still in grade school, in the years leading up to the centennial of the Civil War, I'd read Lincoln biographies in both the Childhood of Famous Americans and Landmark series, Jim Bishop's Night Lincoln Was Shot, and several books about the war. But Donald started fresh and researched thoroughly, emphasizing primary sources, including newly-available records from Lincoln's law practice. He combined this with a mastery of narrative flow so that the book, although detailed, makes a quick read.
More than half of the book is devoted to Lincoln's four years as president, which seems fitting. After all, it was those years that made the man memorable.
I increasingly feel that one's experience of a book depends on when one reads it. Of course, this is true of the time in one's personal life, but it was also poignant to read this book in light of the recent past's acrimonious political discourse. It's easy to forget the torrent of abuse that poured over Lincoln, given the apotheosis he underwent after his death. It helps put the unreasoning calumny we hear daily in perspective; nothing new under the sun. I'm not sure whether that's comforting, though.
Donald's conviction of Lincoln's greatness doesn't mislead him into whitewashing the man. It had never been so clear to me how Lincoln was hobbled by bringing no executive experience to the job of being president. He often seemed to be improvising, stumbling. The vexed relation with generals, which I had assumed was the generals' fault, turns out, on this reading, to have been a problem for which Lincoln was in part responsible. He wasn't very good at staffing and then meddled unhelpfully, all the while thinking he was loyal to his choices, even when they turned out not to have been good ones.
Donald not only presents a well-researched and smoothly-written narrative, but he also conveys a sense of Lincoln the man. I was fascinated by the character of Lincoln, with its mix of ambition and passivity. In addition, he manifests the paradox of genuine, folksy humility alongside an abiding conviction of his own superiority. I came to realize that this was no contradiction: it was precisely his belief in his own mental and moral excellence that permitted him to freely own up to his errors. Finally, I was struck that Lincoln, as a young man, chose politics and law as a career path simply because they were the last two options open to him after failing at everything else. Still, he proved a good fit at both.
The book ends with the sudden impact of an assassin's bullet. There is no recounting of the aftermath. This is in line with the author's overall narrative strategy: to write a sharply focused biography, filling in no more context than necessary to tell the life. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Aug 4, 2021 |
Studying slavery and the civil war as a history major in college, I've previously run into Lincoln and in particular this book. Donald has received extensive praise for this biography. I never took time to actually read the entire thing at once though. Now that I have, I can confidently say it deserves every bit of praise. The number of subjects covered, Donald's consistency and depth of insight, his skill in delineating fact and opinion in the treatment of each subject, and the sheer readability of this book are enough to justify its plaudits. What lies beyond any praise I can offer, however, is the quality of the writing. Donald's prose is stunning in its simple delivery of complex information. And yet it remains accessible enough for a threateningly drowsy end-of-day train read.

With Lincoln as a subject it is not terribly difficult to find the man. Despite his private nature, Lincoln revealed himself in all his writing and interactions. He was a people person, and he never shied away from presenting himself in multi-faceted ways. That makes for an engrossing subject already, and a talented historian can readily uncover that. It can, however, be difficult to find something interesting to say that hasn't already been said. Donald both uncovers the man and adds to the conversation on Lincoln in every instance of import. His ability to cut to the core of historical issues and help the reader understand why they mattered is unmatched. For these reasons Donald's Lincoln has revived and added upon my appreciation for one of the United States's greatest leaders. I will be reading more Lincolniana very soon! ( )
  yorga2020 | Aug 30, 2020 |
I was expecting something a little better from the famed writer Gore Vidal, but nonetheless this was interesting and worthwhile. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Mar 10, 2019 |
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Donald is practically a legend as a scholar and a teacher, having trainedcountless historians, including me. Thus, expectations are incredibly high. Still, in his own quiet, firm manner, Donald meets theburdens of his reputation. While this biography may not represent the final word on Lincoln, it will almost surely be the firstword on the subject for generations to come.
 
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I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges,
April 4, 1864
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For Aida and Bruce, who have had to live with Lincoln for most of their lives
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Abraham Lincoln was not interested in his ancestry.
The only time I ever met President John F. Kennedy, in February 1962, he was unhappy with historians. (Preface)
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"This fully rounded biography of America's sixteenth President is the product of Donald's half-century of study of Lincoln and his times. In preparing it, Donald has drawn more extensively than any previous writer on Lincoln's personal papers and those of his contemporaries, and he has taken full advantage of the voluminous newly discovered records of Lincoln's legal practice. He presents his findings with the same literary skill and psychological understanding exhibited in his previous biographies, which have received two Pulitzer Prizes ... Much more than a political biography, Donald's Lincoln reveals the development of the future President's character and shows how his private life helped to shape his public career. In Donald's skillful hands, Lincoln emerges as a youthful, vigorous President. One of the youngest men ever to occupy the White House, he was also the husband of an even younger wife and the father of boisterous children. We witness how Lincoln's absorption with politics disrupted his family life, and how his often tumultuous marriage affected his political career. And we see a man renowned for his storytelling and his often sidesplitting humor lapse into the periods of deep melancholy to which he was prone, not only during the dark days of the Civil War but throughout his life ... Donald's strikingly original portrait of Lincoln depicts a man who was basically passive by nature, who confessed that he did not control events but events had controlled him. Yet coupled with that fatalism was an unbounded ambition that drove him to take enormous political risks and enabled him to overcome repeated defeats. Donald shows that Lincoln was a master of ambiguity and expediency--but he also stresses that Lincoln was a great moral leader, inflexibly opposed to slavery and absolutely committed to preserving the Union."--Jacket.

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