I’ve already received a few emails asking for recommendations on books about Abraham Lincoln. Since I anticipate more of these requests after tomorrow, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a short list of Lincoln books. My recommendations are for those of you who walk out of the theater in the next few weeks and want to learn something more about our 16th president, but are not interested in a dry scholarly study. It’s a good thing that Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln, is being released not so much after the election, but after the Lincoln bicentennial as the offerings are broad and deep.
The best overall biography of Lincoln remains David H. Donald’s Lincoln. You can find it at most bookstores as well as most decent used books shops. Though not a traditional biography, Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery is the best broad study of Lincoln and the evolution of his views on race and slavery. If you are looking for something that you can read in short bursts that debunks many of the long-standing myths about Lincoln, I suggest Gerald Prokopowicz’s Did Lincoln Own Slaves?: And Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln. Finally, since the movie is loosely based on her book you may want to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.
Here are a couple of books on aspects of Lincoln’s life that are worth reading. One of my favorite books on Lincoln’s early life (1831-1842) is Douglas Wilson’s Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. Check out Harold Holzer’s Lincoln President-Elect for a detailed, but very readable overview (600 pages) of the period following his election in 1860. Although it is a bit dated, Gary Wills’s Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America offers a thoughtful analysis of his famous speech and its place in American memory.
I mentioned in a previous post that I am very interested to see whether Sally Field finally gives us a more rounded and sympathetic portrayal of Mary Todd and her relationship with her husband. Jean H. Baker’s Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography is worth reading and I suspect Catherine Clinton’s book Mrs. Lincoln: A Life is as well, though I have not read it. Finally, for a light-hearted look at Lincoln’s continued hold on American memory and culture I highly recommend Andrew Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America.
We could add any number of books to this list, but I hope this at least will get you started. See you at the movies.