David Herbert Donald (1920-2009)

539w-1Today I learned that we’ve lost one of the great Civil War/Lincoln scholars of the last 50 years.  One of the first books I read back in 1995, that started me on this journey to better understand this period of American history, was David Donald’s Lincoln Prize winning biography, Lincoln.  Since then I’ve read Donald’s other biographies of Charles Sumner and William Herndon as well as countless essays on a host of subjects.  I can honestly say that he’s proved critical in my understanding of the Civil War and Lincoln.  In the many interviews that I’ve seen Donald always appeared to be the consummate gentleman.  While an employee for Borders Books and Music (Rockville, MD, 1995-98) I organized a day-long Civil War event that included a number of well-known scholars.  Having recently read Donald’s Lincoln biography I decided to invite him to take part.  Of course, I knew it was a long shot and while he was unable to attend we actually talked on the phone for close to 30 minutes.  We talked all things Civil War and he provided me with an essential list of books to read.

Thanks Professor Donald

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5 comments… add one
  • Claire Greene Sep 20, 2009 @ 6:16

    Three eminent historians will celebrate the life and work of David Herbert Donald at the Concord Free Public Library, 129 Main Street, Concord, MA, Saturday, October 24, 7:30 p.m.

    Donald, renowned for his study of Abraham Lincoln and the people around him, was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He will be honored posthumously at the library with the Ruth Ratner Miller Award for Excellence in American History, presented annually by the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library.

    Three scholars will speak in honor of Donald as a scholar and collaborator:
    **John Stauffer, Professor of English and American Literature and Language, Harvard University
    **Nina Silber, Professor of History, Boston University
    **Bernard Bailyn, Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, emeritus, at Harvard University

    The program, titled “David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, and the American Experience,” will begin with a 20-minute piano concert by noted solist Biljana Milovanovic, a founder of the Ibis Camerata. Milovanovic will perform American music of the Civil War period.
    The program will feature music by the virtuoso American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk and John Paine, one of the most important composers in the Boston area during the Civil War.

    “David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, and the American Experience” is a benefit for the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library. Tickets are $15, free for students. Proceeds support museum passes; adult and children’s programs at the library; and additions to the library collection, including books, DVDs, and CDs. Tickets are available at the library and at the Concord Bookshop. For information, email friends@concordlibrary.org or call (978)318-3301.

  • Mike May 20, 2009 @ 11:42

    A True Gentleman and Author. RIP

  • Rob Wick May 19, 2009 @ 14:50

    It is indeed a sad day for all of us. The world of Lincoln scholarship has lost a voice that while not everyone agreed with it, was certainly respected throughout the world. Donald was a student of James Randall and was Randall’s literary executor. Anyone who wanted to look at Randall’s papers at the University of Illinois had to get permission from Donald. I wonder who will take over that role now. RIP Professor Donald.


  • Kevin Levin May 19, 2009 @ 9:35


    I don’t remember all of them, but a few that stand out include Emory Thomas’s _Confederate Nation_, Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones _How the North Won_, William Freehling’s _The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1_, Eric Foner’s _Reconstruction_, and Leon Litwack’s _Been in the Storm So Long_. That’s pretty good!

  • John Wood May 19, 2009 @ 8:47

    He will be missed. Just wondering what books did he tell you?

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