Since I started the challenge, of course Abe Lincoln was one of the presidents that I was really looking forward to reading about. I knew the basics- log cabin, beard, tall hat, Civil War- but I was really excited to get some detail.
What I really, really loved about this biography is that I got this really full scope of not only who Lincoln was and what he did, but also what he was thinking through it all. Lincoln was a prolific letter writer and was notorious for writing little notes about what was going on in his head and stuffing them in pockets, his hat, and desk drawers. Ronald White wrote this bio after a lot of that stuff was newly released and so he got to draw a lot of new conclusions about Lincoln’s motivations.
I loved finding out more about Lincoln’s humble beginnings- he was not highly educated, he moved around a lot while he was younger and his parents (obviously) raising someone that they felt was destined for greatness. He was a self starter from a very young age and at the time that he was elected president, he had barely scratched the surface of being in politics.
I think what really fascinated me was just watching him work through this whole slavery thing in his own head. There are quotes from Lincoln early in his life that people have misconstrued to say that Lincoln was actually a racist and that he had less-than-stellar motivations… the thing is, he just hadn’t gotten to the end of his thought process on slavery and blacks. As he became more well known and got elected, America was in this super turbulent time. He had personal convictions against slavery from very early in his life but honestly could not picture how America could not have slaves… after all, they always had. As he watched the war progress and felt out how Americans were responding, he started not realize that he could help make that personal conviction come to life… Just that thought process was a really amazing thing to watch.
Ronald White wrote this biography in a really clear, personable way. By the end, I truly felt like I knew Lincoln- about his life and his family and his personality. It had enough facts and dates to feel like a legit scholarly work, but enough personal detail and flowing prose to keep this nonacademic totally hooked. I have read a lot about the Civil War, but almost always the more “domestic” side of things and less the political side. I really enjoyed seeing everything from the other side and realizing the crazy place that policy makers were put during the war. I just feel like I have a much more complete picture of what went on.
I don’t know what else to say- I spent almost all of April with this mammoth of a book (It took me nearly THREE WEEKS to read!) and I loved it. I cannot even think of one negative. If you are doing the presidential challenge, I highly, highly recommend that you block off a few weeks and read this one. So, so good.