Tuesday 5 January 2010

Lincoln : A Foreigners Quest

I've just finished reading a very engaging biography about Abraham Lincoln. I'm not normally drawn towards Biographies, the real person is rarely as interesting as the myth or legend you grew up with. But in this book the story woven by the author Jan Morris increases ones admiration for the 16th President of the United States rather than decreases it.

Born in Somerset, England, Morris looks in at Lincoln with a very English eye but also the dry wit that is typical of anyone that hails from the Mendip Hills. From the very first pages I felt that to truly appreciate Lincoln you needed to be a foreigner looking in. That's not to say that Americans don't understand the man but that when writing a biography there is an advantage to being culturally detached and immune from the sentimentalism attached to the life of the subject. The result is a picture of a true giant of history that has both clarity and incite.
I have long had an interest in the history of the American Civil War but I must admit to having remained ignorant of the bulk of Lincoln's story. Born into a poor Kentucky family this unassuming, some might say unhandsome man, rose to the presidency and forged a nation almost through force of personality alone. But it was his speeches - the greatest of them being The Gettysburg Address- that made this gentle man of humble origins into the legend he has become today.

If you read no other biography of Abraham Lincoln I think you could do much worse than pick up this slender volume which is both thoughtful and though provoking. Morris takes the reader on an intellectual journey across 19th century America that blends narrative, history and biography to reveal the real man that would eventually become the most iconic of American Presidents.


  1. You might consider reading "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It chronicles Lincoln's political rise and how he built his cabinet from his political rivals rather than supporters. It's a great book about both politics and leadership during the war.

  2. I should suggest this to my dad. He's been reading a ton of Lincoln bios lately in anticipation of writing a historic novel. I'll bet he'd appreciate the non-American perspective.

  3. I suspect you may be aware of it, but Ken Burns' award-winning documentary 'The Civil War' is a simply beautiful account of the antics of old Abe and his buddies.

    We rented it from Lovefilm, and although it's around 10 hrs long it really is awesome. I can't recommend it enough!

  4. Kindly read "The Real Lincoln" by Thomas DiLorenzo, and see if your admiration for this murdering tyrant can withstand the truth. As for Ken Burns series, yes, beautifully done but so full of lies as to be classified as "propaganda" more than history.


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