Lincoln: The Biography of a Writerby Published 28 Oct 2008
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For Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language as a vehicle both to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment. Like the other great canonical writers of American literature—a status he is gradually attaining—Lincoln had a literary career that is inseparable from his life story. An admirer and avid reader of Burns, Byron, Shakespeare, and the Old Testament, Lincoln was the most literary of our presidents. His views on love, liberty, and human nature were shaped by his reading and knowledge of literature.
Since Lincoln, no president has written his own words and addressed his audience with equal and enduring effectiveness. Kaplan focuses on the elements that shaped Lincoln's mental and imaginative world; how his writings molded his identity, relationships, and career; and how they simultaneously generated both the distinctive political figure he became and the public discourse of the nation. This unique account of Lincoln's life and career highlights the shortcomings of the modern presidency, reminding us, through Lincoln's legacy and appreciation for language, that the careful and honest use of words is a necessity for successful democracy.
Illuminating and engrossing, Lincoln brilliantly chronicles Abraham Lincoln's genius with language.
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer Reviews
A fun discussion of Lincoln's reading and writing life. It's clear that there were parts of this book that Kaplan enjoyed writing (i.e., the parts about Lincoln's reading and writing life, naturally) and parts that he was less interested in (i.e., politics, campaigning, his personal life), and the latter are always a bit more of a chore to get through. However, I don't think that would stop anybody--especially bookish people--from enjoying and learning a lot from this book, both about the main subject of the book and other aspects of Lincoln's life.
An exploration of the effects of being articulate, well-spoken and obsessed with learning is especially relevant after watching Obama use those three traits to take the presidency. It's the author's point that Lincoln's log cabin story has obscured how impressive a writer and speaker he really was. More importantly, we forget that with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt we've never really had a president before with equal deftness in reading, writing and speaking. Normally they are good at one and abysmal at the others. There's a part in the book where he takes one of Lincoln's speeches and lays it out into a poem. It's just one example but an incredible way to make the book's central point: that Lincoln's understanding of the English language and the power of persuasion were so impressive they we're not even aware that he was using them.
This book was more political than personal, not my thing.
While not the most exciting Lincoln biography I read, it was an interesting way to look at Lincoln and how his writings influenced him as a person, lawyer, and politician. At times, the writing was too slow and not of great interest. My biggest complaint, though, is that the chapter on the presidency years was far too short and felt rushed; most of Lincoln's writings of note are from his time as president but they were hardly analyzed.
The good portions of this book are that you learn a lot about Lincoln that is not commonly discussed, notably his interactions with native american tribes prior to and during his presidency; some very sad stuff. It was also good that writings that are not normally discussed (some of his poetry especially) were brought into the text.
Overall, a good Lincoln biography, not great.
This was a rather enjoyable read after I got used to the author's writing style. There is a lot more to learn from this book than about Lincoln's writing life.