Saturday, April 23, 2016

Booknotes: A Self-Made Man

New Arrival:
A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809 - 1849 by Sidney Blumenthal (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

A Self-Made Man is the first of a planned four-volume series on the political mind and career of Lincoln. Undoubtedly, the author's time as a senior Clinton aide will inform his views on the Washington scene and presidential politics. The book covers the first four decades of Lincoln's life, with 1849 being the year when the future president returned home after serving a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bibliography runs around a dozen pages and is populated primarily with published sources, the absence of archival research revealing the work to be one of synthesis and re-analysis of the existing literature. It sounds like it promises a positive portrayal of frequently maligned Mary, as well.

From the publisher's description:
"This first volume traces Lincoln from his painful youth, describing himself as “a slave,” to his emergence as the man we recognize as Abraham Lincoln. From his youth as a “newsboy,” a voracious newspaper reader, Lincoln became a free thinker, reading Tom Paine, as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, and studying Euclid to sharpen his arguments as a lawyer. Lincoln’s anti-slavery thinking began in his childhood amidst the Primitive Baptist antislavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana, the roots of his repudiation of Southern Christian pro-slavery theology. Intensely ambitious, he held political aspirations from his earliest years. Obsessed with Stephen Douglas, his political rival, he battled him for decades. Successful as a circuit lawyer, Lincoln built his team of loyalists. Blumenthal reveals how Douglas and Jefferson Davis acting together made possible Lincoln’s rise. Blumenthal describes a socially awkward suitor who had a nervous breakdown over his inability to deal with the opposite sex. His marriage to the upper class Mary Todd was crucial to his social aspirations and his political career. Blumenthal portrays Mary as an asset to her husband, a rare woman of her day with strong political opinions."

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