Sunday, December 18, 2016

Stahr on Stanton

Next summer, Simon & Schuster will publish Walter Stahr's Stanton: Lincoln's Staunch Secretary of War (August, '17). The author's Seward biography was well received (I think), and in Stanton he takes on a much more controversial figure from the Lincoln cabinet. The author certainly well recognizes the man's hotly disputed legacy — from the description: "Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time." — but one can probably safely assume that Stahr's assessment of Stanton's actions will be much more sympathetic as a whole than William Marvel's in Lincoln's Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton (2015).

Speaking of Marvel's book, the marketing copy writer assigned to Stanton who dreamed up the following arresting passage for the description — "Walter Stahr’s essential book is the first major biography of Stanton in fifty years" — apparently wants to wish away the very existence of the competition. A full scholarly biography written by a well-known author and published by one of the field's top university presses is clearly impossible to miss without deliberately doing so.


  1. Stanton has been getting a lot of attention (not necessarily love) lately, and I'm looking forward to learning what "literally hung out" means.

  2. I have a rule about buying books which are marketed with blatant misstatements about the competition. It's not inlexible but this sort of Baghdad Bob publicity is a bad start.

    1. One rule I have when buying books is to look at the publisher. Simon and Schuster should do better than this.

  3. I have my problems with William Marvel, mainly that he always seems to approach his subjects with an agenda, but his reliance on period primary sources is exemplary. If Stahr's research is at least as good, I'll give his book a chance.


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