Call Number
Material Type
Corning - Southeast Steuben County Library 1 B LINCOLN New NonFiction Book
Wellsville - David A. Howe Public Library 1 B LINCOLN New NonFiction Book

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Previous biographies of Abraham Lincoln--universally acknowledged as one of America's greatest presidents--have typically focused on his experiences in the White House. In Becoming Lincoln , renowned historian William Freehling instead emphasizes the prewar years, revealing how Lincoln came to be the extraordinary leader who would guide the nation through its most bitter chapter.

Freehling's engaging narrative focuses anew on Lincoln's journey. The epic highlights Lincoln's difficult family life, first with his father and later with his wife. We learn about the staggering number of setbacks and recoveries Lincoln experienced. We witness Lincoln's famous embodiment of the self-made man (although he sought and received critical help from others).

The book traces Lincoln from his tough childhood through incarnations as a bankrupt with few prospects, a superb lawyer, a canny two-party politician, a great orator, a failed state legislator, and a losing senatorial candidate, to a winning presidential contender and a besieged six weeks as a pre-war president.

As Lincoln's individual life unfolds, so does the American nineteenth century. Few great Americans have endured such pain but been rewarded with such success. Few lives have seen so much color and drama. Few mirror so uncannily the great themes of their own society. No one so well illustrates the emergence of our national economy and the causes of the Civil War.

The book concludes with a substantial epilogue in which Freehling turns to Lincoln's wartime presidency to assess how the preceding fifty-one years of experience shaped the Great Emancipator's final four years. Extensively illustrated, nuanced but swiftly paced, and full of examples that vividly bring Lincoln to life for the modern reader, this new biography shows how an ordinary young man from the Midwest prepared to become, against almost absurd odds, our most tested and successful president.

Author Notes

William W. Freehling is Singletary Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at the University of Kentucky and the author of the two-volume Road to Disunion and the Bancroft Award-winning Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1830.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Awkward prose overwhelms whatever new insights Freehling (The Road to Disunion), humanities professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky, seeks to share in this Lincoln biography. He focuses on Lincoln's life before he assumed the presidency, reviewing his failures in detail rather than concentrating on his better-known successes. He starts with Lincoln's "dismal youth" and follows the vicissitudes of his political career, which included several electoral defeats and multiple unsuccessful terms as a state legislator. But this period of Lincoln's life is well-trodden ground, reexamined recently in books such as Sidney Blumenthal's multivolume The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln and David Herbert Donald's Lincoln. Rather than charting new paths, Freehling fills the text with diversions, giving his subjects awkward epithets ("the internal improvement apostle") or explaining why it is easier to wield an axe blade attached to a handle, and burying in a footnote a more substantive critique of Donald's portrayal of Lincoln as passive and fatalistic. The prose too often gets in its own way. ("The giant, no longer appearing to be all legs, now looked closer to all head, largely self-trained to tower.") This biography fails to justify its existence. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Historian Freehling (The Road to Disunion) examines President Abraham Lincoln's process of becoming the person who, in the end, advocated for emancipation from slavery after years of moderation on the issue. Freehling portrays Lincoln as an ambitious young man who wished to escape his family's past; where Lincoln's father moved about and "failed," Lincoln sought to settle down and move up, which he did after he made Springfield, IL, his home, and law and politics his profession. The author's major contributions are his demonstration that Lincoln looked to juries and judges as the true democratic bulwark of a republic along with his close and cogent analyses of Lincoln's speeches, up to his First Inaugural Address, in which one witnesses Lincoln working out the constitutional possibilities in addressing slavery and the political risks in doing so. Lincoln went from looking for ways to end slavery with slaveholders' consent in order to preserve the Union to a final recognition that slavery must die so that the Union might live. VERDICT Freehling's readable and telling account shows that Lincoln "becoming Lincoln" was inexorable but not inevitable and, with that, reveals the contingencies and contradictions defining America, then and now.-Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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