Of the 60-plus Lincoln books released this season, several stand out.
In addition to being president, Abraham Lincoln was also a writer, commander of troops, assassination target, family man, and peer of other great men. The 16th president can be examined from many angles and, as we celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, biographers have overlooked few of them.
Among the stacks, some titles stand out.
In Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, English professor emeritus Fred Kaplan seeks the roots of the president’s truly timeless prose. “Since Lincoln, no president has written his own words and addressed his contemporary audience or posterity with equal and enduring effectiveness,” Kaplan writes.
Consider a November morning in 1863, as an esteemed orator gave a speech at the dedication of a military cemetery in Pennsylvania. He finished two hours and 13,607 words later. The main attraction now complete, the audience waited for another speaker to make a few remarks. And few they were. In just 10 sentences, the president of the United States paid tribute to those lost in war and spoke of a young nation that must not “perish from the earth.” The words, simple and unadorned, turned Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address into a national touchstone.
How did Lincoln write so beautifully and effectively, not just once or twice but again and again? From famous speeches to personal letters to conversations, Lincoln created sentences that crackled with imagery, intelligence, and emotion.
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