Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

Penguin Pr. Sept. 2020. 1,088p. ISBN 9781594206047. $45. BIOG
In his latest work, Reynolds (Walt Whitman’s America) examines another giant of the 19th century: Abraham Lincoln (1809–65). While several biographies have been published about the 16th president, a full-scale cultural biography has not yet been written, an omission Reynolds addresses in this work. In doing so, he delves deep into the environment and culture of Lincoln’s time, including how he was shaped by his era, one of great flux in the United States, and not solely due to the north-south divide. Other contributing factors included a weak central government, strong assertions of individualism, extreme viewpoints, and mob violence. Against this backdrop, Lincoln was able to manifest humility, compassion, and responsiveness. In addition, Reynolds underscores his subject’s ability to navigate and even influence the culture of his times. For example, he knew the people of his era well and could relate to the common man as well as the intellectual. Lincoln also understood how to strike a balance during a time of division and he knew how to move cautiously. Overall, Reynolds succeeds in bringing Lincoln and his times to life and in revealing why, even today, he remains an endearing figure.
VERDICT Ambitious, comprehensive, and highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
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