Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson has done me and all history lovers a great favor. He has written a biography on Abraham Lincoln that is short, readable, engaging, and most of all, helpful. Let me address each of those attributes individually.
This book is short. It is short by design, as noted in the preface, when many long and even multi-volume works were being published, McPherson correctly decided that a short account on Lincoln’s life was in order. I read this book in one sitting while in a doctor’s waiting room. It took me less than an hour and a half. The length was a welcomed surprise because, as I will elaborate on below, the content was still engaging and helpful. I read many long books in my primary field (theology and religion) so that I do not have the time or the ability to “dig into” the various military strategies at every battlefield, the specifics of each Lincoln-Douglas debate, and so on. So, I was able to get the meat without the “dessert.” And I was only looking for meat.
That the book is very readable and understandable should come as no surprise. McPherson is an accomplished author and expert on Lincoln. This book provides a great read for not only Lincoln lovers, but also for students who need a great introduction to the legacy of our 16th President. McPherson can also be seen on the History Channel’s “The Presidents” and I found him to be clear and helpful in his comments there as well.
The book is engaging, partly because it moves from scene to scene quickly and leaves you wanting a little bit more at every page. If nothing else, McPherson’s book will entice readers to pick up a more exhaustive account of Abraham Lincoln to “fill in the gaps.” For example, the assassination of Lincoln and the mention of Booth all comes in a single, fairly small paragraph.
Finally, the book is helpful because it provides the necessary information to have a solid grasp on the life legacy of Lincoln. McPherson even takes time here and there to insert some wonderful points to ponder. For example, his brief exposition on Lincoln’s contempt with his wages going to his father before he reached the age of 21 describes how some believe that Lincoln fostered a hatred of slavery from an early age because of his own “mistreatment” in this way. I was also very informed and interested in the political decisions behind the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
I recommend Abraham Lincoln by James McPherson without reservation. Pick up and copy and read it in under two hours. You will be glad you did.