Lincoln and the Jews: A History

Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $40 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-05953-6
Even Lincoln experts are likely to learn something from this fascinating and comprehensive study of the president’s relationship with American Jews, which is being published to coincide with a travelling exhibition of original documents. Sarna, a preeminent historian of American Jewry, and Shapell, the founder of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, make good use of what Shapell calls “the ‘other’ letters of U.S. presidents”—ones that don’t present significant historical facts, but that limn the quotidian aspects of Lincoln’s life, such as his recommendation of his Jewish chiropodist, Issachar Zacharie. The authors convincingly make the case that Lincoln’s positive attitude toward Jews was strongly influenced by Abraham Jonas—a fellow Illinois politician, the only man Lincoln ever directly called “one of my most valued friends,” and one of the first to suggest that he seek the Republican nomination for President in 1860. Jonas also warned his friend of a plot to assassinate him before his first inauguration. Images of the source material add depth and lend perspective; a page from a narrative describing Lincoln’s death is stained with blood, probably the president’s. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/12/2015
Release date: 03/17/2015
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