cover image Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

Ted Widmer. Simon and Schuster, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3943-4

Historian Widmer debuts with a kaleidoscopic account of president-elect Abraham Lincoln’s 13-day journey from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., for his 1861 inauguration. Positioning the trip as an “odyssey to save democracy,” Widmer meticulously details each stop along the way, describing large crowds teetering between festive and threatening, and highlights the increasing danger Lincoln faced from would-be assassins on the way to the capital. Interspersed are sketches of historical figures, including John D. Rockefeller, then 20, and Grace Bedell, the 12-year-old girl who advised Lincoln to grow his beard, and vivid recreations of emerging industrial powerhouses such as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Widmer accentuates Lincoln’s tenuous political situation by drawing parallels to Jefferson Davis’s concurrent journey from Mississippi to Alabama to accept the presidency of the Confederacy. Widmer’s exploration of this historical footnote delivers real depth, though allusions to the Iliad and the Odyssey, including multiple comparisons of the railroad to the Trojan horse, feel forced and overly grandiose. Nevertheless, history buffs will be entertained and enlightened by this unique view of Lincoln and the country on the cusp of war. (Apr.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the city in which Lincoln's trip originated.