cover image All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856-1960

All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856-1960

Sidney Blumenthal. Simon & Schuster, $35 (784p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7728-3

In this overstuffed, but vivid and intelligent, third entry in his planned five-volume exploration of Abraham Lincoln’s political life, Blumenthal (Wrestling with the Angel) surveys the pre–Civil War American political scene. Readers may be surprised that Lincoln barely enters the narrative until it’s about a quarter through; Blumenthal focuses on context, exploring the political contention around the expansion of slavery that resulted in Southern representative Preston Brooks violently attacking abolitionist senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. When Lincoln’s story picks up again, he has not held elected office in nearly 10 years; he reenters the political spotlight with bold antislavery speeches, such as his famous “A House Divided,” and the dramatic 1858 debates with incumbent Illinois senator Stephen Douglas. All this leads to national attention and eventually the Republican presidential nomination. Blumenthal conveys his impressive research in literary style, drawing on well-framed and -chosen excerpts from primary sources for a fast-paced and evocative result, but includes too many biographical sketches of minor historical players. Despite that, this is an entertaining, Wolf Hall–esque treatment that will please Blumenthal’s fans and win new ones to this series. [em](Sept.) [/em]