cover image Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

David S. Reynolds. Penguin Press, $45 (1,088p) ISBN 978-1-59420-604-7

Historian Reynolds (Mightier Than the Sword) unpacks the diverse cultural influences that shaped the intellect, morals, and politics of Abraham Lincoln in this magisterial and authoritative biography. Reynolds's wide-angled view includes frontier social events, such as logrolls and cabin raisings, that marked Lincoln's early years; cultural moments including French acrobat Charles Blondin's tightrope walks over Niagara Falls in 1859, which Lincoln saw as a potent metaphor for his handling of the slavery issue; and humorist David Ross Locke's "wholesale assault on racial prejudice" through the persona of "the quintessential Copperhead," Petroleum V. Nasby. Reynolds also profiles drillmaster Elmer Ellsworth and pamphleteer Anna Ella Carroll, both of whom played outsized, if little remembered, roles in shaping Lincoln's approach to the Civil War. Close readings of Lincoln's own writings bring insights into his character and thinking, and Reynolds's analysis of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address offer a deeper understanding of those near-sacred political texts, noting, for instance, allusions to the Bible and Euclidean geometry in the Gettysburg speech. With a knack for drawing unexpected but persuasive conclusions, and impressive command of his source material, Reynolds provides a portrait rich in texture and context, not only of Lincoln but of the America he inhabited and helped redefine. The result is a must-read addition to the canon of Lincoln biographies. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Sept.)