cover image And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

Jon Meacham. Random House, $40 (720p) ISBN 978-0-553-39396-5

Pulitzer winner Meacham (His Truth Is Marching On) more than justifies yet another Lincoln biography in this nuanced and captivating look at the president’s “struggle to do right as he defined it within the political universe he and his country inhabited.” Drawing sharp parallels to Lincoln’s battles against “an implacable minority [that] gave no quarter in a clash over power, race, identity, money, and faith” and today’s “moment of polarization, passionate disagreement, and differing understandings of reality,” Meacham highlights Lincoln’s struggles to live up to a “transcendental moral order” that called on humans “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.” For Meacham, Lincoln is above all “an example of how even the most imperfect of people, leading the most imperfect of peoples,” can bend the arc of the universe toward justice. Light is shed on Lincoln’s failures, including his 1849 effort to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C., which would have required municipal officers to arrest and return to their owners any enslaved people who escaped into the district, as well as his “theological quest” to understand the “concepts of God and Providence” as he grappled with the issue of slavery and the tragic death of his son, Willie, in the White House. Richly detailed and gracefully written, this is an essential reminder that “progress can be made by fallible and fallen presidents and peoples.” Illus. (Oct.)