cover image Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President, 1861-1865

George S. McGovern. Times Books, $22 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-8345-3

There's probably not much left to learn about Lincoln's life, but the flood of bicentennial studies attest that he apparently still has things to teach us. In this modest, fluent bio, part of the American Presidents Series, former Democratic senator and presidential nominee McGovern (Social Security and the Golden Age) finds an inspiring lesson in what a man can do with his life. McGovern's Lincoln is a smart, ambitious striver who overcame humble origins, repeated setbacks and spells of depression. He is an idealist who, though burdened with the racial prejudices of his day, embraced the principle of equal opportunity. Most resonantly for the author, he is a brilliant politician who, combining pragmatism with high purpose, steered a crooked course through ugly political realities to end the intractable curse of slavery. Some of McGovern's judgments, like his overstated depiction of Lincoln as an exponent of ""total war,"" miss the mark, and his subject remains something of a paragon. (His chief complaint is about Lincoln's wartime suspensions of habeas corpus and press freedoms.) Still, when McGovern's lucid homage concludes. ""We wish our leaders could be more like Lincoln; we wish we all could be,"" readers are likely to agree. Photos.