Please suggest a good Lincoln biography
February 12, 2007 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Can you suggest a good biography on Abraham Lincoln and /or a history of the Civil War?

I know there are many books on both subjects but when I start looking, I feel overwhelmed. I'm looking for ones with the following criteria:

1) Meticulously researched.
2) No particular political point of view.
3) Written by a really good story teller.

My favorite history writers are Robert Caro, David McCullough and Nathaniel Philbrick, if that helps describe the type of book I'm looking for.
posted by BluGnu to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'd really enjoyed With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates.
posted by sk381 at 8:13 PM on February 12, 2007

I thought that the three-book Civil War history by Bruce Catton was excellent -- comprehensive, well written, and very interesting. It was this series, but I got a trade paperback which had all three of them in a single volume. (I no longer have it so I can't give you the specific ISDN for it; sorry.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:17 PM on February 12, 2007

There are a number of great texts on the Civil War, but my favorite for depth, style and insight is "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James McPherson. Bruce Catton's stuff was absolutely the most engaging, and perhaps some of the most engaging history of all time. Of that trilogy, "A Stillness at Appomattox" will really give you a feeling for what it must have been like during the war. Catton is such a great writer, but to learn why and what it meant as much as how the battles unfolded, I still recommend McPherson.
posted by caddis at 8:29 PM on February 12, 2007

Written by a really good story teller
That would be Catton, hands down. (sorry, Shelby Foote)</small)
posted by caddis at 8:33 PM on February 12, 2007

"Team of Rivals", Doris Kearns Goodwin
posted by lois1950 at 9:16 PM on February 12, 2007

I have been meaning to read "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin since it came out. She was interviewed about it on NPR, and it sounds really good.

Then again, I have yet to read it.
posted by brina at 9:16 PM on February 12, 2007

Seconding Battle Cry of Freedom and A Stillness at Appomattox. Shelby Foote's trilogy The Civil War: A Narrative is also well-regarded, though I can't personally vouch for it, as I can the other two. Foote also tilts South a bit, where McPherson tilts North. Combine the two for balance.
posted by ewiar at 9:27 PM on February 12, 2007

this is not precisely what you asked for but I enjoyed reading William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War by Eric H. Walther.

William Lowndes Yancey (August 10, 1814 – July 27, 1863) was an American leader of the Southern secession movement as a journalist, politician and orator. He was seen by many as one of the most effective agitators for secession and rhetorical defenders of slavery, making him a fascinating subject if this interests you.

walther's work is thorough, scholarly and well researched, making it one of the three best non-fiction books I have read last year.
posted by krautland at 10:07 PM on February 12, 2007

Recent relevant thread.
posted by mediareport at 11:03 PM on February 12, 2007

1) Meticulously researched

Lincoln. David Herbert Donald's Lincoln.

Civil War-- A Great Civil War by Russell F. Weigley.

2) No particular political point of view.

This is more about avoidance than positive selection. Stay away from Edgar Lee Masters. I would also avoid Shelby Foote, but he's nowhere near as bad. Is it possible to be non-political about the single most defining conflict of American history?

3) Written by a really good story teller.


Carl Sandburg's Lincoln. There are three paragraphs in the book that make the whole thing worth it. Sandburg packs an emotional, economic and political vision of 1861 America in a three-page run-on sentence describing the country and its predicament. Without a thought he adds, "Thus could run a jagged sketch of the divided house over which Lincoln would be chief magistrate." Damn.

Civil War--
Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War. (The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, Never Call Retreat.) Its like the NFL films of Civil War books--you can almost hear a soundtrack when you read it. The book and chapter titles themselves make it hard to put down at night. Pulitzer, Presidential Medal of Freedom, what else can you say...

But I'd advise you to read the best writer about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln himself. There's a fantastic collection called Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings by Roy Basler that is amazing. There's just so much to get out of his writings and speeches. Of course if you are a junkie like me, you buy the whole enchilada, The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln. Hard to find that one is--I got mine in Charleston, S.C. of all places.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:07 PM on February 12, 2007

Sarah Vowell who played the voice of Violet in the Incredibles is some kind of Lincoln nut. From what i remember from the Incredibles DVD, shes writing a book about him. and she has all his action figures, as well as a piece of his hair.

She was highly entertaining in her video bio. if she writes a book, it should be top of the list.
posted by joelf at 11:17 PM on February 12, 2007

Sarah Vowell - Assassination Vacation
(see above)
posted by joelf at 11:21 PM on February 12, 2007

If you have any experience with mental illness, try Joshua Wolf Shenk's Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:51 AM on February 13, 2007

This is the best site that I have found. It's based on Harper's Weekly.
posted by tellurian at 6:49 AM on February 13, 2007

Thank you all so much. Abebooks, here I come.
posted by BluGnu at 7:43 AM on February 13, 2007

Team of Rivals seconded. Great book.
posted by xammerboy at 8:56 AM on February 13, 2007

Great thread - I've been wanting to read up on Abraham Lincoln for some time now.

I'd also recommend reading James McPherson's ORDEAL BY FIRE which covers the Civil War and Reconstruction.
posted by cinemafiend at 10:13 AM on February 13, 2007

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