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Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
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A Biography

A-A LincolnRonald C. White, Jr., a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of two previous books on Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric, The Eloquent President and Lincoln’s Greatest Speech.

The Topic: How did Abraham Lincoln rise from backwoods lawyer to the most revered president America has ever known? That’s the question Ronald C. White, Jr., considers. One reason Lincoln biographies continue to appear is his inscrutability during his lifetime. Admirers and detractors alike futilely attempted to decipher Lincoln’s intentions—in his reading (the Bible and Shakespeare, predominantly), in his rhetoric, and in his spirituality. White pays particular attention to Lincoln’s rhetoric, especially in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Our 16th president was that most elusive of birds—a self-critical politician who didn’t have all the answers before he asked the questions and a man of contradictions who "could live comfortably with the uncertainties facing ‘an almost chosen people.’"
Random House. 816 pages. $35. ISBN: 1400064996

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"White … writes popular history in the best sense. … Whether spiritual or secular, White’s historical hymns make for a fitting Lincoln memorial, one that is human and immortal in all the right respects." Erik Spanberg

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"In this comprehensive yet accessible biography, Ronald C. White Jr. shows how Lincoln’s moral and intellectual development equipped him with the tools he needed for greatness. … [White] is that rarity: a scholar who can tell a good story." Ariel Gonzalez

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he best one-volume ‘life’ in this generation. … White’s major new work does cover all the bases, adds newly discovered papers, explores the religious angle and may well be the best ‘since’ the best. But no one-volume life published so far beats David Herbert Donald’s perceptive and lucid work (still selling in trade paperback)." William Safire

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"White’s history of Lincoln’s early and formative years, while conventional, is thorough and lively but one-sided. … He has written not only a comprehensive biography of facts, but a rare account of Lincoln’s spiritual journey from common rail-splitter to American savior." Bob Hoover

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The signature feature of this full biography is White’s treatment of Lincoln as reader, writer and orator, a terrain where new insights are still available. … This thoroughly researched book belongs on the A-list of major biographies of the tall Illinoisan; it’s a worthy companion for all who admire Lincoln’s prose and his ability to see into, and explain, America’s greatest crisis." David W. Blight

Critical Summary

Having already written two books on Abraham Lincoln, Ronald C. White, Jr., understands better than most the challenges in bringing a fresh perspective to the most scrutinized president in American history. With 16,000 books, and counting, on Lincoln (as well as several dozen more in the period before the bicentennial celebration of his birth), the ground that remains to be covered is disappearing before scholars’ eyes. But White, who draws on his own thorough research of the recently available Lincoln Legal Papers and plenty of other new material, stakes his turf. His weighty, yet readable, tome compares favorably to the popular histories of Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals) and David McCullough (John Adams, Truman, The Great Bridge), making A. Lincoln a fine and useful addition to the growing canon of Lincolniana.

Cited by the Critics

Lincoln | David Herbert Donald (1995): Still, perhaps, the first choice for a grand, modern, and detailed biography of Lincoln.