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An Over-explained Biography on Lincoln (a review on the book A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr)

I decided to read A. Lincoln recently based off of a recommendation from the author of another book on Lincoln, The Secret Life of Abraham Lincoln, which I highly recommend. This book goes into great detail—one might argue a little too much detail—about Abraham Lincoln’s formative years, as well as early adulthood, plus his entire presidency, including the assassination. I feel like this was more for the history-buff kind of crowd, and less the average crowd. There was just lots of extra background I wasn’t looking for. I will say that even before this, Abraham Lincoln was one of my favorite presidents because he struggled with very dark, crippling depression and still managed to become president of the United States. He is truly one of the examples of a man who came from a humble background, and through years of hard work and much mental labor, became one of the greatest presidents in American history. Anyway, these are some of the parts I found interesting and some parts that I thought were way overexplained.


One of the parts in the book I found most interesting was how smart Lincoln was, especially given his educational path. It’s implied that Lincoln’s schooling was very intermittent from having to juggle school and helping his family with their work and that he became very self-taught. Despite his spotty educational upbringing, he actually passed the bar and became a lawyer. One of the parts I really like was when he sued his employer over a payment disagreement where he wasn’t paid what he was supposed to. He took them to court and won, which is impressive because in his day, a railroad company was something similar to a Fortune 500 company in today’s world, at least that is the best comparison I can think of.

Another thing I learned in the book was how politically active Lincoln was. Actually, it was his speaking abilities through law that got him noticed and pushed towards politics. Apparently, Lincoln was a huge Whig in the beginning and had a good acid tongue that he eventually had to tone down. There was a lot of mention of him doing really good stump speeches because he was able to cater to the audience whenever he gave a speech in a different state. For instance, his speech for Kentucky would be completely different from his speech in Illinois. He found a balance between a standardized and catered-to message.


Now one of the main themes of the book were family history, which I thought was way too in-depth for my liking. The book literally went back all the way to the first ancestor of Lincoln, explained their life, then went into the next and the next. For instance, we learn a lot about Lincoln’s father and his father’s father and even their childhood. Like I didn’t really need to know the father got murdered or how the first ancestor started a textile mill. However, I do think the parts about how the immediate family played a role in Lincoln’s life were interesting. I did not like the father at all and how he didn’t try to relate and connect with his son. The father even made Lincoln go work for other families, which made him feel like a slave. And I think that him feeling abandoned by his father and being emotionally unavailable to the death of his mother and sister, really contributed to Lincoln’s depression.

Speaking of relationships, the book I feel details Lincoln’s love life too in depth, of course with interesting and less-entertaining parts. The only thing I really found interesting was that he ended up having multiple relationships prior to Mary Todd Lincoln. I guess in retrospect, this book’s point was to talk about his whole life, so I see why the author squeezed all this miscellaneous info in.


If I was to read another Lincoln biography, I would really want to just learn about what he did during his presidency. To me, that’s really the most impactful time of his life and the rest is just details. I don’t really care for knowing more about his relationships, family background, etc. because he was pretty much a normal guy for his time period other than his stance on slavery. In conclusion, I think that he had not been assassinated, I feel like integration of races would’ve made far more progress back then and times today would be drastically different. What are your thoughts on the 16th president of the United States? Were any of these facts new to you?

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