A few years ago, a group of historians wanted to memorialize the 16th president of the United States in an unusual way. They came up with the idea to create a tower of books written about him over the time since his departure from this earth in April 1865.
According to the National Public Radio website, the tower measured about 8 feet around and 34 feet tall (https://www.npr.org/2012/02/20/147062501/forget-lincoln-logs-a-tower-of-...). It could have been even larger, however, since it is estimated that some 15,000 books have dealt with the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.
Since it is logical that no human being has the capacity or desire to read everything that has been written about the most popular of the American presidents, here are a few recommendations.
In 1977, Harper & Row published “With Malice toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln,” by Stephen B. Oates. This is a birth-until-death story that is a good basic book to become familiar with the life of Abe Lincoln.
Something that most American’s are familiar with is the brief speech Lincoln gave to honor the dead during the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in November 1863. Garry Wills dissected what history has recorded as “The Gettysburg Address” in his “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America.”
During his four years as president, 1861 to 1865, Lincoln was known for his predilection to “hang out,” so to speak, in the War Department telegraph office, located a short walk from the White House, to stay abreast of the action on the far-flung battlefields as reflected in dispatches that Union army commanders sent by telegraph.
One of the young men who worked in that office, David Homer Bates, preserved his memories of those days in “Lincoln in the Telegraph Office: Recollections of the United States Military Telegraph Corps during the Civil War.”
For a readable rendition of how well Lincoln handled or got along with his presidential cabinet members, see Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”
An up-close and personal view of Lincoln can be found in “Herndon’s Life of Lincoln” by William Henry Herndon, his law partner in Springfield, Ill.; “Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks” edited by Michael Burlingame (Sacramento Daily Union war correspondent Brooks was a friend of Lincoln’s); and “Abraham Lincoln: The Observations of John G. Nicolay & John Hay” (who were Lincoln’s loyal White House secretaries who jokingly referred to him as “The Tycoon”).
A comprehensive understanding of President Lincoln’s life requires familiarity with his marriage to Mary Todd. See “Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography” by Jean H. Baker, and “Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters” by Justin G. Turner & Linda Levitt Turner. These books reveal details about the complexity of the partnership that existed between Abe and Mary Lincoln.
To learn about the plot to kill Lincoln, read “Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln” by Edward Steers Jr. Two books that delve deeply into the conspiracy are “Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service & the Assassination of Lincoln,” by William A. Tidwell with James O. Hall and David Winfred Gaddy, and “Decapitating the Union: Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin & the Plot to Assassinate Lincoln” by John C. Fazio.
If you get bitten by the bug to learn even more about “Old Abe,” you may want to tackle Carl Sandburg’s six-volume biography of Lincoln’s “Prairie Years” (two volumes) and “The War Years” (four volumes). Of Lincoln, Sandburg commented that he is a man “who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of a terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.”
Lincoln historians lean heavily on the nine-volume set titled “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,” edited by Roy P. Basler. This collection, copyrighted in 1953, includes Lincoln’s writings (letters, proclamations, legislative bills, etc.), as well as references to the documents that prompted or were related to Lincoln’s actions.
These selections form just a molehill compared to the mountain of books that have been written about the man who, over time, has evolved as America’s most beloved president (who paradoxically was America’s most reviled president during his lifetime — see the Coastal Point issue dated Jan. 25, 2019). A search in our local bookstores or online will provide many other choices, depending on what aspect of the Lincoln presidency attracts your attention.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War,” of which signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point