Lincoln: A Review
I think the best part of studying history is the details. Sometimes we look at historical figures and we see only their monument or portrait and we visualize their greatest or most notorious achievements. We forget that these were people with personal lives, goals, insecurities, and fears, people who lived and died like anyone else and had no idea how the future would view them. You think about people like Henry VIII but you don't always think about his paranoia, or Elizabeth I and her incredible indecisiveness, or the personal frivolity of Thomas Jefferson.
I have recently finished listening to the audio book of Lincoln by David Herbert Donald, which is a look at the man behind the monuments. Abraham Lincoln's name immediately conjures up an image of a grandfatherly man in his enormous splendor presiding over the National Mall in Washington, DC. You think about his life and it is highlighted by stories of civil war, slavery, and an assassination.
Donald takes us far beyond all of that back into Lincoln's childhood. He uses primary sources to not just speculate but to use the text of the day to describe Lincoln's thoughts and feelings in his own words. Through this, we follow a young Lincoln in humble beginnings, through early adulthood and his fledgling career, and into his deeply strained marriage and the death of his sons. We see how he perceived his place in politics, his evolving views on law and religion, and his underlying belief that a greater power was at work in the world doing things beyond our control.
The author looks at Lincoln objectively. Clearly, he admires this man who stood firmly in the face of horrific chaos and personal trials, but he also sees him as the flawed, insecure, uncertain person that he could be as well. It is easy to make judgments about people's decision after the fact, but it is a different thing to read about their struggle in their own words.
Some people will not like the stark truth of Lincoln's own words in this book, and some may not like his motives. But there is a great story told in his life full of ambition and failure, love and longing, earthly triumphs and unimaginable disasters.
We all know how the story ends, but it's the details that make this story worth hearing or reading.
The audio book is 30 hours long and the narrator has a pleasant voice. There are several weird gaps where in editing they have a different speaker taking over reading small parts. It is as if another reader went into dub over certain parts. At first, it caught me off guard, but it happened only rarely and for short periods, and the transitions were smooth enough. Otherwise, the audio book was very enjoyable to listen to and I definitely recommend it.