Review by Richard Sumrall
Since his tragic death at the hands of
an assassin in 1865, Abraham Lincoln has continued to fascinate the
public like no other American. There have probably been more books
written on Lincoln and every aspect of his life than on any other
person in our nation's history. So how does someone interested in
the former president choose from the myriad of available works? A
new bibliographic source is "100 Essential Lincoln Books" by Lincoln
scholar Michael Burkhimer.
In selecting these books Burkhimer
explains his rationale for inclusion: "This present volume is my
attempt to present 100 books I deem ‘essential' for a Lincoln
collection and explain why an individual book qualifies. … My main
hope is that someone reading this book will come across a book he or
she hasn't read and be interested enough to seek it out."
Burkhimer's book contains 10 genres
that categorize his choices. These genres offer a revealing look at
Lincoln during his time as president and commander in chief during
the Civil War as well as his boyhood and adult life. Here's a small
Family and genealogy
In "The Lineage of Lincoln," William E.
Barton examines Lincoln's ancestry from three perspectives:
Lincoln's paternal ancestors, his maternal ancestors and
documentation related to Lincoln's progenitors. The most
controversial portion of the book is Barton's assertion that
Lincoln's mother Nancy Hanks was born an illegitimate child.
No research on Lincoln's family can be
conducted without examining the life and role of his wife, Mary Todd
Lincoln. Ruth Painter Randall's "Mary Lincoln: Biography of a
Marriage" is described by Burkhimer as "the handbook for apologists
of (Mrs.) Lincoln." Despite concerns about the book's objectivity,
Burkhimer considers it important to the study of the Lincoln
marriage: "If one wants to hear a counterargument to the literature
critical of Mrs. Lincoln, this book will serve that purpose."
Don E. Fehrenbacher's "Prelude to
Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850s" is important on two accounts. The
book is regarded as one of the most authoritative works on Lincoln's
political activities in the decade prior to the Civil War; it also
reflects the period in Lincoln's life during which he was a
circuit-riding lawyer for the district that included Logan County
and the future town of Lincoln.
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Seeking to reinterpret Lincoln's life
from age 21 through 33 is Douglas L. Wilson's "Honor's Voice: The
Transformation of Abraham Lincoln." One item of local interest is
the account of Lincoln's wrestling match with Jack Armstrong in New
Salem. While Wilson concedes that the match was not a pivotal moment
in Lincoln's life, it was important for the relationships it helped
him establish during the New Salem years.
Psychology and religion
The subject of Lincoln's religion has
perplexed readers and scholars for decades. In "The Almost Chosen
People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln," William J. Wolf
concludes that Lincoln was a Christian. Wolf uses the many different
speeches, letters and public utterances to make his case. Part of
the problem, he explains, is that "Lincoln's Christianity was
unorthodox, so others thought of him as an infidel."
While Wolf's book addresses Lincoln's
religious views, Charles B. Strozier's "Lincoln's Quest for Union:
Public and Private Meetings" seeks to better understand Lincoln's
psyche. An important theme in this book is that the many conflicts
throughout Lincoln's personal life influenced his public career. In
fact, Strozier concludes, Lincoln's personal quest for union with
deceased or estranged family members gave meaning to the nation's
unraveling as it headed toward civil war.
Burkhimer's "100 Essential Lincoln Books" is an outstanding source
for anyone beginning or continuing their understanding of our
nation's 16th president. The Lincoln Public Library District
currently owns almost half of the books in this bibliography, and
most of the other titles are available on interlibrary loan through
the Rolling Prairie Library System. This book is recommended to
anyone interested in the life and career of Abraham Lincoln.
[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln
Public Library District]