Monday, September 24, 2007

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW: WILLIAM HERNDON'S LINCOLN

REVIEW OF WILLIAM H. HERNDON'S LINCOLN BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, February 24, 2005


With a certain group of American historians, largely those concerned with preserving images of America's founders and luminaries as saintly figures in white plaster togas, this book remains controversial.

In fact, it is perhaps the greatest biography of an American historical figure ever written. It is recommended highly to all lovers of good biography. It is indispensible to serious students of American history.

The official defenders of America's Civic Religion dislike this book because it captures some raw and awkward aspects of Lincoln, but Lincoln was rather raw and awkward and self-taught. It is the rise of such a man to such heights, plus his great natural eloquence, that make Lincoln remarkable.

Such historians love to cite this or that relatively insignificant error (in a 500-page book replete with details) to discredit Herndon, but Herndon's own detail and sense of honesty make him the best argument against such foolishness.

No one was better qualified than Herndon to record the life of Lincoln, having been his friend and business partner for many years. Herndon also conscientiously compiled a large archive of letters and memorials after Lincoln's death.

Herndon focuses on the personal Lincoln, and it is especially his observations about Lincoln's religious skepticism and family life that so disturb those who would have Lincoln embalmed like Lenin. Herndon gives us a vivid Lincoln, and if you like good biography, you will be impressed. The book was clearly a labor of love, and that fact still comes through more than a century after it was written.

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