A. Lincoln was the History Book Club’s Main Selection for January 2009, and they published the following review by William C. Davis on the Book Club’s site. You can the History Book Club by signing up here.
“What is there to say about Lincoln that has not been said in the thousands of books about him that have appeared since his death in 1865? Historians seem to slice the Lincoln pie thinner and thinner in order to find subject matter. Years ago one conceived the idea—as yet unrealized—of writing a book just about what Lincoln did on Sundays. Confronted with the rather limited focus of such a conceit, he responded “My God, man, that was one-seventh of his life!”
Nevertheless, we still prefer Lincoln in his entirety, and it is hardly surprising that in this, his bicentennial year, we should have a bumper crop of new “lives.” Arguably the finest is Ronald C. White, Jr.’s new A. Lincoln, A Biography. The title is more than an understatement. Lincoln never signed or saw himself as “Abe” and rarely as “Abraham” except on formal documents. Left to his preferences, he was always “A. Lincoln.” In that simple signature lay his humility, yet it was also a cloak that covered the deep complexity of the man, as White discovers. This is not the diffident Lincoln of David Donald’s 1994 biography, nor the homespun caricature of Carl Sandburg. White’s Lincoln is a man of deep integrity, often unsure of his course, but generally comfortable with it. This Lincoln understands nuance and diversity in policy and opinion, and is able to chart his path with a sure hand through the maze he inherited when he took office.
Throughout this fine biography White also shows just how well Lincoln demonstrates the most recent and thoughtful evaluations of the qualities of presidential greatness—integrity, intellect, collegiality, humility and curiosity. Lincoln fit all of those better than any other incumbent before or after. White gives special scope to Lincoln’s insatiable desire to learn, to engage with ideas, even those he did not like. White, who has written two fine earlier works on Lincoln’s speeches and writings, knows how to pull Lincoln’s inner debates with himself out of them, and in this he has been helped further by this being the first major biography to benefit from hundreds of new Lincoln documents uncovered in the last generation.
The basic outline of the Lincoln story remains unchanged. It is in the subtext, the subtleties that made up the man and informed his decisions, that White reveals a newer and better understood Lincoln. As a result, there is every reason to expect that A. Lincoln will be the landmark biography of the bicentennial, and the benchmark Lincoln for the next generation to come.”