Michael Burlingame's bio of Lincoln drawing rave reviews





HNN Editor: The NYT Book Review notes that Burlingame's Lincoln biography will be placed online in the spring, allowing it to be continually updated to correct errors and incorporate new information.

... Landmark biographers of Lincoln are many: Carl Sandburg (1926, 1939), James G. Randall (1945-55), and David H. Donald (1995), to name just three. All have been challenged during this bicentennial season. [Michael] Burlingame, of Connecticut College, whom colleagues agree knows as much about Lincoln as anyone, finds Randall too eager in his five volumes to turn Lincoln the Whig into a Jeffersonian Democrat, and thinks Donald was plain wrong in casting Lincoln as passive. Rather, says Burlingame, Lincoln's deferential manner disguised the iron will that enabled him to win the Civil War.

Burlingame will himself be judged for his new, nearly 2,000-page, cradle-to-grave biography. So far the reviews are glowing: The historian, say his peers, has written the most comprehensive of all accounts of the complex, idiosyncratic president by sifting through untold reams of material, some out-of-the-way and rarely, if ever, considered. If Burlingame courts controversy, it is in giving credence to more eyewitness accounts of Lincoln than predecessors did. His response: During a career of tracking Lincoln, "you develop a sixth sense of what is probably reliable and what isn't — and cross-check it against contemporary documents."

Burlingame's new work incorporates some of the psychological insights into Lincoln that he began publishing in the 1990s. One is his speculation that Lincoln's aversion to slavery stemmed in part from an experience of his own: His father would often rent him out to neighbors as a laborer. Lincoln, commonly deemed "strange" even by close associates, would seem an ideal candidate for "psychobiography" — the sheer volume of details about his life that have become available certainly invites such speculation, as does the undisputed force of what was called "melancholia" on his personality and ambition. Those factors have helped to ensure that Lincoln's story has been told again and again, and has remained a bellwether of increasing acceptance, over the decades, of the value of the academic biography....


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