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Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power [Hardcover]

Richard Carwardine
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

10 Jan 2006
An original and deeply insightful biography of Abraham Lincoln, already awarded the prestigious Lincoln Prize.

As a defender of national unity, a leader in war, and the emancipator of slaves, Abraham Lincoln lays ample claim to being the greatest of our presidents. But the story of his rise to greatness is as complex as it is compelling. In this superb biography, the highly regarded Oxford University historian Richard Carwardine examines Lincoln both in his dramatic political journey and in his nation-shaping White House years. Through his groundbreaking research, Carwardine probes the sources of Lincoln’s moral and political philosophy. We see how, while pursuing office, Lincoln drew strength from public opinion and the machinery of his party. We see him, as a wartime president, recognizing the limits as well as the possibilities of power, and the necessity of looking for support beyond his own administration. We see how he turned to the churches, to their humanitarian agencies, and to the volunteer Union Army for allies in his struggle to end slavery.

In illuminating the political talents that went hand in hand with large and serious moral purpose, Carwardine gives us a fresh, important portrait of the incomparable Abraham Lincoln.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; First Edition edition (10 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044561
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044566
  • Product Dimensions: 3.7 x 16.6 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,016,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Review

WINNER OF THE 2004 14th ANNUAL LINCOLN PRIZE

"This is the biography of a prudent, decisive, activist Lincoln the world
has been waiting for.  Richard Carwardine has drawn a true portrait of the
strengths of Lincoln's personal character, the development and tenacity of
Lincoln's ethical convictions, his subtle and deliberate political acumen,
his respect and embrace of moral principles for the conduct of personal
relations and public statecraft; and, finally, Carwardine demonstrates
Lincoln's mastery of men and of public opinion."
Lewis E. Lehrman, Co-Chairman of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American
History

 

 

"Rarely does a biography of a popular historical figure offer all the qualities that make for a good read: lively writing, a fresh perspective, significant insight, and a compelling narrative. Carwardine does all this and more ... There is simply no other Lincoln biography like it." Tom Schwartz, Illinois State Historian

"a brilliant addition to the Lincoln literature" Books and Culture

"Richard Carwardine’s study of the political leadership of Abraham Lincoln represents an extraordinary achievement" Mark A. Noll, Professor of History Wheaton College, IL

"The book offers an insightful, judicious and in some ways original study of Lincoln's public career." London Review of Books

" This is a work of careful reflection - concise, lucid, cogent and providing a fair, balanced, and at times fresh perspective." History Review

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"Rarely does a biography of a popular historical figure offer all the qualities that make for a good read: lively writing, a fresh perspective, significant insight, and a compelling narrative. Carwardine does all this and more ... There is simply no other Lincoln biography like it."

-- Tom Schwartz, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

" The publication of this beautifully written book, which makes use of the earliest evidence and the latest insights, marks a high point in a decade that has been particularly rich in Lincoln scholarship.  No one seriously interested in Lincoln can afford to ignore Carwardine's judicious work."

-- Daniel Walker Howe, Oxford University and The Huntington Library

"The Atlantic can serve as a wonderful clarifying prism. Oxford don Richard Carwardine looks across it and paints a remarkable picture of the greatest of the Americans who fused the secular and the sacred."

-- Gabor S. Boritt, Director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College

 

 

As a staunch defender of national unity, a successful war-leader, and the emancipator of the slaves, Abraham Lincoln lays compelling claim to being the greatest of America's presidents.

This fresh political biography examines Lincoln both as a rising politician and as president, and focuses on the sources of his authority and achievement. It reveals his political talents and serious moral purpose but shows, too, how in pursuing office he depended on public opinion and the machinery of party. As war leader, he saw the limits as well as the possibilities of power, and looked beyond the government to other engines of support, including the churches, the humanitarian agencies and the volunteer Union army.

Carwardine's study places Lincoln firmly within the changing context of his time, and shows his talent for reading and reaching many strands of opinion as he fashioned a national purpose. Emancipation became an end in itself, toward which God’s own plan appeared to be driving him.

Richard J. Carwardine is Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University. His publications include Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (Yale University Press, 1993).

 

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A British Scholar Studies Abraham Lincoln 14 April 2006
By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Abraham Lincoln's life and career continue to fascinate and inspire Americans. Richard Carwardine's recent study: "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power" joins a select number of outstanding works on Lincoln written by a non-American scholar. Richard Carwardine is the Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University. His book, fittingly, was awarded the Lincoln prize, the first work of a British writer to be so honored.

Professor Carwardine's study tells little of Lincoln's private life: his marriage, prior relationships with women, his personal interests, his depression, his sexual orientation, and other issues that have been explored in some recent works. He seems to presuppose a knowledge in his readers of the rudimentary facts of Lincoln's life. (A duel in which Lincoln participated as a young man is mentioned twice in passing but never developed.) Instead, Professor Carwardine explores Lincoln's public career, before and during his presidency, and tries to develop the traits of character and the circumstances that made Lincoln what he was.

Thus, Professor Carwardine devotes a great deal of attention to Lincoln's overwhelming ambition -- noted by virtually every writer on this subject -- and his desire to make something of his life through work and effort. Professor Carwardine also emphasizes Lincoln's shrewdness, knowledge of human nature, ability to present himself, and facility at working with and blending together disparate groups and ideas. These pragmatic, practical abilities would prove essential to the tasks Lincoln was called upon to perform as president.

Professor Carwardine emphasizes as well another, more thoughtful side of Lincoln.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book on Lincoln to Appear in Many Years 28 Jun 2003
By Hoodlum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This clearly written book is by a true expert in the politics and history of the antebellum and Civil War eras. Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University, presents a balanced, thoughtful, well-informed treatment of Lincoln as a political leader, expertly placing him in the full context of his times. Carwardine is especially wise on the subject of Lincoln's religious beliefs and their influence on his words and conduct as president. This book is an outstanding work of history and interpretation, based on the best primary and secondary sources.
61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Birth of Freedom 15 Jan 2006
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It all began with a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. There the man sat, with his oversized arms and legs, his face inscrutable, having both a firm grip on the ground and towering above the earth, reaching heaven. Emotions were overwhelming, and in my confusion I was reminded all at once of a scene from a Greek tragedy, of Oedipus having met his fate as prophesized by the Delphi Oracle, or of the Pythia who delivered that sentence. The proximity of the Washington Monument also evoked the distant civilization of Egypt, with its symbolic constructions that are a powerful testimony to the transience of human endeavors. There he was, the American Sphinx, seating near the obelisk, surrounded by lapidary inscriptions, who seemed to greet every visitor with a riddle echoing on the temple's walls: "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

Having had my curiosity aroused, I turned to biographies of Lincoln in order to understand the man behind the myth, so as to begin to answer the riddle of America's endurance. Richard J. Carwardine's book is by far the best biography I stumbled across. He analyzes Lincoln within his unique historical and political context, arguing that Lincoln was as much a product of his era as he was a producer of historical events.

The distinctive mark of this essay is to uncover and explain the sources of Lincoln's power. In mid-nineteenth-century America, the world's first mass participatory democracy, political success derived from the effective interplay of three elements: Lincoln's personal ambition, his sensitivity to public opinion and ability to shape it, and his skill in using the organizing machinery of the political party and other networks of communication. Carwardine argues that Lincoln was not squeamish about utilizing the power of his political office and the circumstances of war to press the limits of the constitution, as in the suspension of habeas corpus. However, he also asserts, although somewhat indirectly, that Lincoln's moral center guided his political actions and, at least by the war's end, religion played a significant role in Lincoln's conduct of the war.

Another original feature of this study is to focus on Lincoln's inner religion and his relationship with Protestant evangelicalism. This is a particularly touchy subject, since Lincoln left no diary or private journal and was rather secretive on this issue. As did his opinion on slavery, his religious beliefs evolved, particularly in the course of his presidency which took a tremendous toll on him. But as a friend testified, "the sense of right and wrong was extremely acute in his nature," and much of his political force came from his ability to shape the debates of the day in moral terms. Another constant was Lincoln's fatalism and his belief in the operations of providence. In the end, he came to see emancipation as mandated by God and necessary to abate the terrible punishment represented by the war.

Lincoln's religious credentials and role as liberator of an enslaved people cast him as a latter-day Moses. His death transformed him into a Christ-like martyr, slain on Good Friday, sanctifying America into what he prophesied in the Gettysburg address as "a new birth of freedom."
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Study of Lincoln 14 Mar 2006
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Abraham Lincoln's life and career continue to fascinate and inspire Americans. Richard Carwardine's recent study: "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power" joins a select number of outstanding works on Lincoln written by a non-American scholar. Richard Carwardine is the Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University. His book, fittingly, was awarded the Lincoln prize, the first work of a British writer to be so honored.

Professor Carwardine's study tells little of Lincoln's private life: his marriage, prior relationships with women, his personal interests, his depression, his sexual orientation, and other issues that have been explored in some recent works. He seems to presuppose a knowledge in his readers of the rudimentary facts of Lincoln's life. (A duel in which Lincoln participated as a young man is mentioned twice in passing but never developed.) Instead, Professor Carwadine explores Lincoln's public career, before and during his presidency, and tries to develop the traits of character and the circumstances that made Lincoln what he was.

Thus, Professor Carwardine devotes a great deal of attention to Lincoln's overwhelming ambition -- noted by virtually every writer on this subject -- and his desire to make something of his life through work and effort. Professor Carwardine also emphasizes Lincoln's shrewdness, knowledge of human nature, ability to present himself, and facility at working with and blending together disparate groups and ideas. These pragmatic, practical abilities would prove essential to the tasks Lincoln was called upon to perform as president.

Professor Carwardine emphasizes as well another, more thoughtful side of Lincoln. His book describes Lincoln's role as a leader who endeavored to shape and mold public opinion rather than to be led by it. Professor Carwarding describes the fundamental role that moral conviction played in Lincoln's political career -- in his lifelong belief in the evil of slavery and in his devotion to the cause of democracy and the union. The book describes well the development of Lincoln's religious convictions as he assumed the burdens of his presidency. From his origins as a skeptic and freethinker, Lincoln developed a sense of a just and providential God directing the course of human events for reasons of His own. Lincoln's theology dovetailed at some point with America's evangelical Protestantism, even though Lincoln never became a traditional believer or practicing Christian. Lincoln's religious sense and moral fervor, for Professor Carwardine, became essential to the leadership he provided during the Civil War, as evidenced by the Emacipation Proclamation and the Second Inaugural Address, among much else.

Professor Carwardine offers an insightful portrayal of American life during Civil War times, particularly in middle-America as he discusses Lincoln's rise to power in Illinois and the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas. He shows how Lincoln evolved during his years as president and how both his moral vision and his sense for the politically practicable were essential to holding the Union together and creating a sense of American nationalism.

As does much modern history and biography, Professor Carwardine is at pains to separate Lincoln, the hero and the cultural icon, from Lincoln the man, and from the facts of his life. But in spite of these efforts and of Professor Carwardine's own understated conclusions, this book presents the reader with a remarkable man and a remarkable life. Professor Carwardine concludes: "While he was certainly not reluctant to wield political authority, his practical policy grew from a strong sense of moral purpose, and his course as president was shaped not by impouslive, self-aggrandizing action or self-righteousness, but by deep thought, breadth of vision, careful concern for consequences, and a remarkable lack of pride." (p.321)

Robin Friedman
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Oxford Professor's "Neutral" View of Lincoln 17 July 2006
By Willis G. Regier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I concur with other reviewers who praise this book for its organization, clarity, and insight. It departs from the usual chronological order followed by most biographies to concentrate on the development of Lincoln's character, party connections, and administrative abilities. At different times Lincoln is described as "shrewd," "cunning," "inefficient," "firm," "diligent," "energetic," and hard-working.

I also concur with Christian Schlect's review that Professor Carwardine's conclusion seems to conflict with his text. Carwardine sums up: "Lincoln is best understood not as the extraordinary figure of the iconographers, but as a man of his times, politically wise but capable of misjudgments, too, and powerful largely because he was representative" (p. 319), as if only iconographers could consider Lincoln extraordinary. One need only look at President Buchanan before Lincoln and President Johnson after him to see that the times also called up some very mediocre figures.

Carwardine's conclusion comes as a surprise, but the surprise is softened by an afterword that explains his desire to convey a "neutral" view. His book is praised by many of the best Lincoln scholars alive, and they are right: with the exception of his page about exceptionality, his book is exceptionally good.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars back in the day when a President's moral authority shaped history... 15 Jan 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a warning, this book isn't a standard biography. Reading it as an introduction to Lincoln would be simply disappointing. Instead, Carwardine has written a tightly focused essay on the president in the context of moral authority and power. The story centers around the development of Lincoln's moral thought, his growth as a politician, and how Lincoln's ideas and actions played out against the grand conflagration of slavery.

This is why Lincoln's earlier political career makes up a relatively large portion of the book, as it was then that Lincoln clearly distinguished his political positions. At this time what distinguished Lincoln politically was his refusal to allow any compromise with slavery's expansion into new states: he refuted the idea that slavery could coexist with the idea of a nation based on individual liberty. Where others (such as Stephen Douglas) were trying to negotiate compromise, Lincoln staked out a position that slavery allowed no in-between with freedom; the country must "become wholly one thing or the other."

Carwardine is particularly excellent on 19th century politics, describing in detail how political parties operated at that time, how the political public was formed and how electioneering was so different from today. He is also very good at describing the political maneuvering that resulted in Lincoln's election to the presidency - showing it not as a surprise win by a dark horse but instead as a deliberately plotted, calculated event.

Where this book might frustrate some is the narrowness of its focus - for instance as it lacks much discussion about of the military events of the Civil War, the book seems strangely detached from it. There is a brilliant chapter on the moral authority of the Union Army itself, but beyond this and the more usual descriptions of Lincoln's arguments with his generals, the war seems an oddly distant event.
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