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Lincoln at Gettysburg (Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library) Paperback – 1 Jan 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; annotated edition edition (1 Jan 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743299639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743299633
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 414,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The Philadelphia Inquirer"

True to its historical antecedents and politically triumphant...A brilliantly creative reading of a critically important, indeed, culturally transforming, political document.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 May 2011
Format: Paperback
Ever since I heard Gore Vidal praise Lincoln's abilities as a writer, I wanted to read more of what that master politician had written. The perfect opportunity came along with this book, which is a rhetorical analysis of the Gettysburg address set in historical context. Wills offers not only Lincoln through his own words, but a vivid window into a past era.

From it, Lincoln emerges as a political genius, who invented an entirely new kind of public discourse with the G address. Instead of following the current fashion of long addresses, which to his credit Wills does not ridicule, Lincoln write a short piece that would be picked up and repeated verbatim and in the process initiate the healing of the nation. As part of the context, Wills explains the meaning and history of cemetaries, which is far more interesting than I imagined possible. But that is part of Wills' remarkable art: he unearths these things and shows us how they fit together. And hs writing style: sheer beauty and clarity.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim-Jim on 19 May 2009
Format: Paperback
Wills may be seen by some as a somewhat polarising author (re: Papal Sin & "sequel" Why I'm A Catholic) but here he is on (relatively) neutral ground an excels at describing the events leading up to and directly after Lincoln's most famous speech. Though it was relatively short, Wills shows how it would go on to define a nation. Superlative work, and very quickly read.
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Amazon.com: 136 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Lincoln the Radical 5 Nov 2001
By bibliomane01 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Literary prizes are handed out every year, but true worth is manifested by actual readers going out and buying their books year after year. Nearly a decade has passed since Garry Wills won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Lincoln at Gettysburg," but the magnitude of his achievement is measured by the continued interest which book lovers have lavished on this thoughtful and debate-stirring work of history. Wills situates the Gettysburg Address in the Greek Revivalism exemplified by Edward Everrett (the forgotten featured speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetary), as well as in the Transcendentalist movement of Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He goes on to demonstrate the inherant radicalism of Lincoln's 272 immortal words, imbued as they are with the dangerous notion that all men are created equal. Wills argues convincingly that the Gettysburg address hijacked the narrow readings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution put forward by the southern rebels; through his words, Lincoln succeeded in placing these founding documents on the side of the angels by insisting that liberty and equality rather than sterile legalisms about states rights were the true basis of the grand experiment of the founders. In so doing, America's greatest President changed the history of the nation forever, influencing politics and policy right down to the present day. Huzzahs to Mr Wills for disinterring the radical hidden within the Great Compromiser!! And thanks to the prize committees for getting it right for a change.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Paper I did for Grad class 13 Sep 2007
By Joshua McNeal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills sets about debunking the myths, legends, and rumors concerning Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Wills seeks to show that because of the Gettysburg Address " . . . the Civil War is what Lincoln wanted it to mean." (pg. 38) Wills helps the reader understand what events, speeches, and speakers had impacted Lincoln in the past, which ultimately influenced Lincoln's selection of words for the speech itself. Wills notes that the speech had influences from such diverse sources as Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson, as well as Greek figures such as Pericles. The book also describes the rural cemetery movement that was beginning to rise at the time of the speech, which was influential in the design of the Gettysburg Cemetery. The book also answers many of the critics of Lincoln, who argue the speech and the Emancipation Proclamation were weak, and illustrate Lincoln's propensity of clever evasions and key silences concerning key issues. Willis also notes how the style of the address was the forerunner of a new way of communicating, a way fit for the machine age.
One of the first topics Wills addresses is the myth that the man who spoke before Lincoln, Edward Everett, impositioned the audience with a two-hour long speech that bored the listeners. Wills notes long speeches were common, and expected for the day. He gives reference to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which illustrate that Lincoln himself was capable and comfortable speaking at length before groups of people. Willis also emphasizes that Everett was the invited speaker for the dedication, and Lincoln had been asked simply to give some remarks. Wills also demystifies the story that Lincoln wrote the address on a napkin, or while sitting on the stand during Everett's speech. Wills notes Lincoln composed he speeches thoughtfully, to simply jot one down quickly would be out of character. (pg. 28)
Wills notes the Greek revival that was occurring in America at this time, and the influence it had on Everett and Lincoln. Everett had been a leading proponent of the Greek Style, influencing many through his speeches, as well as the time he spent teaching at Harvard. Wills notes Everett had inspired many of the Transcendentalists, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson stated that the Gettysburg Address would not " . . . easily be surpassed by words on nay recorded occasion." (pg. 47) Wills notes that Everett could be given credit, as much as anyone else, in creating the conditions for Lincoln's address, and his classicism was as much a forerunner to Lincoln as his foil. (pg. 47)
Understanding exactly what Lincoln meant in the speech is one of Wills' primary goals. To help the reader understand, Wills dissects many of the passages from the address, and then gives the reader insight into Lincoln's personality. One of the key phrases of the speech concerns the fathers of the country. Wills notes that Lincoln never seems to have been interested in George Washington. To Lincoln, the founding fathers were those who were the authors of the Declaration of Independence, particularly Thomas Jefferson, whom Lincoln considered the most distinguished politician in America's history.
Wills shows how Lincoln used the Gettysburg Address to refresh the memories of Americans the ideals the founding fathers placed in the Declaration of Independence, and the self-evident truth that `all men are created equal.' Wills notes how Lincoln's earlier speeches illustrate his ideas on slavery, which was the complete opposite of equality. Lincoln also used the Declaration to stress that the nation was founded in unity, and should stay unified. Wills states, "For him, the fathers are always the begetters of the national idea. The founders of the nation founded it on that." (pg. 86) Wills also notes how Lincoln and Daniel Webster felt the Declaration of Independence was closer to being the founding document of the United States than was the Constitution. (pg. 130) The ideals stated in the Declaration were more pure than the Constitution, which was based on compromises. Wills adds excerpts from Lincoln's speeches, which illustrate how the Constitution was to make a more `perfect union,' but not define the union itself.
To most Americans, the consensus opinion of the Gettysburg Address is to place it among the greatest speeches ever given, if not the greatest. Wills shows how Lincoln derived much of the address from his accumulated experiences. Some historians, particularly Richard Hofstadter, see the address as another instance where Lincoln avoided the issues and sought to placate the nation with weak rhetoric. Hofstadter does not criticize the address in the book, however it is noted that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued earlier that year was completely neglected in the address. Hofstadter says the Emancipation Proclamation " . . . had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading. It contained no indictment of slavery, but simply based emancipation on `military necessity'. " (pg. 137)
Hofstadter further accuses Lincoln of being of two minds, which changed depending on the demographic of his audience. Hofstadter illustrates this by contrasting Lincoln's speeches he gave in Southern Illinois, versus speeches he gave in Northern Illinois. Hofstadter said Lincoln possibly believed whatever he uttered at the time he delivered it. He states, " Possibly his mind too was a house divided against itself." (pg. 92) Wills contends Hofstadter is pursuing false issues regarding Lincoln's speeches. Wills argues that it was not a matter of his position on the issues, but rather Lincoln chose when to "tickle the racism of his audience" (pg. 93)
One of the more interesting issues Wills concentrates on is the style of the address itself. Lincoln was noted to prefer succinctness and brevity to long overdrawn prose. Wills illustrates this in Lincoln's dispatches with General Grant. Grant was known for his dispatches that related the facts in the fewest words possible. Lincoln learned to be brief as well because of his telegraphs to Grant and other generals. Lincoln developed a reluctance to waste words and omitting coupling words. Lincoln also arranged the address so key words were repeated, so that each paragraph was bound to the preceding and following paragraphs. Wills states, "He was a Transcendentalist without the fuzziness. He spoke a modern language because he was dealing with a scientific age for which abstract words are appropriate." (pg. 174) Wills believes Lincoln was not addressing an agrarian future, but a mechanical future, in which economical speech that meshed like the gears of a machine was needed.
Willis tackles a subject that many Americans learned at an early age, but likely never thought about the deep meanings behind the short speech. Wills includes criticism of recent leaders and politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Robert Bork, and Ed Meese. Whatever his opinions regarding these men and their ideas, it seemed out of place with the rest of the book, and unfortunately dates what could be a timeless analysis of the Gettysburg Address. Despite the minor flaws, the book offers great insight and reflection upon an event in history that to many has lost its significance.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Indispensable, superbly written Lincoln scholarship. 13 April 2002
By C. W. Repak - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This Garry Wills masterpiece is a suitable work of scholarship for America's greatest speech. He breaks down the Gettysburg Address line by line, thought by thought, not in linear fashion but according to five separate themes. He marks a place for Lincoln's speech in the tradition of funeral oratory, lays bare the antecedents in Greek rhetoric, and illustrates how the pitch-perfect brevity of the address marked a fundamental shift in American public speaking. Most crucially, Wills makes a thoroughly cogent case for Lincoln as the second Jefferson, responsible for the modern acknowledgement that the Declaration of Independence, with its claim (a claim its author didn't even believe) that all men are created equal, is the true founding document of the United States, rather than the Constitution (which in legal fact is the founding document), which shamefully kept silent on the fate of the "peculiar institution" that led to civil war. Wills's book is staggeringly erudite; he dazzles even when he leaves the poor reader's understanding far behind. The information he includes on historical context is compelling and will be new to even committed Civil War buffs. The book should be required reading in any course on American history or rhetoric and public speaking. Five stars aren't enough.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Chuck Mayer 27 Feb 2010
By Charles W. Mayer III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Exceptional writing and detailed scholarship evaluate one of the most important speeches in the English language. More critically, it looks the the movements in the 19th century that lead to the construction of the speech and, more importantly, it's purpose. It doesn't try to put the reader in President Lincoln's head, but rather make the reader familiar with the "zeitgeist" driving America's thought process.

It's broken into 5 chapters and an Epilogue:
1) Greek funereal oratory
2) Rural cemetaries
3) Trancendentalism and the Declaration of Independence
4) Revolution in Style - why the 272 words of the Address carried so much power, and why such a short speech was radical
5) Revolution in Thought - why the ideas in the Address, many considered part and parcel of the American identity now, were a change in Civil War
E) A brief look at Lincoln's other masterpiece (the Second Inaugural)

It also considers the different versions of the Address with more detail in the Appendices. All versions are included, as is some additional relevant material (including Edward Everett's "keynote" at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetary).

Brilliant, compact book, with a tremendous amount to stimulate the reader's thinking and interest.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant Scholarship and Fascinating History 7 Jan 2000
By Andrew C. Glasgow - Published on Amazon.com
Wills carefully recreates the world of Lincoln's time in retelling the story of America's greatest speech. In the course of painting the intellectual, social, political, and military canvas that forms the background for the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, he convincingly put forth his thesis: that the Gettysburg speech powerfully shaped the course of American history -- in ways that were much more profound than any piece of legislation, Supreme Court ruling, or other overt political act. Lincoln's speech not only defined what the Civil War was about, but also defined what the results of the war should be -- and because of the Gettysburg Address -- would be. The "better angels of our nature" must prevail not merely in re-uniting the disparate states, but in fact in redefining the American union and calling the nation to "a new birth of freedom".
Well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, this is inspired exegesis of some of the most inspirational words in American history. It should be required reading for every citizen who casts a ballot.
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