Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book review: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

Book review: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2008
406 pages

This is a book I could put down. I did.

I give it good marks for subject, elegant delivery of good information, prose style and the author’s literate assessment of primary sources.

Lincoln is the most written-about president, with good reason.

Kaplan offers a well-informed, systematic investigation of Lincoln’s reading habits and writing skills.

I know a published author who widely and deeply savored the exploration of Lincoln’s love affair with language and meaning. Likewise, I’m a writer and I was intrigued by much of what Kaplan offered in the first 100 pages or so.
I’m a historian. I am intuitively drawn to the longue durée concept of history and historical analysis, and its emphasis on the complex dynamics of deeply rooted, persistent structure underlying social, economic and political transformations.

I explicitly reject the “great man” theory of history and historical analysis. I am actually disinclined to give credence to a biographer’s undocumented assertions that his subject “might have given credence to” anything in particular, or that his subject “must have believed” something or other, or that his subject “embraced as his own the melancholy of [Gray’s] ‘Elegy,’ [but] did not share, as a young man, its dark stoicism.” 

Kaplan’s text is filled with statements like these. They aren’t to my taste. After 100 pages or so, I put the book down.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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