Read Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan Online

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For Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language as a vehicle both to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment. Like the other great canonical writerFor Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language as a vehicle both to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment. Like the other great canonical writers of American literature—a status he is gradually attaining—Lincoln had a literary career that is inseparable from his life story. An admirer and avid reader of Burns, Byron, Shakespeare, and the Old Testament, Lincoln was the most literary of our presidents. His views on love, liberty, and human nature were shaped by his reading and knowledge of literature.Since Lincoln, no president has written his own words and addressed his audience with equal and enduring effectiveness. Kaplan focuses on the elements that shaped Lincoln's mental and imaginative world; how his writings molded his identity, relationships, and career; and how they simultaneously generated both the distinctive political figure he became and the public discourse of the nation. This unique account of Lincoln's life and career highlights the shortcomings of the modern presidency, reminding us, through Lincoln's legacy and appreciation for language, that the careful and honest use of words is a necessity for successful democracy.Illuminating and engrossing, Lincoln brilliantly chronicles Abraham Lincoln's genius with language....

Title : Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer
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ISBN : 9780060773342
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2019-05-07 05:42

    It seems I am rapidly becoming a fan of literary biography. With this and the Dostoyevsky volume, I've become almost addicted. I need more.This shows the development of Lincoln, his literary tastes, his oratory, and his writing style over the years, and showing the authors that influenced him. Wonderful stuff.

  • Dan Wilson
    2019-05-08 06:27

    I'm glad I picked this book up as I'm interested in learning more about Lincoln outside of his extremely well documented presidency. Learning more about his self-education and what writers deeply influenced him, particularly to the point where he would frequently quote them in both formal and informal speech, was incredibly useful. However, I found the book itself to be rather a slog. Mr. Kaplan's writing often seems designed to be inaccessible, taking linguistic perambulations so convoluted as to rival those of the historical personage which he is so assiduously attempting to educate his willing readership on. ... if you get my meaning. I was also rather disappointed at how little of Lincoln's writing actually appears in the book. There are no complete transcriptions, but only short excerpts. I had hoped to get a better sense of how Lincoln wrote, especially at different stages of his life. Sadly, I was disappointed on that front.In the end, it's a useful book if you're looking to learn more about Lincoln before the Civil War, but don't expect an engaging read or extensive samples of his writing.

  • Dan
    2019-05-11 04:44

    A hybrid book that never quite decides whether to be a biography laced with lit crit or a literary study in biographical context. Kaplan traces a few major influences -- the Bible, Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, and Emerson -- through Lincoln's life & writing; he finds some interesting echoes but rides his horses too hard. He is best at showing Lincoln's essayist approach to speechwriting and his faith in the power of words to move the nation.

  • Peter
    2019-04-25 09:42

    This was okay, but Douglas Wilson's "Lincoln's Sword" is a much better biography of Lincoln as a writer. Kaplan has some good insights, but much of the time he sounds like a college sophomore showing off in a mid-term exam: "Like Emerson, [Lincoln:] had the gift of aphoristic vividness in arranging linguistic tropes into effective combinations and shifting viewpoints." Ugh.

  • Ryan Holiday
    2019-04-29 06:30

    An exploration of the effects of being articulate, well-spoken and obsessed with learning is especially relevant after watching Obama use those three traits to take the presidency. It's the author's point that Lincoln's log cabin story has obscured how impressive a writer and speaker he really was. More importantly, we forget that with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt we've never really had a president before with equal deftness in reading, writing and speaking. Normally they are good at one and abysmal at the others. There's a part in the book where he takes one of Lincoln's speeches and lays it out into a poem. It's just one example but an incredible way to make the book's central point: that Lincoln's understanding of the English language and the power of persuasion were so impressive they we're not even aware that he was using them.

  • Angie
    2019-05-16 12:34

    I really like words, and I really like Abraham Lincoln, so I was pretty excited to read this book. It took me a couple of months to get through it though, partly because almost every time I sat down to read it I would start dozing within 15 minutes. I love that one of my favorite presidents is the most well read president, but the writing of this biography wasn't particularly exciting.

  • David Goldman
    2019-05-14 08:45

    A fascinating subject but a pretty mediocre book.  The most interesting part is the review of Lincoln's early influences of the great humanist writers that seem to stay with Lincoln throughout his career.  It's also interesting so much of Lincoln's very early success was basically because he could actually read and write.  Yet, there is very little insight into Lincoln's writing that one doesn't get just be reading it.  The author tends to repeat nearly judgements throughout the book without explaining anything. Further, there is very little of Lincoln's writing quoted. Often the author quotes little snippets of sentences making it very hard to get a sense of the writing.  Finally, the flow of the book is perplexing. There are large jumps in time without any transition or explanation.  Overall, the book provides some guidance to further reading, but not much.I did notice the comparisons of Lincoln and Obama are even more apt.  Both grew up poor, were literate in cultures not know for it, were accused of being non believers, had little success before becoming president and relied on famous speeches as their claim to fame, over relied on their ability to persuade, and gave too much credit to the south's willingness to be reasonable.  

  • Stephen Henninger
    2019-05-16 06:53

    While not the most exciting Lincoln biography I read, it was an interesting way to look at Lincoln and how his writings influenced him as a person, lawyer, and politician. At times, the writing was too slow and not of great interest. My biggest complaint, though, is that the chapter on the presidency years was far too short and felt rushed; most of Lincoln's writings of note are from his time as president but they were hardly analyzed.The good portions of this book are that you learn a lot about Lincoln that is not commonly discussed, notably his interactions with native american tribes prior to and during his presidency; some very sad stuff. It was also good that writings that are not normally discussed (some of his poetry especially) were brought into the text.Overall, a good Lincoln biography, not great.

  • Chris
    2019-04-25 08:41

    Some annoying errors marred it (Jackson did something as president in 1815--not!) early. Later, it got almost throw-across-the-room inaccurate, particularly on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. I realize the guy is an English prof, but he should have his basic facts down, like the differences between territories and states. Those errors will lead some astray, and they will just bother others (like me) to no end. The earlier part of this is better than the later part, and it's hard to believe how relatively little he said about Lincoln during his presidency. Maybe he figured that had been covered effectively elsewhere.

  • Jennifer
    2019-05-15 09:52

    Matter of fact account of Lincoln's relationship with words and writers and how the well intentioned idea and the well phrased rhetoric can coexist. Especially recommended for literati people who need an injection of nonfiction once in a while.

  • Janet
    2019-04-25 04:29

    This book was more political than personal, not my thing.

  • Aaron Million
    2019-05-08 10:46

    This book lives up to its' title: this is an Abraham Lincoln biography, but only where his writing is concerned. Major events in Lincoln's life are viewed through the prism of his written words and also of his literary predilections. In fact, much of the early chapters seem more devoted to what Lincoln read as a child and while he was growing up, than what he wrote. This is not surprising as it is true for most of us through the first two decades of life: what we read as a child can help to shape how we think and write about the world that we are a part of. Kaplan also repeatedly refers to Lincoln as an "autodidact", so much so that it starts to get slightly annoying. Kaplan pays a lot of attention to what Lincoln writes during the 1830s and 40s - a critical period in Lincoln's life. These two decades see Lincoln become a politician by being elected to the Illinois State Legislature, and then one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also launches his legal career, based on his own hard work and devotion at learning a craft from scratch. Kaplan notes Lincoln's political thought, and how he had an abhorrence of slavery well before he was elected President, something that he used to try to counter some later charges that he was a Johnny come lately to the anti-slavery cause. Kaplan does not dwell over any one particular speech or group of speeches. The famous 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas are reviewed, but only in a general way. Part of the reason for this is because there are no verbatim transcripts of the speeches. Part of the reason is that these speeches were meant more for scoring points with the public in the heated campaign to become Senator, rather than for posterity. Also, entire books have been written about those debates, so Kaplan sees no reason to trample through already beaten ground. What does seem to be missing is the absence of any of Lincoln's wartime correspondence: the numerous letters that he exchanged with high-profile figures such as Horace Greeley, and the letters that he wrote to everyday people, whether it be letters of condolence for the loss of a soldier or the gentle rejection of a patronage job. There is no mention at all of the actual military battles other than Lincoln speaking at Gettysburg. Again, these aspects of Lincoln and his life are covered in so many other books that Kaplan does not think they need to be rehashed here. However, some more analysis of the major literary works of his presidency would have been nice. Kaplan spends so much time on Lincoln's earlier writings, that once he gets to the well-known ones of his presidency, they seem to be treated with a little less enthusiasm and critique. Again, perhaps this is because they have been gone over so many times before. But more discussion of his two Inaugural Addresses would have been welcome.

  • Jane
    2019-05-02 06:36

    This is an exceptional book. Having said that, the writing was a bit verbose.

  • Sparrow
    2019-04-27 07:28

    This is a vexing book, a book that disappoints almost with every line. Yet like Lincoln himself, it loses all the battles and wins the war. Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer is the first book to propose Lincoln as an intellectual, and its argument is beautiful and convincing. Lincoln was not exactly a politician, despite his talents at manipulating friends and enemies. Basically, he spent the 1850s articulating a single argument, against the spread of slavery. Eventually his argument was so compelling he won the nomination of the newborn Republican Party. Because four candidates were running for president, Lincoln squeaked in to the White House, winning not a single Southern state. (In most of them, he wasn't on the ballot.) Meanwhile, he was writing -- sometimes actual poetry! Lincoln's poems are lousy, but determined. Says Kaplan:In the same letter to [Andrew] Johnston he fulfilled his promise to send a copy of a poem he admired, "Mortality," the name of whose author neither Johnston nor Lincoln knew because it had been published anonymously... When Johnston intimated that Lincoln might be its author, the latter made clear how much he aspired to write such excellent verses. "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is."(Lincoln was wrong. "Mortality" is doggerel, like a lot of the poetry he loved.) (Andrew Johnston was the editor the Quincy Whig, a newspaper in Quincy, Illinois.)Abraham Lincoln was a contemporary of Karl Marx, and theorized about labor, just as Marx did. In major areas, the two men agreed. But Lincoln was a born entrepreneur, and saw life entrepreneurially. At times, he was even a writing entrepreneur, creating a weird lecture on the history of inventions in April, 1858, with the goal of becoming a celebrated public speaker.The more I read Lincoln's words, the more complex he grows. Incidentally, here is the second stanza of the best Lincoln poem, "The Bear Hunt":When first my father settled here, 'Twas then the frontier line:The panthers scream, filled night with fear And bears preyed on the swine.

  • John
    2019-05-18 04:27

    Certainly the most intimate portrait of our 16th President, the man, that I have ever read. The book concentrates on Lincoln's formative years prior to assuming the Presidency and delves into his literary and intellectual development as a person and writer. The influences of the Bible, Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, Emerson, Aesop's Fables and others are played out and highlighted. Lincoln wrote all of his own speeches and position papers and his utilization of clear, simple and precise linguistic technique and language, has never been paralleled. Unquestionably the most astute and artistic writer to have ever graced the highest office of the land.William Seward who was to be the new Secretary of State - and this was the only occasion where Lincoln received any assistance on any writing or speech - proposed a paragraph to conclude the draft of the first Inaugural Address as follows: "The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battlefields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation"Lincoln embraced the words but instead sang with:"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living hearth and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."You choose!!

  • Steve
    2019-05-05 12:53

    Kaplan analyzes the growth of our greatest Presidential writer, from his childhood reading and writing up through the final speech Lincoln gave a few days before his assassination. You won't find here a lengthy analysis of the most famous speeches (after all, there are whole books on the Gettysburg Address and maybe even the Second Inaugural), but thoughtful ideas on almost every page. I can't help but be amazed at how this man with so little formal education became so literate and eloquent. His reading of literature surely strengthened his humanity and his wisdom, though of course other well-read politicians have been lesser figures. But as a writing teacher, it is encouraging to see literacy and political greatness integrated in one person, and to see rhetoric put to such good use. Not that Lincoln was perfect--like his contemporaries, he was very prejudiced against American Indians, for example, and seemed to have no sympathy to spare for them despite his work against slavery--but he grew, and his instincts were often right, and he was probably the best leader for the occasion. At any rate, if you are as interested in Lincoln as I am, add this to your list of Lincoln books.

  • Peter Pactor
    2019-05-03 09:55

    This was a particularly good book for someone who would like to be a writer and for someone who would like to know more about Lincoln. When Mr. Kaplan sticks to the development of Lincoln's writing, the content is very good; however, where he digresses into other areas and makes assumptions which I believe he hasn't the evidence for, he seems to err in some of his conclusions.I found myself asking: Where did you get this? or Why do you think so? Upon rereading I couldn't find the answer.Nevertheless, I believe Mr. Kaplan has chosen a very important topic for those who admire Lincoln for the man he was and for his writing. In my book, Daniel: The Age of Anxiety, which should be available by the end of February, there is a discussion of Lincoln's writings, and also in my third book which is currently being written, the discussion continues.I believe that if you want to become a good writer, Lincoln should be one of the writers you study. I recommend that you read Mr. Kaplan's book.

  • Stephen
    2019-05-21 10:27

    This is a wonderful volume. Kaplan is a good story teller, having studied so many fine story tellers. He spends a lot of time setting up his character of Lincoln, as to what he read as a child and his growing thirst, tracking down when and what material was or may have been available to Lincoln at a young age and from what source they sprang from. He speculates Lincoln as a free verse poet, before the recognition of it as a style. He looks at Lincoln as the speech writer, but also as a sharer on anecdotes and a romantic. The first few chapters and the last two are the most stellar, not slighting the midsection by any means. Kaplan provides and interesting Annotated Bibliography for any scholar or curious seeker as to where he was looking. Wonderful read, that stretched my vocabulary and my knowledge of literature available and popular to Americans in the 19th century.

  • Matthew
    2019-05-10 04:42

    Kaplan makes a compelling case for the proposition that President Lincoln's literary side is integral to his greatness. Although the book is subtitled "The Biography of a Writer," it is at least as much the biography of a reader. Among the more interesting processes one observes here is the fusion of Lincoln's fundamentalist upbringing with his innate agnosticism. We also perceive the development of a first-rate political mind unafraid to invoke the poison pen when necessary. And what's more, we are reminded happily of one of the finest things about our sixteenth president -- he is one of the very few holders of that office to have written nearly all of the words attributed to him by history, making worthwhile an exercise such as this book's.

  • Jennifer
    2019-04-25 08:32

    Lincoln is perhaps one of the most-written-about figures in American history, so it's a challenge to find a new angle to approach him from. It's a challenge Kaplan attempts but does not quite meet in a book about Lincoln specifically as a writer, examining his literary influences. Unfortunately, in the absence of definite evidence, much of Kaplan's book takes the form of "Considering X was published when Lincoln was 20, and was very popular, is it not possible it affected his thinking and writing?" It's an interesting take, but there's too much conjecture going on to be a solid work for me.

  • Brad
    2019-05-17 09:39

    Biographies are hit or miss. If its someone you really like you can sit there and soak up the gory details, but if its someone you are just discovering, who really cares what kind of woman his great aunt Trudy was? The cool thing about this biography is that it had a theme. It looked at how Lincoln was a product of what he read. I swear that is the only reason I made it through the whole thing. Otherwise it would have been just one fact after another, an exercise in memorization, and I would not have retained much. It was well written and well organized. I only got bored once or twice and it shifted gears before I stopped caring. It was a great summary of this man.

  • Constantin Minov
    2019-04-28 11:37

    A stoical character, an entirely self-taught man with a strong work ethic.Lincoln was obsessed with words, for him each sentence had to be well crafted and each public speech had to be well polished. He was also obsessed with learning because he understood that manual labor wouldn't get him any opportunity to change his poverty status. This book is about what Lincoln did as a word crafter and how his public speaking skills made him became one of best well-spoken president of the US. This book brings up also a lot of historical evidence about slavery and politic debates. Worth reading for those who are studying american history.

  • Bill Hall
    2019-05-08 12:33

    An excellent overview of Lincoln's development as a writer, focusing on the literary influences that shaped him. There have been several excellent works in recent years focusing on Lincoln's presidential writings; Kaplan's work is a worthwhile prologue to those works, and draws from not only his published speeches and writings, but his letters and legal papers to produce a well-rounded portrait of our most literary president. I would have given this five stars if not for several minor, but annoying, errors of historical fact.

  • Aaron
    2019-05-06 06:32

    I really enjoyed this "lens" for viewing Lincoln's life: his favorite things to read and his writings, but the last chapter, which covered his presidency, was way, WAY too rushed. It dealt with the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln's second inauguration address in about 25 pages, and did not really cover any of his other writings while president in any meaningful way. The book was still a good read, but it felt like a lot of set up with very little payoff at the end.

  • Chris Aylott
    2019-04-22 09:33

    Kaplan examines Lincoln's life through his reading and writing, showing which authors influenced Lincoln the most and how his own thinking evolved over time. As history, it's a little shaky -- Kaplan spends a lot of time asserting that Lincoln must have thought this or felt that, and I don't see anything backing him up. On the other hand, he does a good job highlighting how the early Republican party and Lincoln's rise to the presidency were driven by ideas and the thoughtful expression of those ideas.

  • Mike
    2019-05-09 11:47

    This is more like 3 1/2 stars.I liked it. Well written. At times, I thought the analysis of Lincoln's writings was a bit dry. And sometimes, I thought, the author made a bit of a stretch in connecting phrases from Lincoln's distant reading with phrases in Lincoln's memorable speeches and writing. He also has a bit of hero worship going on, where Lincoln (forgive my hyperbole) can do no wrong. Still, a good read--and it made me want to read everything Lincoln read.And I just realized that I finished this book on the anniversary of Lincoln being shot. So, there's that.

  • Þorbjörn Þórðarson
    2019-05-01 04:48

    A truly outstanding account on one of the best presidents and how literature and books of all kinds shaped his policy and thinking. Lincoln was constantly reading and was an outstanding writer himself. Many of his best speeches were highly influenced by the books he was reading at the time of writing as detailed in the book. Frd Kaplan did an extremely extensive and thorough research prior to writing the book.

  • Sharon
    2019-05-16 05:39

    Informative story of Lincoln's life as a reader and a writer. This man was truly a life-long learner. It brings about the question is being a life long learner a trait that we are born with or is it learned as teachers are expected to teach? Lincoln's parents were not literate people, yet Lincoln was Illinois' most successful lawyer, both a state and national senator, and a US President. His speeches captivated people.

  • Craig
    2019-04-25 09:30

    Apparently well researched, but I had the sense that the author had an agenda. Yes, Lincoln was self taught. Yes, he was smart. The opinions on his religion, relationships, and motivations seemed tenuous.I enjoyed the background of the politics of the elections Lincoln both one and lost. I admire and respect Lincoln for all he accomplished. It makes me wonder how things would have turned out if the Confederate states had been allowed to secede. from the Union.

  • Ross Cohen
    2019-04-27 09:45

    A good book that could have been a great book. Kaplan's analytic gifts are apparent, but restrained - I suspect because the average reader, rightly, has only so much patience for close literary analysis. I appreciated his attention to Lincoln's literary influences, poems, and early speeches. I'd recommend this book for anyone looking to find a serviceable bridge between history and literature.