The Abraham Lincoln Reading List: Recommendations and Suggestions

What are compelling biographies which attempt to peel away the saintly image and iconography surrounding Mr. Lincoln? To help us with such a tall order, I reached out to some scholars and historians, who in addition to offering book recommendations, shared their favorite Abraham Lincoln anecdotes.
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Abraham Lincoln, champion of national unity, trailblazer of the Civil War, and emancipator of slaves, is certainly no stranger to the silver screen.

According to "Abraham Lincoln on Screen: Fictional and Documentary Portrayals on Film and Television'' (2nd edition) By Mark S. Reinhart, there have been more than 300 fictional and documentary portrayals of Lincoln on film and television.

Now another has been added to the Lincoln canon, only this one is already being hailed as a strong Oscar contender.

Steven Spielberg's motion picture epic "Lincoln'' starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Mr. Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln , scheduled to hit the theaters nationwide November 16th will undoubtedly spark spirited discussions and lively debates about our country's 16th commander in chief. Was Lincoln the most revered U.S. president of all time? Was he really the Great Emancipator?

As even the most casual reader knows, these questions and many others are hotly debated in a voluminous number of books written about Mr. Lincoln; with new ones popping up like toasters.

According to Bowker's Books in Print database, in 2010, there were 2,140 books written about Lincoln, which doesn't include video and audio books. As of November 12, 2012, the number of books about Lincoln (which includes biographies, autobiographies, histories, titles on specific topics, etc) has jumped to 2,515. The only other U.S. president which comes close to having that many books written about them is George Washington at 1,347.

A Footnote: A spokesperson from Bowker's also informs me, since 2010, President Obama has leaped ahead of John F. Kennedy. In 2010, there were 502 books written about Mr. Obama; that number has soared to 929 as of November, 2012. JFK has 784 books written about him.

Interestingly, Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th president of the United States) continues to outpace his fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the 32nd U.S. president) in the number of books written about him. There are currently 658 books written about TR, followed by FDR at 547.

So if Spielberg's new creation inspires film goers to engage in more serious reading about the "Rail Splitter'', which books should they read? Since the film is based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln'', which covers the final four months of his life; that probably would be a great start.

But what about other equally compelling biographies which attempt to peel away the saintly image and iconography surrounding Mr. Lincoln?

To help us with such a tall order, I reached out to some scholars and historians, who in addition to offering book recommendations, shared their favorite Abraham Lincoln anecdotes.


1.) James M. McPherson, the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is the bestselling author of a number of books on the Civil War, including Battle Cry of Freedom , which won the Pulitzer Prize ; For Cause and Comrades, which won the prestigious Lincoln Prize ; and Crossroads of Freedom.

Favorite Abraham Lincoln Biography: "Lincoln'' By David Herbert Donald

Favorite Lincoln Anecdote: "Perhaps one of my favorite stories about Lincoln is the dramatic midnight ride of three miles from the Soldiers Home (his summer White House) north of Washington to the War Department on September 23, 1863, for an emergency meeting with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and others officials, where they decided to transfer the 11th and 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac to Chattanooga to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland after its loss of the battle of Chancellorsville. This decision led to the Union victory at Chattanooga two months later, that opened the route to Atlanta and ultimate victory in the war.''

2.) Louis P. Masur, Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University and author of "Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union'' (2012)

Favorite Lincoln Books:

• Richard Current, "The Lincoln Nobody Knows''

• David Herbert Donald, "Lincoln''

• Garry Wills, "Lincoln at Gettysburg''

• Merrill D. Peterson, "Lincoln in American Memory''

Favorite Lincoln Anecdote: "On April 4, 1865 Lincoln traveled to Richmond, the defeated capital of the Confederacy. He brought his son Tad, who turned 12 that day. They walked through throngs of people, up a hill, to the Confederate White House. He sat in Jefferson Davis' chair. The war was nearly over. All he said was, "I wonder if I could get a drink of water."

3.) Donald A. Ritchie, Historian of the U.S. Senate and author of a number of books, including: "Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps'', "Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents'' and "Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932'' (American Presidential Elections).

Favorite Lincoln Books: "Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era'' by David Herbert Donald and Richard Hofstadter's 'The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It'', which includes a chapter on Lincoln.

Favorite Lincoln Anecdote: "At the White House, Lincoln astutely left his door open to correspondents. He would talk to them at all hours of the day or night, although according to custom they could attribute nothing to him directly. One Canadian reporter expressed surprise over his easy entry into the president's office. 'Yes,' Lincoln replied, 'this ready means of access is, I may say, under our form of government, the only link or chord which connects the people with the governing power; and, however unprofitable much of it is, must be kept up.'"

4.) Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and author of "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis ''(University of North Carolina Press, 2006); and "America's God, from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln'' (Oxford University Press).

Favorite Lincoln Books: Allen Guelzo, "Redeemer President" ; Richard Carwardine, "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power ; and Stewart Winger, "Lincoln, Religion, and Romantic Cultural Politics."

Favorite Lincoln Anecdote: "I think this one is pretty well attested and (as I remember) came from Lincoln himself. So Lincoln tells his friends about two Quaker women who were discussing the great conflict, and one says "I believe that the South will win this war." The second: "Why dost thou believe that?" Answer: "Because Jefferson [Davis] is a praying man." Reply: "But so is Abraham a praying man.' Reply: "Yes, I know, but God will think he is joking."

5.) Glenn W. LaFantasie, a Richard Frockt Family Professor of Civil War History in the Department of History at Western Kentucky University and author of "Gettysburg Heroes: Perfect Soldiers, Hallowed Ground'' and "Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates.''

Favorite Lincoln Books: David Herbert Donald's "Lincoln'' and Benjamin Thomas's "Abraham Lincoln: A Biography''

Favorite Lincoln Anecdote: "It's very hard to choose a favorite anecdote, since there are so many good ones. But one fact most people aren't aware of is that he was a fairly good carpenter, and some of the furniture he and his father built today still survive in small numbers.

Abraham Lincoln Fast Facts

• Lincoln was the first president to die by assassination.

• Lincoln was the only president to receive a patent, for a device which would enable steamboats to maneuver over sand bars and navigate in extremely shallow waters. He received Patent No. 6469 on May 22, 1849.

• Lincoln was the first president to have worn a beard while in office, perhaps because Grace Bedell, an 11-year old from Westfield N.Y., wrote a letter to Lincoln, suggesting his chances of winning the presidency would be greatly improved if he let his "whiskers grow. '' The original letter from Bedell can be found in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library.

• At 6' 4'' Lincoln was the tallest U.S president.

• Lincoln's hat size was 7 1/8. His shoe size is listed as between 12 and 14.

• Lincoln weighed approximately 180 pounds.

• Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be born outside of the original thirteen colonies and the first president born in Kentucky.

• Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress, establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862.

• Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, with the first one being celebrated on November 26, 1863.

• Lincoln vetoed or pocket vetoed only seven bills during his presidency.

• Lincoln was never photographed with his wife Mary, or with his family.

• There are about 130 different original photographs taken of Abraham Lincoln.

• One of Lincoln's favorite books from the bible was Psalms; his favorite poem was "Mortality'' (1828) by William Knox.

• On November 9, 1863, Lincoln attended and sat in the presidential box at Ford's Theatre to see "The Marble Heart'' starring John Wilkes Booth.

• Abraham Lincoln died without a will. His estate, worth approximately $85,000, was divided into thirds: a third for his widow (Mary Todd), and a third for each of his sons.

• As a lawyer, Lincoln argued one case before the United States Supreme Court: In 1849, Lincoln argued in front of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and the associate justices of the Supreme Court in the case of Lewis v. Lewis.

• The carriage used by the Lincoln's on the night of the assassination is on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana; The Chicago History Museum acquired the bed (from the Petersen Boarding House across from Ford's Theatre) where Lincoln died.

• On May 30, 1859, Abraham Lincoln purchased the German language newspaper in Springfield, the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger for $400. He sold the newspaper on December 6, 1860.

• The last direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, the great-grandson of the 16th President, passed away on December 24, 1985. He was 81 and died in a nursing home in Saluda, about 45 miles from Richmond, Virginia.

• The Lincoln Penny was first issued in 1909 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's 100th birthday, making it the first coin to display a U.S. president.

• Abraham Lincoln's salary as president was $25,000 a year

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