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100 Essential Lincoln Books by Michael…

100 Essential Lincoln Books

by Michael Burkhimer

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Ok, perhaps not 'critical' Lincoln books are found here, I *greatly* appreciate this book introducing me to books that I was unaware of and have since read. For example, I wasn't sure if I should read 'Honor's Voice' or not, but this book convinced me to read it, and I loved it. I certainly will endeavor to read most of the books found here. Sure, there may be some great books not here, but all of the '100' are worthy reads. I would suggest that the authors update this book every 5 or 10 years to identify newer worthy books. ( )
  estamm | Jul 15, 2008 |
As a relativley new reader/collector of all things Lincoln, this is a work I continue to refer back to in my quest to develop my collection. Burkhimer seems to have done his homework with this one. The book is quite the accomplishment considering the sheer number of titles that exist on the subject. The annotated list covers a wide range of topics on the president, his family, and those around him. Unfortunately, so many more amazing titles have come out in recent years which work doesn't cover. But the list that Mr. Burkhimer has assembled is marvelous. I highly recommend it to any and all who are interested in the great works on and about Mr. Lincoln. For those like myself, it is a great entry point into the obsession that is Abraham Lincoln. ( )
  Schneider | Mar 26, 2008 |
An upcoming bibliography of works about Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have identified some 14,000 distinct books. This is no surprise, given the handful of prominent books about Lincoln released each year in January and February (to correspond with Lincoln's Birthday), which presumably represent an even larger number of new Lincoln books released with little fanfare each year.

Among all of these books, it can be difficult to choose which ones to read. So a book that offers a general introduction to a selection of the most important Lincoln books would be an important addition to the Lincoln catalog. Michael Burkhimer's 100 Essential Lincoln Books takes up this task; unfortunately, it is not really up to the challenge.

A simple overview of this book shows that Burkhimer is in over his head. There is a two-page Introduction, followed by a three-page chapter on each of the 100 selected books. Burkhimer offers no explanation of how he selected his books and no overall understanding of how one should go about such a process. Burkhimer offers no justification for the books he has selected, except that he occasionally asserts within a certain book's description that surely this book is an essential book because of its specific influence on one aspect of Lincoln studies.

Sadly, this is not the main problem with the book. While there can be arguments over Burkhimer's list of 100 books (I know I wondered why certain titles were included and certain ones omitted), almost all of them are certainly recognizable to someone well versed in Lincoln studies and worthy of attention. The larger problem is with Burkhimer's portrayal of each of the books themselves.

I have read many of the books described in this volume and know most of the others by reputation. Invariably, Burkhimer offers a surface reading of each of the books. Sometimes, his description misses the overall point of the book. For example, Burkhimer stresses how Garry Wills' Pulitzer-Prize winning Lincoln at Gettysburg offers a fresh perspective on the influence of the address in altering fundamental American beliefs. This is true, but how Wills does this is paramount: he carefully places the Gettysburg Address within its rhetorical, cultural, and intellectual context, showing what resources Lincoln is drawing upon in the speech and showing how Lincoln then offered things that were uniquely his own within this context. Burkhimer, even while describing some of this study, clearly does not appreciate it.

The descriptions in this book are plagued by such partial readings, which is a pity. A larger problem, however, is that Burkhimer demonstrates almost no appreciation of the significant change that the study of history has undergone in the United States in the past 150 years. This fundamental change (the so-called "professionalization of history" which has led to a more consistent application of citing sources, and distinguishing between primary and secondary sources) is apparent when considering the best Lincoln books during this entire timeframe. In particular, Burkhimer underestimates the books written during the most obvious change -- from the self-trained historian to the university-trained historian -- from about 1900-1945.

For example, he is fairly dismissive of noted minister turned Lincoln author William Barton, even though he includes two of Barton's several Lincoln books on the list, as focusing too much on minutiae; but Burkhimer fails to understand what context Barton was writing within, and that his emphasis on minutiae was in large part a change to discerning concrete facts about history, rather than relying on anecdote, and was the important transition step to the more professional history of J. G. Randall, David Herbert Donald, and others since. ( )
2 vote ALincolnNut | Mar 12, 2008 |
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To Beth who not only takes care of our own children but of many others as principal of a school named for the Great Emancipator
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INTRODUCTION Historian James G. Randall famously asked in 1934, "Has the Lincoln theme been exhausted?" The short answer is no. In 1943 Jay Monaghan counted 3,958 books and pamphlets about Lincoln in the hundred-year period of 1839 to 1939. Since then thousands more have appeared, and there is no sign of a slowdown. The 1990s witnessed a renaissance in Lincoln scholarship that has continued into the new century.
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