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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by…

Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (2012)

by Walter Stahr

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236475,734 (4.15)2
From one of our most acclaimed new biographers--the first full life of the leader of Lincoln's "Team of Rivals"--William Henry Seward, one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century.



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I was really looking forward to this biography as I had read a great deal about Lincoln and Seward was always a major player in the Lincoln Administration. Honestly, I was a let down by the book. It seemed to me that the author spent too much time trying to decide if Seward should be viewed favorably by history. I like that he tried to keep his analysis fair, but there were too many times where he left uncertainty in the story. For example, the author used the word "perhaps" throughout the book to describe what Seward might have thought or might have done at the time. I understand there is uncertainty in history, but to raise the issue time and time again in a narrative makes the reading disjointed. In addition, he referenced criticisms of Seward that have been passed down through history many times, and let the reader know that many of these criticisms came years later and were not popular criticisms at the time. While I am glad to have learned about this, it again made the story disjointed and seemed out of place in the narrative.

This review might be a bit disjointed as well so I suppose I am not one to criticize. One other issue I had with the book is how abrupt it could be at times. The death of Lincoln is dealt with very briefly and leaves the reader to think it was simply something that happened. Even the death of Seward at the end of the book seemingly came from out of nowhere in the narrative. I did learn a lot about Seward's role as Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson so for that alone the book was worth reading for me. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Full disclosure: I assisted with some research for this book and am acknowledged within.

William Seward's long been something of an interest of mine; I got interested in him during my years at Union College, which he also attended as an undergraduate. I have studied at some length Seward's relationship with Eliphalet Nott, the president of Union during Seward's time there; the two kept up a friendship throughout Nott's life, and their correspondence during Seward's career makes for fascinating reading. So I am always keen to read anything new about Seward, and was delighted to learn that Walter Stahr had decided to tackle a full-length biography.

Stahr has carried off the challenge very well. This is a soup-to-nuts treatment of Seward's life and works, and Stahr has expertly mined the primary sources (not just Seward's own papers, but many other collections as well) to collect both Seward's own views and perspectives but also those of the people around him and with whom he interacted (including his many rivals and enemies over the years). He captures very well Seward's political nature and his priorities throughout his career.

Much of the book focuses on the period between the 1860 presidential campaign and the end of the Civil War, when Seward managed to become, as the subtitle indicates, "Lincoln's indispensable man." The fact that these two men were able to forge such a close and immensely effective relationship does great credit to both of them, and Stahr ably portrays this key period in Seward's career. The treatment of Seward's attempts to expand the American empire in the years after the end of the Civil War are also very well handled.

Now, naturally I would have liked a bit more on the relationship between Seward and Nott, since it's a particular interest of mine, and I would have appreciated some more explicit acknowledgement of the many other Union College alumni with whom Seward worked throughout his life (from his son Frederick to the American consul in Paris during the Civil War, John Bigelow, to New York senators Ira Harris and Preston King and quite a few more). Those important connections deserve more recognition than they get, not just in this book but in a great many.

Overall, a truly engaging and interesting account of a great statesman's life. ( )
  JBD1 | May 5, 2013 |
no good
  daleriva | Jan 27, 2013 |
Excellent book. Had no idea that Seward had such an accomplished career. Quick, informative read. ( )
  choochtriplem | Jan 9, 2013 |
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(Introduction) Outside the Lafayette Square home of Secretary of State William Henry Seward, in the shadows of an early spring evening in Washington, two assassins watched and waited, their horses and weapons at hand.
William Henry Seward was born on May 16, 1801, in rural New York, about sixty miles northwest of New York City.
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