The Great Emancipator: 6 Books about Abraham Lincoln

Photo of Lincoln Memorial
Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore on Flickr under CC License.

Abraham Lincoln was unarguably one of the greatest leaders this country has even known and navigated the United States through one of its most difficult periods in history. Because of this his birthday, February 12th, is now a federal holiday and is a good time to be inspired to explore further this man and his deeds. Below is a list of six books that examine the political, military, personal, and fictional life of Abraham Lincoln and the way that he changed and influenced the development of America.

Team of Rivals book cover.Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

When Lincoln was elected president he made the bold choice of selecting for his cabinet three of his direct political rivals who had also run for the Republican presidential nomination. Though these men were reluctant to serve under Lincoln, thinking him a backwoods rube and resenting his victory over them in the election, by refusing to select any but the best for his team and working hard to win their trust and respect, Lincoln proved himself a genius leader and politician. In Team of Rivals, Goodwin profiles the life and work not only of Abraham Lincoln, but also of Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, William H. Seward, and Edward Bates, the most brilliant political minds of their day and the men who made up Lincoln’s cabinet.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book coverAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

In 1818 in a small one-room cabin, Abraham Lincoln sat at the bedside of his mother who was dying of something the settlers called “Milk Sickness,” which he would later learn was actually caused by vampires. Vowing to hunt down these killers and avenge the death of his mother, Lincoln set out to use his natural height and gift with an ax to slay the undead. His quest will profoundly influence the newly formed American nation and set him ultimately on a path to the White House. Grahame-Smith here turns to Lincoln’s secret diary, uncovered after 140 years to lay bare the unknown, vampire hunting side of the great man and the vampiric history of the United States.

Tried by War book coverTried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson

Abraham Lincoln was a self-taught military strategist just as he was a self-taught lawyer, which makes his conduct through the Civil War all that more remarkable. Though Lincoln largely determined the military strategy of the Union armies, this was a role that took upon himself, often overstepping the traditional bounds of the presidency and having to use all of the power of his position and his skills at diplomacy to make his generals fall in line with his orders. McPherson traces Lincoln’s development as a military leader, his struggles with his generals, and his delicate maneuvering of the public perception of a complex and psychologically affecting war.

Lincoln's Melancholy book coverLincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

In Lincoln’s Melancholy Shenk draws on years of research into Lincoln’s life and writings to craft a portrait of his struggle with depression over the course of his life and show how this mental illness shaped and drove Lincoln’s political career. Beginning in his twenties when he struggled with at least two major bouts of depression, Lincoln slowly developed strategies, including his sense of humor and moments of quiet reflection, that helped him cope. Shenk also makes the case that this struggle with depression ultimately guided Lincoln to set aside a quest for personal happiness, which he found himself unable to achieve, and focus his life towards working for the greater good and leading the nation as one of our greatest presidents.

Manhunt book coverManhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

For twelve days after he shot Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater, John Wilkes Booth evaded capture, leading his pursuers on a wild chase through Washington D.C., the swamplands of Maryland, and the forests of Virginia. While a confused and devastated country closely followed the story of the manhunt, Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, set up a makeshift command tent and directed the Union Army in the search from beside the president’s deathbed. In Manhunt, Swanson provides an hour-by-hour look at one of the largest manhunts in United States history through the eyes of both John Wilkes Booth and his pursuers.

A. Lincoln book coverA. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.

A sweeping biography based on research into newly discovered letters and writings as well as the recently completed Lincoln Legal Papers, A. Lincoln presents a comprehensive look at the life of one of America’s greatest leaders. White delves into both the actions of the man and his character as revealed by the trail of papers and notes detailing his thoughts that Lincoln left behind wherever he went. These thoughts and actions reveal Lincoln as a man of integrity, a hands-on leader, and a president with deep meditations on religion and morality. White’s detailed biography also declares Lincoln most fundamentally as a man with great intellectual curiosity, who was always both questioning and seeking knowledge and opinions.