You would be justified if you thought there are too many books about the Civil War & about Lincoln. I believe there are more books about Lincoln than there are about any figure in the western canon. So I looked askance at yet another one. Since I had read 2 other excellent volumes by Foner, including one I highly recommend about reconstruction, I took the dive.
Foner has produced something unique here. He has followed the line of the history of antebellum racism and thought about slavery, in general, and Lincoln's thoughts and actions about it in particular. There may not be anything 100% new in the book, but the way it is all put in one place, chronologically and with ample evidence, is what makes it a valuable addition to history.
Lincoln was both a man of his time and a professional politician. That has to be the starting point for any discussion of his views and actions about slavery in the United States. As Foner makes clear, Lincoln always had an abhorrence of slavery and unpaid servitude in general. Which does not mean he was not a racist by our 21st century standards. Lincoln was not the most anti-slavery man, or politician of his time ... had he been so, we would not know his name today, because he never could have become so prominent in politics nor become president.
Foner's accomplishment is to show how Lincoln's views changed over his career. From someone not terribly concern about slavery (in the 1840s, for instance) but still against it, to someone increasing concerned about it (in the 1850s) but mainly in the context of territorial expansion, to someone who gradually recognized it as the central cause of the war between the states. Along the way, Lincoln did drag along some of his cherished (and now repudiated) ideas, like the idea of colonization (which he held until late in his presidency in some fashion). And a habit of demeaning blacks in his manner of talking (like using the n-word and telling jokes). Highly recommended.
Jane Smiley has taken an innovative & thoroughly satisfying approach to this Dickens biography. Rather than a purely chronological exploration of the man & times, she has successfully intermixed biography, literary analysis, understanding the man from the novels, and the novels from the man's experience. By so doing, the reader gets a flavor of Dickens' business life, home life, formative years, and the cross influence on his literary output. As well as some comparisons of a personal & literary character with his novelist contemporaries. Jane Smiley is able to reach into her own experience as a novelist & as a celebrity (certainly not a celebrity of the stature of Dickens in his time, but able to extrapolate) to enrich our picture of the man & his times. The book is never boring, and the reader is also outstanding. I am hoping to sample a few more of these "small biographies" that come from the same series.
Once in a great while, I come across a book on Audible that deserves a very wide readership (if that is the right term for what we do). This is just one of those cases. Candice Millard has done a superb job in writing a very approachable book, in a breezy and informative fashion. The narrator is outstanding as well.
This is one of those books that combines biography, history, natural sciences, anthropology/ethnography with an adventure story. Millard does a great job in just a few passages characterizing TR -- part historian, part renaissance man, part hero, along with his less endearing attributes of being a blabbermouth, bits of excessive pride, mixed with not alittle hyperactivity disorder and alittle foolishness. She also provides good biographical information on TR's Brazilian co-leader of the expedition & TR's son Kermit, who came along on the trip a bit under duress, to take care of a father who was already visibly ailing.
In today's world, a world in which such exploration stories are rare, you can imagine TR going bungee jumping in his 50s, while on an exploration tour of the North Slope of Alaska in mid-winter. Or perhaps traveling out to the international space station (on someone else's dollar) and spending much time talking to us back on earth via a TV circuit.
Truth is better than fiction. This book deserves a wide readership.