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.
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.
This book is a great listen. The author succeeds in bringing you into some version of the historical present of the early 1400s in France, & into a speculative but ultimately quite plausible view of Joan of Arc's own mind over the course of her very very short career. She is helped by an abundance of documentary evidence about "the maiden" warrior, much of it from her interrogation & trial, & a bit more from her reaffirmation 25-30 years after her execution. The book lacks the "drama" I recall from film & childrens' book treatments of Joan of Arc that were current in my childhood. But like many things of this kind, the real drama of her life & times is geometrically more interesting & compelling than the distorted portraits in the popular biography realm. I came away from the book feeling that I had "understood" Joan through her intense adolescent passions, manifested in religious ferocity & a peculiar sort of patriotism. But also seeing the complexity & contradiction always present in adolescent passions that helps explain some of the documentary evidence about what happened to her (especially once she was imprisoned & being interrogated). The odd thing about these short-biographies is that I always finish wanting to know more & a bit disappointed with the priority choices the authors must make to keep the volumes within prescribed length. In this volume, the author chose to shortchange the reader on the historico-political context, in my view, & to then include an extended analysis toward the end about how later writers interpreted & distorted the real story. But that section was interesting even though I would have preferred something else. I would advise the prospective reader that even if you are not particularly interested in learning about Joan of Arc, you will still enjoy the book & be happy in the end that you learned about her life & times.
My husband has the hard copy of this book -- 949 pages! I was a bit concerned about the length, but despite some unnecessary detail in part one, the book is fascinating. You really feel that you know where this man comes from as the narration unfolds.
I shared the common misconception of Truman's being a dull nebbish. Far from it, like Lincoln, he was a fascinating combination of dirt farmer and intellectual, with a ramrod sense of right and wrong -- a basically decent person. He was not charismatic, but honed his political skills in the machine politics of Missouri before winning his seat in the US senate. He also loved classical music and opera and had considered a career as concert pianist, he played so well. He lived in a fascinating era... succeeding FDR as the second world war wound down, and making some very big decisions such as dropping the atom bomb and our participation in the Korean war.
It's easy to regret these decisions in hindsight. McCullough is mostly non-judgemental, successfully recreating the concerns and zeitgeist of the era, and painting a portrait of a guy of very modest beginnings who rose to meet the challenges of his offices and era. The author does an excellent job, covering Potsdam, McCarthyism, General MacArthur's fall, and the isolationism and demagoguery of the Republican party among many other events.
I'm afraid Nelson Runger is not my favorite narrator. His style is slightly pompous and a bit labored. Ironically, this tone sounds like forties and fifties radio and TV voices, so maybe it's just right. To his credit, he does not mis-pronounce words like so many younger narrators. But the book is well worth a listen and is a great introduction to that era.