Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 1993There is perhaps no more compelling example of the power of words than Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. In merely 272 words, Lincoln gave the nation "a new birth of freedom" by tracing its history to the Declaration of Independence, as well as incorporating elements of the Greek revival and Transcendentalism. Lincoln's entire life and deep political experience went into the creation of his revolutionary masterpiece. By examining both the Address and Lincoln in their historical and cultural context, noted historian Garry Wills breathes news life into words we thought we knew and reveals much about a President so easily mythologized but often misunderstood.
Copyright ©1992 by Literary Research Incorporated; Copyright (P)1992 Dove Audio, Inc.
"A grand book Lincoln would have loved to read." (James David Barber, author of The Presidential Character)
"...stimulating, original, and altogether absorbing work." (David Herbert Donald, Harvard University)
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
Fundamentally, the thing I love about criticism is the ability to read a damn fine book about a damn speech and recognize the author of the book wrote a little more than a page for every word (292) in the Gettysburg Address. If you count appendixes and notes (why wouldn't you when the appendix and notes matter?).
I once teased my wife, during my early wooing stage, that I wanted to write an ode to every hair on her head (a load of odes). Garry Wills did. This book is both academic criticism (one chapter is infused with new historicism, one is textual criticism, one is formalist, one is mythological) and an ode to Lincoln, Language, and this damn fine speech. I could see Garry Wills publishing each chapter in some well-funded Civil War journal and eventually weaving each paper together. I'm not sure how it really happened. Wills might just have used the chapters and forms of literary criticism as an organizational framework. I am not going to do an exegesis on the book to find out. That would be far too meta.
Anyway, it was a quick and fascinating read and significantly deepened my understanding of Lincoln's motives for the speech while also acting as an Entmythologisierung* of the text. No. Lincoln did not write the text on the back of a napkin while on a train TO Gettysburg. Anyway, a must read for those who love history, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, or Transcendentalism.
* I'm using the German here as a joke, since there were several instances when Wills referenced Everett bringing back the seeds of Transcendentalism and higher criticism from their studies there. I'm also using it because it is 1.5x as fun as just saying demystification.
Say something about yourself!
The book is pretty good. But the reader pro-noun-ces ev-ery syl-lable as a sep-er-ate word. After a few hours it drives you crazy. I had to give up on listening to it.
Well composed analysis of how and why the Gettysburg Address was written as it was. Places the ideas, grammar and intent at the time of its creation. Definitely of interest for anyone wanting to explore the address in terms of the currents of the time. Less convincing is Wills' proposition that the address forever altered political oratory. If brevity an concision are the thrust here, 'vene, vidi, vici'. While the book is excellent, and the reading good, the recording is not. This is one of the fuzziest files I've ever downloaded from Audible.
Not really a story about characters
A historian, dispassionately presenting his thesis.
Ken Burns already covered it.
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