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If not ringing a bell for general-interest history fans, the name John Hay should resonate with Civil War buffs because he was Lincoln’s secretary. From this life-­altering relationship that the 22-year-old Hay formed with Lincoln, author Taliaferro departs for the subsequent course taken by his subject, which ended with Hay’s 1905 death in harness as secretary of state. At heart more a literary than political personality, Hay left a capacious and varied body of writing for Taliaferro to shape into a narrative arc: it consists of Hay’s Civil War diary; poems, short stories, and novels; editorials and political tracts; a monumental Lincoln biography; private letters; and diplomatic documents. Setting Hay into the frame of late-nineteenth-century America, Taliaferro sympathetically shows Hay making his way. Marrying money helped, and as Hay advanced in politics and publishing, he could detach himself from affairs and cultivate friendships he formed with the leading intellectuals of his time, such as Henry Adams and Henry James. Spiced by Hay’s extramarital pursuit of a socialite, Taliaferro’s textured portrait exemplifies the better productions of the biographical craft. --Gilbert Taylor
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