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The Quotable Lincoln

  • Apr 27, 2011
Vidal's historical novel Lincoln is a good introduction to the highlights of the short and tempestuous stay of our greatest President, at our darkest hour.  In his afterword, Vidal makes the point that while he has rearranged some of the sequence, he has changed none of the words, and indeed his book touches the most quotable words of and about Lincoln, of which there are so many.  This gives his book almost the veritas of biography, with the drawback that it sometimes seems a bit episodic and lacks the smooth flow of a free-standing novel.  

But the quotable bits make it very well worth the reader's time.  Lincoln shines over his contemporaries, who even in 1864 continued to underestimate him as either an inept leader or a bumbling puppet in the hands of the more "politically savvy" handlers in his cabinet.  Sumner, Seward, Stanton, Blair, Cameron, and Chase all felt superior and even passed-over as wanna-be residents of the White House.  Vidal also does a good job capturing the nuances of the Lincolns' sometimes tortured marriage and the of Lincoln's great height.  The sometimes awkward positions that forced upon those around him gave Lincoln a small but significantly interesting advantage in conversation and confrontation, an advantage the adroit Abe was always ready to use for his benefit….

….and the country's.  Vidal's Lincoln is (accurately) maniacally devoted to preserving the Union, and in the process remaking the country.  As Vidal has Lincoln's former debating partner Douglas say to him:  "So now you have your chance to recreate the republic."  And so he did.  While Vidal writes "Lincoln was startled", I'm not so sure.  Lincoln seemed laser-guided to his goal, and we live in the America he created.  The United States became singular.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Lincolnis a masterwork of historical fiction, in which Gore Vidal combines a comprehensive knowledge of Civil War America with 20th-century literary technique, probing the minds and motives of the men surrounding Abraham Lincoln, including personal secretary John Hay and scheming cabinet members William Seward and Salmon P. Chase, as well as his wife, Mary Todd. It is a book monumental in scope that never loses sight of the intimate and personal in its depiction of the power struggles that accompanied Lincoln's efforts to preserve the Union at all costs--efforts in which the eradication of slavery was far from the president's main objective. As usual, there's plenty of room for Vidal's wickedly humorous deflation of American icons, including a comic interlude in a Washington bordello in which Lincoln's former law partner informs Hay that Lincoln had contracted syphilis as a young man and had, just before marrying Mary Todd, suffered what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. (Protestors should note that Vidal is only passing along what that former partner had written inhis own biographyof Lincoln.) Don't be intimidated by the size ofLincoln; if you like historical fiction, you should read this book at the first opportunity.--Ron Hogan--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 9780375708763
ISBN-13: 978-0375708763
Author: Gore Vidal
Publisher: Vintage

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