Customer Reviews for

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

Average Rating 3.5
( 16 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2011

    Lots of promise, less delivery

    Make no mistake - the Fiery Trial is an engaging, well written work that makes a familiar subject exciting to read about. But upon finishing it I couldn't escape a feeling of let-down from everything that was promised.

    The author uses his prologue and opening chapter to make a bold and energizing pledge: he plans to give a frank examination of Abraham Lincoln's racial views and lifelong struggle around the issue of slavery. Shedding a century of egalitarian hagiography and explicitly avoiding excessive commentary on what others have interpreted into Lincoln's familiar words and actions, he instead proposes a "warts and all" dive into what quickly becomes a very complex subject matter. He takes up Lincoln in all his faults - his denunciation of racial egalitarianism in the 1858 Senate campaign, his slow and hesitant course of emancipation, his reluctance to take an early stance on civil rights, and his embrace of a scheme to deport the ex slaves to Liberia and Panama. These are not subject matters that many Lincoln biographers enjoy touching, even where they must for history's sake, because they are thorny. They don't fit the Lincoln ideal we all come to know as school children. But Foner makes no bones about his intent to touch them, and boldly so.

    But that's where the book loses its traction. For all the bravado of its introduction Foner simply fails to deliver. It only takes a few chapters for him to revert right back to the standard old line of an "evolving" Lincoln who starts out as an unrepentant (albeit slavery-hating) racist and experiences a miraculous conversion over the next four years through a harrowing little event called the Civil War, all wrapped up in a bow in the end. By the last page, we've gone from Lincoln the flawed and racist sinner to Lincoln the redeemed (and redeemer) in a plodding, successive, but must of all absolutely certain and positive evolution towards modern notions of justice and fairness and equality.

    It's all nice and pleasant sounding when done, except that Foner bends the facts to get there. For example, Lincoln's conversion to black voting rights was VERY passive and slight at its most generous reading. And Lincoln's vision of Reconstruction was a hugely deferential & conciliatory program that probably would have ended up much closer to Andrew Johnson than Benjamin Wade. Contra the author, Lincoln also never really gave up colonizing the slaves in Africa - he clung to the program to his dying day. There's plenty of evidence of this (see Lerone Bennett's work, which is admittedly biased and bomb-throwing but the underlying research is there, at least on these points). But Foner chooses mostly to ignore it and ends up with the pretty picture of Lincoln we all think we "know" and most of us certainly expect, even if it isn't a very realistic one.

    You should still read the book - it starts with a refreshing premise that needs to be stated, and asks questions that many other authors don't. But for all that promise, it ends on a sputter that's little different than any other example of the thousands of run-of-the-mill "Lincoln the Great Emancipator" biographies you can find in any book store.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2011

    Overpriced

    The Kindle edition of this book is $9.88. Why so much more for the Nook edition?

    10 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Classic book on Lincoln

    We see Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator", who ended slavery in the United States of America. Lincoln's words describe and inspire us, remaining as current as the day they were spoke. We see Lincoln not as the man but as the larger than life occupant of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's 1860 nomination is not because he is or is thought to be "The Great Emancipator". Lincoln is a moderate on slavery and race, acceptable to both wings of the party.
    Abraham Lincoln's and Americans journey to emancipation is the subject of this excellent book. America faces serious divisions over slavery but very few over race. The wish to end slavery often did not include what to do with the former slaves. Northern states, with few slaves, accepted gradual emancipation and managed to tolerate their Black population. In the majority of Northern states Blacks could not vote, could not serve on a jury nor could they testify against a White person. Some Northern states essentially ban Blacks. In many more states, they are under server restrictions and required to post bonds to insure good conduct. Garrison said that Illinois is essentially a "slave state" due to the restrictive laws on Blacks.
    This is a book about race relations more than about slavery. The majority agreed that slavery is "bad" but cannot see a reasonable exit. Gradual Emancipation is an acceptable answer. Slaves born after a set date become free when they become n years old. The current slaves either remain slaves or become free after n years. This pushes the race problem away, leaving it for another generation to deal with. Immediate Emancipation ends slavery but has few answers to the race question. Colonization is a popular answer. Questions on transporting four million people to Africa or some other location is not answered. Nor is the question of how many Blacks voluntary will leave the United States.
    Black rights are the major problem. To avoid full citizenship, "rights" are subdivided into acceptable and unacceptable units. Natural rights, not being enslaved, being allowed to seek work and being secure in your person are acceptable because they enshrined in The Declaration of Independence. Political rights, being able to vote, serve on a jury or testify in court are questionable. The majority of Northern States say no to these rights. A few liberals accept "more intelligent Negros" as possible candidates for political rights. Social rights, being able to mix with whites as equals are not considered. Lincoln spends a good deal of his time answering Democratic attacks in this area.
    This is a history of Lincoln's journey from Wig to Republican, from gradual to immediate emancipation from colonization to political rights. America move along with Lincoln, one sometimes ahead of the other but both leading and encouraging the other. It is not an easy journey nor is it a quick one.
    Eric Forner is an excellent author and historian. This well-written book is informative and easy read. Forner is careful to maintain a balanced approach and never descends into bashing, Lincoln, America or the South. This should be a classic book on Lincoln and required reading.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Super good biogiefy

    Abadam hamlicon is amazing and so cool I so remmond this book

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Do not want

    Do not like

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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