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Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Two Volume Set)

Overview

In the first multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln to be published in decades, Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame offers a fresh look at the life of one of America’s greatest presidents. Incorporating the field notes of earlier biographers, along with decades of research in multiple manuscript archives and long-neglected newspapers, this remarkable work will both alter and reinforce current understanding of America’s sixteenth president.

Volume 1 covers Lincoln’s early ...

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Abraham Lincoln: A Life

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Overview

In the first multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln to be published in decades, Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame offers a fresh look at the life of one of America’s greatest presidents. Incorporating the field notes of earlier biographers, along with decades of research in multiple manuscript archives and long-neglected newspapers, this remarkable work will both alter and reinforce current understanding of America’s sixteenth president.

Volume 1 covers Lincoln’s early childhood, his experiences as a farm boy in Indiana and Illinois, his legal training, and the political ambition that led to a term in Congress in the 1840s. In volume 2, Burlingame examines Lincoln’s life during his presidency and the Civil War, narrating in fascinating detail the crisis over Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s own battles with relentless office seekers, hostile newspaper editors, and incompetent field commanders. Burlingame also offers new interpretations of Lincoln’s private life, discussing his marriage to Mary Todd and the untimely deaths of two sons to disease.

But through it all—his difficult childhood, his contentious political career, a fratricidal war, and tragic personal losses—Lincoln preserved a keen sense of humor and acquired a psychological maturity that proved to be the North’s most valuable asset in winning the Civil War.

Published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, this landmark publication establishes Burlingame as the most assiduous Lincoln biographer of recent memory and brings Lincoln alive to modern readers as never before.

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Editorial Reviews

Books & Culture: A Christian Review
Most thorough account of the development of Lincoln as a man and politician against the backdrop of America's struggle to mature as an idea and a nation... Not a Lincoln for our times, but the Lincoln of his times, and future biographers would do well to take note(s).
New York Times
A magisterial enterprise.

— William Safire

Chicago Tribune
If you aspire to Ultimate Lincoln Knowledge this is a must-read.
Choice
The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth has generated a plethora of Lincoln-related items, but none impresses more than this two-volume biography... Essential.
Atlantic Monthly
No review could do complete justice to the magnificent two-volume biography that has been so well-wrought by Michael Burlingame.

— Christopher Hitchens

Washington Times
The granddaddy of all the recent books [on Lincoln] is Michael Burlingame's Abraham Lincoln: A Life... monumental in size, depth and scholarship, this is the new standard biography of our time and surpasses all other life portraits of our 16th president, and is the most important book of the bicentennial.

— James L. Swanson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
This magisterial work tells a rich, thoroughly documented, birth-to-death story of America's greatest president. Its bulk is formidable, but it holds countless rewards for undaunted readers.

— Jane Henderson

U.S. News & World Report
A complete view of Lincoln's life... thorough.

— Diane Cole

New York Review of Books
The author knows more about Lincoln than any other living person.
Grand Rapids Press
The two-volume set is being heralded as the ultimate new biography of Lincoln, an essential work to be used by all future biographers of the 16th president.

— Anne Byle

Gazette
An exhaustive and stylishly written biography.

— Greg Rienzi

American Spectator
Burlingame very likely knows more about Lincoln than anyone who's ever lived, including Mary Todd, and his biography, 20 years in the writing, has a revelation on every page, dug out during the biographer's tireless research into musty libraries and forgotten attics that no one has ever thought to look in before. If there is anything knowable that you want to know about Lincoln, this is the place to find it.

— Andrew Ferguson

Bloomberg News
A monumental boxed effort that weighs in at 10 pounds... The result is a picture of Lincoln from all sides, in a style that is relentless but not daunting.
Time.com
Burlingame is a towering figure in Lincoln scholarship, and students of the 16th president have been waiting for this book for years. For all his learning—Burlingame may know more about Lincoln and his era than anyone in the world—his take on his subject is fresh, and he doesn't gloss over Lincoln's less appealing attributes. Abraham Lincoln comes as close to being the definitive biography as anything the world has seen in decades.
Books and Culture: A Christian Review

Most thorough account of the development of Lincoln as a man and politician against the backdrop of America's struggle to mature as an idea and a nation... Not a Lincoln for our times, but the Lincoln of his times, and future biographers would do well to take note(s).

New York Times

A magisterial enterprise.

— William Safire

Chicago Tribune

If you aspire to Ultimate Lincoln Knowledge this is a must-read.

Choice

The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth has generated a plethora of Lincoln-related items, but none impresses more than this two-volume biography... Essential.

Atlantic Monthly

No review could do complete justice to the magnificent two-volume biography that has been so well-wrought by Michael Burlingame.

— Christopher Hitchens

Washington Times

The granddaddy of all the recent books [on Lincoln] is Michael Burlingame's Abraham Lincoln: A Life... monumental in size, depth and scholarship, this is the new standard biography of our time and surpasses all other life portraits of our 16th president, and is the most important book of the bicentennial.

— James L. Swanson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These monumental volumes deserve a wide readership.

U.S. News & World Report

A complete view of Lincoln's life... thorough.

— Diane Cole

New York Review of Books

The author knows more about Lincoln than any other living person.

Grand Rapids Press

The two-volume set is being heralded as the ultimate new biography of Lincoln, an essential work to be used by all future biographers of the 16th president.

— Anne Byle

Gazette

An exhaustive and stylishly written biography.

— Greg Rienzi

American Spectator

Burlingame very likely knows more about Lincoln than anyone who's ever lived, including Mary Todd, and his biography, 20 years in the writing, has a revelation on every page, dug out during the biographer's tireless research into musty libraries and forgotten attics that no one has ever thought to look in before. If there is anything knowable that you want to know about Lincoln, this is the place to find it.

— Andrew Ferguson

Bloomberg News

A monumental boxed effort that weighs in at 10 pounds... The result is a picture of Lincoln from all sides, in a style that is relentless but not daunting.

Time.com

Burlingame is a towering figure in Lincoln scholarship, and students of the 16th president have been waiting for this book for years. For all his learning -- Burlingame may know more about Lincoln and his era than anyone in the world -- his take on his subject is fresh, and he doesn't gloss over Lincoln's less appealing attributes. Abraham Lincoln comes as close to being the definitive biography as anything the world has seen in decades.

William Safire
…a magisterial enterprise…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Signature

Reviewed by James L. Swanson

Between this fall and the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in February 2009, publishers will overwhelm bookstores and readers alike with a flood of more than 60 titles on the ever-popular president. One can hardly keep track of them all: one certainly cannot read them all. Of the dozens of these books competing for attention, a few stand out, foremost among them this title.

The trend in Lincoln scholarship has been away from the magisterial narrative comprehensiveness of Carl Sandburg in favor of a narrow, deep dive resulting in the so-called "slice" book: thus entire volumes about one magnificent speech; a key incident; the deepest crisis; the most pivotal year; and so on. A number of these works have merit, but have failed to capture a wide, popular audience.

Abraham Lincoln: A Life is the antithesis of a thin slice from the Lincoln pie. In the sweeping style of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, Burlingame has produced the finest Lincoln biography in more than 60 years and one of the two or three best Lincoln books on any subject in a generation.

A distinguished scholar who probably knows more about Abraham Lincoln and his world than anyone else alive, Burlingame has devoted the last quarter century to editing 11 books on the Lincoln primary sources, including the writings of the president's secretaries John Hay, John Nicolay and William Stoddard. Now Burlingame has produced the most meticulously researched Lincoln biography ever written. He resurrected Lincoln's lost early journalism, when the young prairie politician-little more than an immature, unscrupuloushack-wrote more than 200 anonymous op-eds; Burlingame scoured thousands of 19th-century newspapers and discovered hitherto unknown stories; he read hundreds of oral histories, unpublished letters, and journals from Lincoln's contemporaries; and he re-examined the vast manuscript collections at the Library of Congress and National Archives. Burlingame's astonishing chapters covering Lincoln's hard early years and his difficult marriage, and his fresh insights on the profound crisis that made Lincoln great, are worth the price of the book.

Do not let the intimidating length or the formidable price deter you. The book need not be read in one sitting. Each part stands alone. Burlingame's Lincoln comes alive as the author unfolds vast amounts of new research while breathing new life into familiar stories. This is a critical, skeptical, loving but never fawning tribute to the man Burlingame praises for "achiev[ing] a level of psychological maturity unmatched in the history of American public life."

This book supplants Sandburg and supersedes all other biographies. Future Lincoln books cannot be written without it, and from no other book can a general reader learn so much about Abraham Lincoln. It is the essential title for the bicentennial. (Nov.)

James L. Swanson is the author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. His next book is Chasing Lincoln's Killer (Scholastic, Feb. 2009).

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801889936
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Edition description: 20
  • Pages: 2008
  • Sales rank: 305,662
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 4.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Burlingame is Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. He is the author or editor of a number of books about Lincoln, including Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, published by Johns Hopkins, and The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 11, 2009

    Lincoln - A Life: As detailed as it gets.

    If your looking for the most comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln, then this set is for you. I have found the test highly readable, and engrossing. My only complaint about this edition is it's binding. I think the binding is a bit thin in relation to it's size and weight, but that's just me. Otherwise, a biography of this depth was needed and Michael Burlingame satisfied that need.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Thoughts for the Next Edition

    Not only are the books cheaply bound, but too much has been crammed into two volumes. The result is that the typeface is much to small and the margins much too narrow for comfortable reading. Adding to the discomfort thus created is the oversized and heavy nature of the books. These factors are especially important when one looks to comfortably enjoy an important reading experience that this biography would have otherwise offered.The next edition should be a "triple decker" or perhaps even a four volume set, with a fine cloth or leather binding.

    As to content, it is good to be presented with the facts of Lincoln's life in the writing style characteristic of the author. However, the author's insistence on offering his personal interpretation of those facts and his psychological analysis throughout the story he tells is an unwanted distraction. Those who are interested enough in Lincoln to be willing to invest the time necessary to read this comprehensive and informative biography presumably are also ready, willing and quite able, and interested enough in the subject, to take the facts and the story and figure out for themselves what to make of it all.The author of a book such as this should be invisible, and silent, as the book is being read. This reader, at least, would have preferred that the author not insist so often upon interjecting and chatting out loud, so to speak, in a manner that only serves to interfere with remaining absorbed in and undistracted from this fine Lincoln biography. Perhaps the next addition could address this concern as well.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    High price, cheap binding: for shame, JHU Press!

    I read the available reviews of the Burlingame Lincoln on BN.com before ordering a set, and at the time there was only one review that mentioned the flimsiness of the binding. I took a chance anyway and was very disappointed. The binding is indeed flimsy, to the point that the text block on volume 2 of my set was pulling away from the spine. The covers are light in weight and the whole thing just lacks the sort of solidity and permanence that one would expect of a major historical work from a university press. I didn't think the books would hold up to one reading, let alone a lifetime of reference and re-reading. For the price charged this is a shame. I took the set back to my local Barnes & Noble and got a refund.

    This is a shame, because I've read great things about this biography, and I would dearly love to read it. Paging through the two volumes and reading passages from them before reluctantly returning the set I could see that Mr. Burlingame did an impressive job. It is unfortunate that his publisher let him down.

    I would recommend that readers looking for a good - if much shorter - Lincoln biography pick up a copy of "A. Lincoln" by Ronald C. White, Jr. It is a new biography that also takes advantage of the latest research on Lincoln and has received rave reviews from the academic community and the popular press. It is well written and really held my interest. Readers who want to read one good biography of this fascinating man should be well pleased with Mr. White's book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    Very long & detailed GOOD REFERENCE BOOK

    Not a quick read. Very thorough. Well written

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Sexy piggy

    Hated it to much money

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    This was a gift. I did not read it.

    The delivery was a complete fumble by UPS. I sent it to a friend at his office the address on the order was correct. UPS didn't even get it to the right building. Finally the recipient tracked down his present. I will try to get a review from him. I do know he is an avid reader and was happy to add this to his collection.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    For Die-Hards Only

    These two volumes perhaps deserve a 4 or 5 star rating based on content. I am a collector of books on Abraham Lincoln. And I surely would have done without this one. First and formost, these volumes have the cheepest binding of any book I have ever bought. I'm almost afraind of reading the books, as it appears that the books will fall apart. That must be why the pare of books come in a slip case, to hold all together once read. And at $125.00 this review deserves one-half star! Previous commentators have hit-it-on-the-head. Wait for a better binding and a 3 to 4 volume set. Or if Johns Hopkins isn't going to improve it, wait until you see it on the discount shelves.

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  • Posted January 7, 2010

    Michael Burlingame does it again!

    This is a very well written, thoroughly researched tome. A must have for Lincoln enthusiasts.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good historical depiction

    There really is no fluff in this set. The author accurately describes the mood and reality of the times. His depiction is "neutral"...no bad guys or good guys, just the way it was. But, this is not leasure reading. This set is for folks who truely enjoy HISTORY, not a story containing historical facts.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Simply the best Lincoln biography

    Author Michael Burlingame has done an excellent job of assembling material here for possibly the best Lincoln biography to come along since people started writing about our 16th president. Newly-discovered material, or recently-released material, adds to the coverage in the book. I can't recommend this set enough. Fastest read through a large multi-volume set I've ever experienced, as it is interesting throughout. If you have only one work on Lincoln in your home library, I'd suggest this one.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Book binding

    The read is great and inspiring, Mr. Burlingame did a wonderful job. However; The book should have been put together better. There are many pages that were wrinkled or creased during binding, this to the point that, I almost returned these two great books.

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  • Posted April 3, 2009

    The Lincoln You Thought You Knew

    Burlingame fills in the blanks so that Lincoln is a man that stugggled just like you and I. Being hated during his presidency when he was alive is a stark contrast to how many view him now. THis book is about more than Lincoln the martyr,

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    Posted January 28, 2009

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    Posted December 8, 2008

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    Posted February 11, 2009

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    Posted December 17, 2008

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    Posted December 15, 2008

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    Posted December 12, 2010

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    Posted November 20, 2008

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    Posted December 19, 2008

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