Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

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by John Stauffer
     
 

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Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were the preeminent self-made men of their time. In this masterful dual biography, award-winning Harvard University scholar John Stauffer describes the transformations in the lives of these two giants during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty. As

Overview

Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were the preeminent self-made men of their time. In this masterful dual biography, award-winning Harvard University scholar John Stauffer describes the transformations in the lives of these two giants during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty. As Douglass and Lincoln reinvented themselves and ultimately became friends, they transformed America.


Lincoln was born dirt poor, had less than one year of formal schooling, and became the nation's greatest president. Douglass spent the first twenty years of his life as a slave, had no formal schooling-in fact, his masters forbade him to read or write-and became one of the nation's greatest writers and activists, as well as a spellbinding orator and messenger of audacious hope, the pioneer who blazed the path traveled by future African-American leaders.


At a time when most whites would not let a black man cross their threshold, Lincoln invited Douglass into the White House. Lincoln recognized that he needed Douglass to help him destroy the Confederacy and preserve the Union; Douglass realized that Lincoln's shrewd sense of public opinion would serve his own goal of freeing the nation's blacks. Their relationship shifted in response to the country's debate over slavery, abolition, and emancipation.


Both were ambitious men. They had great faith in the moral and technological progress of their nation. And they were not always consistent in their views. John Stauffer describes their personal and political struggles with a keen understanding of the dilemmas Douglass and Lincoln confronted and the social context in which they occurred. What emerges is a brilliant portrait of how two of America's greatest leaders lived.

Editorial Reviews

Richard S. Newman
"In this stunning book, John Stauffer has given us the most insightful portrait of either Lincoln or Douglass in years. In graceful prose, he tells a moving story of the two men who dominated Nineteenth century American life -- as allies across the racial divide, friends who drew common inspiration from hard scrabble beginnings and a love of language, and fellow travelers on the road of American self-making. Giants is simply must reading!"
David W. Blight
"John Stauffer's GIANTS is a lyrical, insightful treatment of the fascinating relationship between two geniuses, one a politician and the other a radical reformer. Both Lincoln and Douglass heard the music of words in their heads as few others, and Stauffer has an ear for the two of them in harmony. That they started in such different places ideologically and yet moved together at the critical moment of emancipation makes this a timely and important book. Stauffer brings the tools of literature and history to bear on this comparison with unmatched skill."
Steven Mintz
Like a daguerreotype, which nineteenth-century Americans thought captured not simply surface appearances, but peoples' souls, this book moves beyond biography to allow us to recover the inner lives of two utterly uncommon common men. This is the most insightful book about race and friendship in the nineteenth century that I have read. It's poignant and perceptive, a book to be savored, a book that will last.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"John Stauffer's collective biography of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln stands apart from other biographies by focusing on how each man continually remade himself, with help from women, words, self-education, physical strength, and luck. In the process Stauffer gives us the texture and feel--a "thick description"--of the strange worlds that Douglass and Lincoln inhabited. The result is a path-breaking work that dissolves traditional conceptions of these two seminal figures (Lincoln the "redeemer" president, Douglass the assimilationist). He reveals how Douglass towered over Lincoln as a brilliant orator, writer, agitator, and public figure for most of his life. He shows us how words became potent weapons for both men. And he tells the poignant story of how these preeminent self-made men ultimately converged, despite their vastly different agendas and politics, and helped transform the nation."
From the Publisher
"John Stauffer's GIANTS is a lyrical, insightful treatment of the fascinating relationship between two geniuses, one a politician and the other a radical reformer. Both Lincoln and Douglass heard the music of words in their heads as few others, and Stauffer has an ear for the two of them in harmony. That they started in such different places ideologically and yet moved together at the critical moment of emancipation makes this a timely and important book. Stauffer brings the tools of literature and history to bear on this comparison with unmatched skill."—David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Frederick Douglass' Civil War and A Slave No More"

In this stunning book, John Stauffer has given us the most insightful portrait of either Lincoln or Douglass in years. In graceful prose, he tells a moving story of the two men who dominated Nineteenth century American life — as allies across the racial divide, friends who drew common inspiration from hard scrabble beginnings and a love of language, and fellow travelers on the road of American self-making. Giants is simply must reading!"—Richard S. Newman, author of Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers

Like a daguerreotype, which nineteenth-century Americans thought captured not simply surface appearances, but peoples' souls, this book moves beyond biography to allow us to recover the inner lives of two utterly uncommon common men. This is the most insightful book about race and friendship in the nineteenth century that I have read. It's poignant and perceptive, a book to be savored, a book that will last.—Steven Mintz, Columbia University, author of America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making"

John Stauffer's collective biography of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln stands apart from other biographies by focusing on how each man continually remade himself, with help from women, words, self-education, physical strength, and luck. In the process Stauffer gives us the texture and feel—a "thick description"—of the strange worlds that Douglass and Lincoln inhabited. The result is a path-breaking work that dissolves traditional conceptions of these two seminal figures (Lincoln the "redeemer" president, Douglass the assimilationist). He reveals how Douglass towered over Lincoln as a brilliant orator, writer, agitator, and public figure for most of his life. He shows us how words became potent weapons for both men. And he tells the poignant story of how these preeminent self-made men ultimately converged, despite their vastly different agendas and politics, and helped transform the nation."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University, author of The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century

Kirkus Reviews
A dual biography highlighting the remarkable similarities and the crucial differences between "the two pre-eminent self-made men in American history."The interest in linking Lincoln and Douglass has never been greater-see, for example, Paul and Stephen Kendrick's Douglass and Lincoln (2008) and James Oakes's The Radical and the Republican (2007)-and surely the intertwined careers of both men support continuing efforts to understand their combined, enduring impact. In five double-barreled chapters focusing on comparable stages in each man's life, Stauffer (History of American Civilization and English/Harvard Univ.; The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race, 2002, etc.) explains how Douglass the slave and Lincoln the frontiersman emerged from a culture of poverty, ignorance and violence to international renown. Both were physically imposing; both abstained from tobacco and alcohol at a time when few men did. Both were poetry lovers-they had Robert Burns in common-and both were unsuitably married, Douglass to an illiterate, Lincoln to a termagant. A naturally talented orator, Douglass worked to perfect his writing. Always a good, later a great writer (and a superb editor), Lincoln slowly emerged as an effective public speaker. Addressing public issues, Douglass decided quickly and frequently changed strategies. Lincoln always made up his mind slowly, but then rarely reversed course. Douglass, the radical, never befriended an enemy until after converting that man to his cause. Lincoln, the conciliator, believed that "if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend." Notwithstanding calculated, public statements byLincoln and Douglass, Stauffer goes too far in claiming "an interracial friendship." The author is also oddly willing to speculate broadly on Lincoln's premarital sexual history, and unwilling to reciprocate when it comes to Douglass's extramarital relations. Despite these lapses, Stauffer's dexterous interweaving of biographical detail makes for enjoyable reading and serves as a useful introduction to understanding the dynamic between two 19th-century giants. A frequently insightful look at the makeup of two men who helped remake the country.
Library Journal
01/01/2015
Stauffer argues that Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln led parallel lives: both were self-made and ambitious men, conscious of their origins, confident about the moral capacity of men to improve, convinced of their democratic principles, and compelling in their writing. (LJ 10/15/08)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780446698986
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
11/12/2009
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
472,561
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

John Stauffer is Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. His first book, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Harvard University Press, 2002), was the co-winner of the 2002 Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Institue; winner of the Avery Craven Book Prize from the OAH; and the Lincoln Prize runner-up. Other works include: Meteor of War: The John Brown Story (with Zoe Trodd, 2004); Frederick Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom (editor, 2003). Visit his website at http://johnstaufferbooks.com/.

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Giants 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the nation's preeminent scholar of interracial friendship, John Stauffer turns in Giants from his previous prize-winning work on abolitionist friends to offer the first collective biography of the two preeminent self-made men in American history: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. That previous book, The Black Hearts of Men, was a hard act to follow but Stauffer goes even further here in Giants. Vivid, insightful, exceptionally well-researched and beautifully written, Giants restores to both mythic figures their complexity, ambiguity, and humanity, giving us an entirely fresh vision of two individuals who transformed themselves before they could transform society. Just as exciting, though, is the parallel narrative of national identity. As Stauffer reflects one giant off the other, we see in their intersecting lives a national journey toward the Second Revolution of the 1860s. This braided story of Lincoln and Douglass, one of change and self-making, alliance and conflict, faith and loss, is the nation¿s own story of bonds and betrayals during the nineteenth century. In fact, while other books might focus on Douglass and Lincoln's politics during the Civil War, only Stauffer examines the bigger picture: the ways they made and remade themselves and the nation their lives, loves, friendships, and the whole nature of love and friendship in the Civil War era. He weaves together themes of historical memory, race, gender, loyalty and forgiveness, empathy, outsiders, and the boundaries of the personal and political. The book therefore gives us a deeper, fuller picture of both men's lives and characters, and also a window on a whole era. This is history and biography written in glorious techicolor: set against Douglass, Lincoln comes alive anew - and vice versa - but so too does the intense drama of the time. And that history is a living drama: as we approach the potential election of Barack Obama, a man who is said to transcend race but might finally replace Lincoln 'and Clinton' as the nation's first 'black president,' has publicly grappled with the changing nature of his own friendships, and acknowledges the political and personal inspiration of both Douglass and Lincoln, we might find in Stauffer's dazzling page-turner a framework for understanding the story of Obama and ourselves in 2008. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
ReviewYourBook.com More than 1 year ago
Written by: John Stauffer
Published by: Twelve
Reviewed by: Stephanie Rollins for ReviewYourBook.com 12/2008
ISBN: 978-0-446-58009-0
¿Easy to Read¿ 4 stars
I do not like history books. My mind usually shuts off when a book takes a historical turn. This book actually held my attention. It reads like a novel.
Both Lincoln and Douglass were self-made and self-taught. It is mentioned in this book that Douglass raised himself from slavery. Douglass raised himself from white trash. The parallels only start there. Even those who do not like history will love this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I find myself inspired by the lives of these two giants. The author does a magnificent job of hiding any political or socioeconomic biases he may hold (for the most part) and offers a candid and intimate telling of the parralel lives of these two giants. The book is full of lessons for those of us who continue to ne interested in racial reconciliation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author succeeds not only in delineating two lives that parallel each other in unexpected ways; Stauffer fulfills his exploration of interracial friendship with an exemplum that gives hope that such a thing is not only possible but worth striving for. More than a literary device, the juxtaposition of Lincoln and Douglass affords a unique perspective on a seminal period in American history, depicting the worlds of whites (abolitionists and slave owners) and blacks (freemen and slaves) and the intractable dilemma that plagued this young nation. Stauffer fleshes out his narrative with colorful detail and vivid episodes. He has focused his material to a length and complexity that is manageable for the average reader while satisfying to the scholar (more than a hundred pages of notes and references). Professor Stauffer reveals how Lincoln's father drafted him into bondage by renting him out to plow and harvest fields and split rails, appropriating his son's wages for himself. He quotes Lincoln as feeling little different from black boys: "we were all slaves one time or another." His youth in the rough and tumble of the backwoods -- where men boasted about disfiguring each other in bloody bouts -- gave him visceral knowledge of a culture of violence. These early experiences linked him to blacks in general and Douglass in particular, who suffered such severe beatings at the hands of slave masters that he could dramatize his famous speeches by exposing his back full of scars. Never an abolitionist, Lincoln's objective as president was to preserve the Union. Stauffer depicts Lincoln as a practical politician, attempting to conciliate and thereby drawing fire from both sides. He received Douglass at the White House where the two established a mutual personal respect; this did not stop the black abolitionist from using his megaphone to attack Lincoln's early policies. In the end these two extraordinary men did find ways to join forces for the benefit of both the Union and for blacks. Stauffer's diptych is an appreciation of each of these "Giants," profiling them, in their common ground and their differences, with style.
mryoda More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read in a very long time. The author does a very decent job of looking at some interesting parallels and differences between these two figures. His writing style is fast paced and well developed which makes for easy reading and a lot to think about in the moments between picking up the book and putting it down.
The book is well organized and will leave the reader wanting to know even more about these two very interesing men. As a high school history teacher, I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is written like an essay. It's a great read for students doing research on either Lincoln or Douglass, or their relationship. I learned so much about how they felt about each other, and how they each dealt with slavery and racism in America at the time. You will learn a lot. It's very well researched with extensive notes and bibliography. I gave it four stars because it was a little boring to read at times due to the style in which it was written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sure he can come. I live at chiron res 6. I will meet you there
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey bro. Lets go to Swan Lake on Ice. Come he. He then beought his bro to the show.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a very interesting read. Two people who seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum with such strong similarities.
Rwq1 More than 1 year ago
Interesting account of two life's and each individuals response to adversity. The response to challenges and their ability to recognize them as opportunities. How their respective life's were lived and woven together. Two simple men, not chasing greatness, just seeking something better. Never quitting even when sorely tempted but both accepting their doubts and overcoming their fear. Two life's that are a testament to mans ability to overcome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is highly enjoyable and sheds light on the relationship between two of the most influential men in American history and their incredible rise to prominence. The author's style is pleasing and leaves you with a need to learn to more about both Douglass and Lincoln.
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