Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon
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Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon

by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt Jr.
     
 

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In honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, an extensively researched, lavishly illustrated consideration of the myths, memories, and questions that gathered around our most beloved—and our most enigmatic—president in the years between his assassination and the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. A sequel to the enormously

Overview

In honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, an extensively researched, lavishly illustrated consideration of the myths, memories, and questions that gathered around our most beloved—and our most enigmatic—president in the years between his assassination and the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. A sequel to the enormously successful Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, Looking for Lincoln picks up where the previous book left off, examining how our sixteenth president’s legend came into being.

Availing themselves of a vast collection of both published and never-before-seen materials, the authors—the fourth and fifth generations of a family of Lincoln scholars—bring into focus the posthumous portrait of Lincoln that took hold in the American imagination, becoming synonymous with the nation’s very understanding of itself. Told through the voices of those who knew the man—Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, neighbors and family members, adversaries and colleagues—and through stories carefully selected from long-forgotten newspapers, magazines, and family scrapbooks, Looking for Lincoln charts the dramatic epilogue to Lincoln’s extraordinary life when, in a process fraught with jealousy, greed, and the struggle for power, the scope of his historical significance was taking shape.

In vibrant and immediate detail, the authors chart the years when Americans struggled to understand their loss and rebuild their country. Here is a chronicle of the immediate aftermath of the assassination; the private memories of those closest to the slain president; the difficult period between 1876 and 1908, when a tired nation turned its back on the former slaves and betrayed Lincoln’s teachings; and the early years of the twentieth century when Lincoln’s popularity soared as African Americans fought to reclaim the ideals he espoused.

Looking for Lincoln
will deeply enhance our understanding of the statesman and his legacy, at a moment when the timeless example of his leadership is more crucial than ever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

The Kunhardts use the family's vast collection of Lincoln photographs, started in the late 19th century by Frederick Hill Meserve, combined with concise commentary and valuable first-hand accounts, to illustrate Lincoln's postmortem life. The Kunhardts trace the circuitous route by which the assassinated head of state morphed into a cherished figure as much of myth as of history. The profusely and beautifully illustrated volume-the companion to a PBS special to air in winter 2009-is loaded with rarities: never before seen letters, photos from the 1901 unearthing and re-interment of Lincoln's remains, and first-hand reminiscences from numerous Lincoln intimates, all of them rich with telling detail about the man. Fascinating anecdotes abound, such as Robert Lincoln's shunning of the dedication of the memorial housing the presumed Lincoln birth cabin, which he said commemorated nothing but the "degradation and uncleanliness" of his father's humble beginnings. All in all, the Kunhardts' book represents a visual and literary feast for all devotees of the sacred national idol that is Lincoln. 910 color photos and illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

Billed as a sequel to the Kunhardts' Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, this large-format volume, the companion to a 2009 PBS Lincoln bicentennial special of the same name, is a pictorial study of the evolution of the legend of Lincoln from his death to the death of Robert Todd Lincoln in 1926. It was during this time that Lincoln developed from a more partisan and regional figure of the Civil War into a metaphor for national unity after his 1909 centennial. Part of the continuing quest to understand the "real Lincoln," this book is lavishly illustrated with over 900 photos and drawings from archival collections and publications, while also providing textual narrative on how Lincoln was remembered differently by his friends, adversaries, neighbors, and family members and in popular culture forms such as statues, sermons, and celebrations. The Kunhardts (Peter and Peter Jr. get equal billing with Philip) recognize that both the historically accurate and the mythically symbolic Lincoln are significant. In assessing and bringing to light writings and artifacts pointing out the power of the memory of Lincoln, they remind us of Lincoln's not-always-laudatory iconic status, a touchstone for the varying ways Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites defined their own places in American society. Not addressed here are the Lincoln legend in the performing arts and songsheets of the era covered (or in movies and TV that followed) or Lincoln's place internationally as an icon of America. This volume will find a welcome spot on the shelves of public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ7/08.]
—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307267139
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/18/2008
Pages:
512
Product dimensions:
9.60(w) x 11.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

ForewordDavid Herbert DonaldThe Kunhardt family occupies a unique place in the field of Lincoln studies. For five generations members of this talented family have been writing, editing, designing, and publishing books on aspectsof Abraham Lincoln’s career that are as beautiful as they are sound.The tradition began with Frederick Hill Meserve (1865-1962), whose father had fought in the Union Army. Looking for pictures to illustrate his father’s wartime recollections, Frederick, then a businessman in New York City, began haunting secondhand bookstores and auctions, buying up old prints and glass negatives discarded by wartime photographers. At that time nobody else seemed much interested in them, so he had little competition. In 1902, visiting a warehouse in New Jersey, he stumbled upon a pile of fifteen thousand glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s studio that were about to be destroyed as trash. He bought the whole lot, including, as he discovered, seven photographs of President Lincoln. In 1911, in the first attempt to catalogue and arrange the pictures of Lincoln in chronological order, he published The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, which became a bible for collectors and scholars, especially because he issued supplements from time to time as new photographs turned up. Generously he shared his treasures with other Civil War experts. It is hard to find a book on Lincoln that does not acknowledge the author’s indebtedness to Mr. Meserve’s collection (now known as the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection).When Mr. Meserve died, his daughter, Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, took on the management of the collection. Though occupied with writing and publishing nearly a score of delightful books for children, she somehow found time to expand its holdings, adding thousands of Civil War photographs, books, clippings, and newspapers.In 1958 she acquired the large collection of Lincoln relics owned by Mary Edwards Brown, Mary Lincoln’s great-niece, which included Lincoln family scrapbooks and dozens of daguerreotypes of the Lincolns’ friends and neighbors in Springfield. Drawing on the Meserve Lincoln Collection, she also published the handsome Time-Life book Mathew Brady and His World.Eventually her son, Philip Kunhardt, Jr., a genial, soft-spoken man who had previously been managing editor at Life magazine, became guardian of the collection. Like his mother and his grandfather, he willingly allowed other Lincoln scholars to use it. He also continued the family tradition by writing, with his mother, Twenty Days, a superb account, lavishly illustrated, of Lincoln’s assassination, and A New Birth of Freedom, a fine re-creation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.He moved on in 1992 to his major historical effort, Lincoln, a full-length pictorial biography (which accompanied an excellent television series of the same name). To help in this ambitious project, he enlisted his sons, Philip and Peter. The Kunhardts’ Lincoln is a magnificent book, widely acclaimed and generally recognized as the definitive pictorial record of Abraham Lincoln’s life.After the death of their father in 2006, Philip and Peter Kunhardt continued the family tradition, and they recruited a member of the fifth generation, Peter’s son, Peter Kunhardt, Jr., to join their literary team. The result of their collaboration is the present book, Looking for Lincoln.A casual reader who glances at Looking for Lincoln, perhaps in a bookstore, may be surprised to find that it begins in 1865, with a moving account of the assassination of the president, followed by an elaborately illustrated narrative of the capture, trial, and execution of the Lincoln conspirators. At this point in a conventional biography the reader might expect a historical flashback to Lincoln’s early days and upbringing. Instead the story moves forward from 1865 to 1926, when Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s oldest son, died.If our reader studies the book more closely, he or she meets other surprises. In addition to tracing an unusual timeline, the Kunhardts offer a special—one might almost say a syncopated—chronology. They follow the dictum of T. S. Eliot (in “Burnt Norton”):Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future,And time future contained in time past.To put the matter less cryptically, they understand that for historians the actual date on which an event occurred is often less significant than when knowledge of that event becomes widely known. For instance, Lincoln’s revealing 1837 letters to Mary Owens Vineyard, discussing their on-and-off-again engagement, properly appearhere under an 1866 date because that is when they were made public. In short, our reader will quickly learn that this is not a conventional pictorial biography of Abraham Lincoln but is instead a book of discovery. At the time of Lincoln’s death most Americans knew very little about their wartime president, except that he was a frontiersman and a rail-splitter who freed the slaves and preserved the Union, and there was intense public interest in learning more about the martyred president. The postwar generation saw a massive, if uncoordinated, effort to probe Lincoln’s ancestry, to reconstruct his boyhood years, to investigate his early political efforts, to learn about his marriage and his family, and to judge his career as a lawyer. Newspapermen and biographers began persistent questioning of those who had known Lincoln well—and of those who pretended to know him well—in search ofbiographical nuggets.Looking for Lincoln is a superb reconstruction of these efforts, during the halfcentury after Lincoln’s death, to strip away the veils of mystery and ignorance that cloaked so much of his career in order to find the “real” Lincoln. Here, for example, is a fair-minded appraisal of the efforts of William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner for twenty years, to rescue Lincoln’s memory from writers like Josiah G. Holland, who portrayed him as a devout—indeed, almost a saintly—leader. Here, too, is the story of the admiring ten-volume life of Lincoln by his former personal secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, the only biography ever authorized by his overly sensitive son, Robert.But this is no dry exercise in historiography. Along with the slowly emerging consensus on Lincoln’s greatness, the Kunhardts trace—as always with abundant and revealing illustrations—the rival interpretations of the president in sculpture, ranging from the hobbledehoy figure of George Grey Barnard to the reverent statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Nor are these conflicting literary and artistic interpretations of Lincoln presented in isolation. At every stage the Kunhardts take pains to show the background events, such as the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, race riots, and presidential elections, that influenced the changes in how the public viewed Lincoln.In short, this is a remarkable and highly original book, one that skillfully interweaves text and pictures to tell two closely related stories: the discovery of facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life, and the exploration of his place in American memory. It is the Kunhardts’ best book, an indispensable guide for readers who want to understand Abraham Lincoln and the world he lived in.

Meet the Author

Philip B. Kunhardt III is a writer-producer with Kunhardt Productions. Peter W. Kunhardt is executive producer of Kunhardt Productions. Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., is assistant director of development at the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation. Along with their father, the late Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip and Peter are coauthors of Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography. Looking for Lincoln will be the companion volume to a PBS special of the same name to be aired in the winter of 2009. The Kunhardts are based in Chappaqua, New York.

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