A tremendous historical and political contribution.
Illuminating . . . Blumenthal’s greatest contribution is, as the book’s subtitle indicates, putting Lincoln the politician in bas-relief. . . . Blumenthal provides greater perspective and emphasis on perhaps the preeminent politician in American history. . . . instant classic . . . [Blumenthal] writes with a boldness as if no one has written on Lincoln before.
Splendid . . . Blumenthal’s work of building the context for Lincoln’s political activism in the presidential elections of 1836 through 1848 is a miracle of detail and his six chapters on Lincoln as a congressman in antebellum Washington are worth the price of the book alone. . . . Never have we had such an exquisite warp of the ins and outs of political life in the 1830s and ’40s laid across the weft of Lincoln’s individual trajectory. Rarely has a Lincoln biographer come to his task with such elegance of style. . . . Here is a great book, on a theme that too many people disdain to regard as great. That they are wrong about the theme, and wrong about Lincoln, is the burden of Blumenthal’s labor, and no one can come away from reading
A Self-Made Man without understanding that, or without eagerly anticipating the ensuing volumes.
Washington Monthly - Allen Guelzo
A veteran of modern political wars, Sidney Blumenthal has written an astute account of Lincoln the politician whose apprenticeship in that profession was a necessary prelude to his greatness as a statesman in the Civil War. Set in context of the transition in national political issues from the Second Bank of the U.S. and the tariff in the 1830s to the Mexican War and slavery by the end of the 1840s, this book offers new insights into Lincoln's life and career.
A terrific read, teeming with 19th-century life, from the down and dirty politics of 1830s Illinois to Lincoln’s single term in Congress at the end of the 1840s.
Compelling . . . trenchant . . . magnificent
SC) The Post and Courier (Charleston
No one would have guessed that it would be Lincoln who emerged to save the union, abolish slavery and preserve American democracy. Future volumes of Blumenthal's engaging and well-crafted biography promise to show why.
A magnificent look at 19th century American political, economic, and cultural history, with understated but impressive resonance for our current day.
The Atlantic - James Fallows
Engaging and informative . . . lively . . . full of thought-provoking observations about the factors that went into Lincoln's makeup.
Christian Science Monitor
"In beautiful style...Blumenthal’s Lincoln is a terrific read. I can’t wait for the next volume."
Well-written and fast-paced . . . a joy to read . . . more than a biography of Lincoln. It is really a “life and times” treatment of the first 40 years of Lincoln’s life.
In this compelling first volume of what will no doubt be a landmark biography of perhaps our greatest president, Sidney Blumenthal brings his formidable storytelling and analytical gifts to the task of creating a lasting portrait of Lincoln. In this Blumenthal succeeds wonderfully well, giving readers an engaging, clear-eyed, and insightful account of Lincoln's early years, clearly charting the sixteenth president's intellectual and political development. The book is at once timely and timeless.
Reads like a conversation with those who knew Lincoln . . . a compelling read.
Lincoln again? Not to worry. Just stand back and let this first volume of a planned four-volume treatment reveal its glowing qualities. . . . A fascinating perspective during a presidential election cycle.
To his credit, Blumenthal has worked hard and dug deep. He has been through most of the relevant secondary and much of the published primary literature and…shows a nice grasp of the politics of the period. Indeed, Blumenthal is probably at his best in acquainting us with the textures and dynamics of local politics, of the courthouse and statehouse, and the intricate and often explosive alliances and rivalries that took shape there. He is also quite knowledgeable about the personal and political battles of national politics, providing rich portraits of many of the best-known figures of the era, from John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay to Salmon P. Chase and William H. Seward.
The New York Times Book Review - Steven Hahn
In this first book of a multivolume reexamination of the 16th president’s life, Blumenthal (The Strange Death of Republican America), a longtime Clinton adviser and former Washington Post reporter, asserts that Lincoln saw politics as vital and even beneficial, not as a necessary evil. He stresses that “Lincoln the politician and Lincoln the Great Emancipator were not antithetical sides of the same person, or antithetical stages in the same lie, but one man.” This central thesis is not original, but Blumenthal explores the details more thoroughly than most others have before. Nonscholars are also likely to be surprised by some of the facts he presents, including that the frequently vilified Mary Todd was instrumental in advancing her husband’s career and prevented him from taking the job of Secretary of the Oregon Territory, which would have marginalized him as a political figure. The dry text is occasionally enlivened by sharp remarks: a comment about an 1837 speech on Lincoln by Edmund Wilson was “the sort of brilliantly intuitive literary insight that only lacks political comprehension, historical reference, and facts, and inspired a school of psychobabble.” Blumenthal’s argument that Lincoln’s self-education in politics “developed for the task he could not imagine” will make lay readers eager to read the next volume. (May)
Terrific . . . The Lincoln of Blumenthal’s pen is a cunning Whig floor leader in Illinois, a brave progressive facing racist assaults on his religion, ethnicity, and very legitimacy that echo the anti-Obama birther movement. . . . Blumenthal takes the wily pol of Steven Spielberg’s
Lincoln and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and goes deeper, finding a Vulcan logic and House of Cards ruthlessness.
Sidney Blumenthal has brought us a vivid, riveting, beautifully-written and strikingly original portrait of America's greatest President during his early years, which enhances both our understanding and admiration of how this truly self-made man ultimately became one of the towering leaders of all time.
With riveting prose, solid command of the sources, and a genius for conveying time, character, and atmosphere, Sidney Blumenthal has accomplished the unimaginable: he has crafted an extraordinarily fresh account of the rise of Abraham Lincoln, master politician. I don’t think there is a better, more eminently readable account of Lincoln’s political rise in the entire literature.
A Self-Made Man provides an intricate network of personal detail about the first forty years of our sixteenth president. Compelling, deeply researched, and superbly written, it provides a definitive account of how Lincoln became the man he was.
In this engrossing life-and-times study of the formative years of Abraham Lincoln (1809–65), before he became a national figure, political journalist and historian Blumenthal (The Strange Death of Republican America) takes the reader deep into Illinois and national politics to locate the character and content of Lincoln's ideas, interests, and identity, and to understand his driving ambition to succeed in law and politics. In doing so, the author makes the important point that Lincoln gained empathy and understanding of "the people" from his own self-awareness and need to escape his own origins of relative poverty and hard struggle. Lincoln not only embodied the Whig principle of "the right to rise" but believed it as the lodestar of liberty. Blumenthal also suggests that Lincoln's genius was in knowing how to temper idealism with pragmatism and thereby to realize such lifelong hopes that "all men everywhere" might be free. VERDICT If Blumenthal sometimes loses Lincoln in his detailed accounting of patronage, politicking, and personalities, great and small, he effectively shows that the president's Illinois was a proving ground for the politics of expansion, economic development, nativism, anti-Mormonism, and slavery that both reflected and affected national concerns. Lincoln, the self-made man, is revealed as tried-and-true, ready for the troubled times that came in the years leading up to the Civil War. [See Prepub Alert, 11/16/15.]—Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
The first volume in a study of Abraham Lincoln, professional politician. In this minutely detailed work, Blumenthal (The Strange Death of Republican America, 2008, etc.), a former senior adviser to Bill Clinton and national staff reporter for the Washington Post, sifts through Lincoln's early influences to take the sum of the later politician. The humble rail splitter recognized from an early age what slavery meant, beginning in his childhood among the anti-slavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana and continuing with his practical experience as his father's hireling until the age of 21. Indeed, at an early campaign event, Lincoln announced, "I used to be a slave," and although he made the audience laugh, he was deeply serious. As Blumenthal shows, he was "constantly transforming himself through self-education and political aspiration." He was a new kind of man, a professional politician who delighted in the messy give-and-take of the party ring, unlike earlier historians' portrayal of the Great Emancipator (for example, by James G. Randall) as someone "too noble" to get his hands dirty. Blumenthal sees in Lincoln's striving a method of calculation—e.g., his cultivation of the stories of the common man and his courting of the press. Practicing law was the first step in becoming a politician, and Lincoln modeled himself consciously on the image of statesman Henry Clay. Blumenthal works his way through mentors and early influences, such as Springfield's leading attorney John Todd Stuart; former president and now Massachusetts anti-slavery Congressman John Quincy Adams, "old man eloquent" arguing constantly against the gag rule in Congress; and especially future wife Mary Todd, who believed in Lincoln as no other did. While the author often seems so swept up in his historical research as to lose sight of his subject, he delves deeply into the incremental building of Lincoln's anti-slavery views, flourishing in the debates with Stephen Douglas. A consummate political observer keenly dissects the machinations of Lincoln's incredible rise to power.