Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In this intriguing biography, English professor and literary biographer Kaplan (The Singular Mark Twain) analyzes Abraham Lincoln's writings, from the great civic anthems of his presidency to love letters, legal briefs, poems and notebook jottings, and finds a first-rate literary talent--a master storyteller with an earthy wit, sharp logic and an ear for poetic phrasing. From wide reading, Kaplan contends, Lincoln gleaned influences--an Aesopian moralism, a biblical sense of providence, a Byronic melancholy, a Shakespearean understanding of human complexity--that shaped his approach to issues and, through his words, the nation's attitude toward slavery and war. Kaplan sometimes overdoes his critical exegeses of Lincoln's more forgettable efforts ([Lincoln's] comic depiction of what happens when two people of the same sex are bedded has a heterodox clarity that reveals his familiarity with bodily realities) but many of these readings, like his recasting as free verse a speech on agricultural improvements, are eye-opening. The result is a fresh, revealing study of both Lincoln's language and character. (Nov. 3) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
How the 16th president usedand transformedthe English language. Famously self-taught, Lincoln's understanding of and familiarity with the language depended to a large degree on his reading, and Kaplan (The Singular Mark Twain, 2003, etc.) offers a thorough survey of all the sources that informed the young autodidact. From early influences like the Bible and Dilworth's Speller, to particular favorites like Poe's "The Raven," to the Enlightenment essayists and poets Pope and Milton, to Romantics Burns and Byron and, above all, Shakespeare, Lincoln heard background rhythms he would later masterfully adapt to his own emerging personal voice. Kaplan looks at halting childhood exercises; early political speeches and circulars; love letters and letters to friends; stabs at poetry (overpraised by Kaplan); eulogies for Zachary Taylor and Henry Clay; addresses to Congress; and even a brief to the Supreme Court in Broadwell v. Lewis. The author effectively demonstrates how Lincoln brought elements of his own personalitymelancholy and humor, lawyerly precision and clarity, down-to-earth language and intellectual intensityto prose that came to be defined as quintessentially American. Although the immortal presidential addresses receive scant attention hereperhaps because they've been exhaustively covered in fine books like Harold Holzer's Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President (2004) and Garry Wills's Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (1992)by the time Kaplan places Lincoln in the White House, readers require no further guide to Lincoln's methods, nor any further convincing about the man's linguistic brilliance. A highly readable, often insightful analysis of an unequaled prose master for whom writing was "the supreme artifact of human genius." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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