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A Lean Lincoln

June 2023
1min read

The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America

by Mark Neely, Jr., Harvard University Press, 207 pages

As an introduction to the sprawling field of Lincoln studies, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Mark Neely, Jr., offers a compact one-volume biography that gets the sixteenth President engaged to Mary Todd by page 32 and into the White House less than thirty pages later. Even at this pace Neely has real authority as he shows that Lincoln’s politics were practical and his ambition was vaulting but without any grand object through the early years. “At one critical juncture,” writes Neely, “[Lincoln] seriously weighed the choice between becoming a lawyer or a blacksmith !.” Lincoln wrote in 1832 that he had “no other [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed by my fellow men.” Neely convincingly traces his hero’s evolution from country lawyer and Whig canvasser to congressman, Republican candidate, and President. He doubts that Lincoln ever assumed he would end up the great man he became.

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