by Douglas L. Wilson, 1998, Alfred A. Knopf, New York
I had always eyed this book as it surely targeted a subject that I was interested in: the transformation of Abrahams Lincoln from a backwoods youth to the person who had possibly the greatest command of the English language ever. While the book did answer some questions for me, unfortunately it bored me to death.
I think the major problem with the book is the author’s approach to the subject. He took a forensic approach to each of the events in the period from 1831 to 1842 and tried to logically make a case for the most accurate accounting of each. The first chapter is about Lincoln’s fight with Jack Armstrong shortly after he arrived in New Salem. The author goes through several different accounts of this event and tries to determine which is the most likely. The chapter went on and on to the point where I had to skip about twenty-five pages because it was so redundant. Also, it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference which accounting was the most accurate as the point was that a fight occurred where Lincoln was involved and, as a result, he earned some new found respect that he previously didn’t have. ‘Nuff said!
After skipping much of that chapter, I went on to read the rest of the book. It followed the same path but I eventually made it through to the end.
At the end of the day, I discovered that Lincoln in his early years was prone to making personal attacks on his opponents via anonymous articles submitted to the local newspapers (Twitter wasn’t invented at that time). This behavior was fairly despicable, even for those times. It eventually caused Lincoln to be challenged to a duel. I also learned that he had a penchant for reading Shakespeare and Byron’s poetry. I think this might have been a key to his mastery of the English language in his later years.
I think the book could have been a lot more enjoyable to read if the author had dispensed with a lot of the detail and focused more on his conclusions. This would have made the book a lot shorter, but he also could have expanded the time period he examined beyond 1842 as I don’t believe the entire “transformation” had been completed by that time. There were a lot more events that influenced Lincoln after 1842 including his term in Congress, his family life, etc., that made him the man who was elected in 1860.