Title: Lincoln President-Elect:
Abraham Lincoln and the
Great Succession Winter 1860-1861
By Harold Holzer
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
I’ve always been amazed at how historians pore over some old documents and books in some dusty basement storehouses, and yet are able to come up with a volume that’s readable and enlightening – and even entertaining. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t, but this is surely an exception.
Although he may have already written more history books about our 16th president and about the Civil War era than any other living historian, history is not the profession of Harold Holzer, but his avocation. His “day-job” is vice president for public affairs of one of the nation’s premier art history museums – the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – but studying and writing about Lincoln is Holzer’s apparent obsession.
Holzer has woven together a realistic portrayal of Lincoln. Holzer’s gathering of disparate memoirs and reports and his putting their contents in a flowing and appropriate order and context gives the reader of this book the impression that the author was like a fly on the wall.
This was no dry reading of history, such as we were forced into in our school days, but an exciting realistic drama, in which even John Wilkes Booth is first introduced during Lincoln’s pre-inaugural train ride from Springfield to Washington. It is now apparent that the final scene staged at the Ford Theatre was already being written some four years earlier.
An epilogue chapter includes the entire text of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, clearly showing all of the deletions, additions and emendations. There is also a “What Became of” section, listing the names of all the “principal players” of Lincoln’s presidential era together with their eventual histories.
This is a magisterial volume of nearly 500 pages and extensive footnotes. “Lincoln President-Elect” also includes one of the most extensive sets of photographs and illustrations I have ever seen published in a history book, each in a most appropriate position among the text they relate to, rather than merely gathered together in a separately printed signature.
This is an exciting, very readable book for both Lincoln and history buffs alike.