Saturday, December 8, 2012

David Von Drehle - Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year (Henry Holt)

Who would have thought that 2012 could easily be dubbed “The Year of Abraham Lincoln” given the Stephen Spielberg big screen adaptation of Lincoln’s story and the number of books that have been offered up this year on Honest Abe.

Let me start by saying that I am not a Civil War buff and I don’t play one on TV, but I thought that David Von Drehle’s approach to writing Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year was interesting in that rather than trying, as so many historians do, to capture a subject life and work, this book tackles just one year, 1862.

While many Civil War historians will point to 1863 as the critical year in that war, Von Drehle makes an interesting case that 1862 was the critical year for Lincoln and the decisive year for the future direction of American history.

Von Drehle tackles the subject literally one month at a time, with each chapter dedicated to one month, which is not only an interesting literary devise, but one that builds momentum as the story progresses. Von Drehle’s approach does not intrude or sculpt or massage events to fit his narrative, instead he allows the natural flow of history to drive the storyline.

All too often we have seen historians intrude, interpret and invade the story they are attempting to tell with their own bias on the subject; Von Drehle allows history to tell the story while placing it in the context of the era it occurred. For me that is all any historian worth his salt could and should do.

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