The Biography of a Writer
By Fred Kaplan
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780060773342, 416pp.)
Publication Date: November 2008
For Abraham Lincoln, whether he was composing love letters, speeches, or legal arguments, words mattered. In Lincoln, acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan explores the life of America's sixteenth president through his use of language as a vehicle both to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment. Like the other great canonical writers of American literature—a status he is gradually attaining—Lincoln had a literary career that is inseparable from his life story. An admirer and avid reader of Burns, Byron, Shakespeare, and the Old Testament, Lincoln was the most literary of our presidents. His views on love, liberty, and human nature were shaped by his reading and knowledge of literature.
Since Lincoln, no president has written his own words and addressed his audience with equal and enduring effectiveness. Kaplan focuses on the elements that shaped Lincoln's mental and imaginative world; how his writings molded his identity, relationships, and career; and how they simultaneously generated both the distinctive political figure he became and the public discourse of the nation. This unique account of Lincoln's life and career highlights the shortcomings of the modern presidency, reminding us, through Lincoln's legacy and appreciation for language, that the careful and honest use of words is a necessity for successful democracy.
Illuminating and engrossing, Lincoln brilliantly chronicles Abraham Lincoln's genius with language.
Fred Kaplan is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of several biographies, including The Singular Mark Twain; Gore Vidal; Henry James: The Imagination of Genius; Charles Dickens; and Thomas Carlyle, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Boothbay, Maine.
-Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic
“Lively. . . . Kaplan does a good job of tracing the young man’s reading habits, identifying favorite books and noting their influence on the mature politician. . . . Powerful and convincing. . . . Kaplan is a biographer on a mission.”
-The Los Angeles Times