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Over a twenty-five period, Gore Vidal created a series of seven novels, which together are referred to as his American Chronicle novels. These novels capture American history in fiction in a way in which few writers have attempted, let alone succeeded. Lincoln is the fourth volume in the series. In this profoundly moving novel, a work of epic proportions and intense human sympathy, Lincoln is observed by his loved ones and his rivals. The cast of characters is almost Dickensian: politicians, generals, White House aides, newspapermen, Northern and Southern conspirators, amiably evil bankers, and a wife slowly going mad. Vidal's portrait of the president is at once intimate and monumental, stark and complex, drawn with the wit, grace, and authority of one of the great historical novelists. RosettaBooks is proud to publish four of Gore Vidal's American Chronicle novels ? Burr, Lincoln, Empire and Hollywood.
Lincoln is a masterwork of historical fiction, in which Gore Vidal combines a comprehensive knowledge of Civil War America with 20th-century literary technique, probing the minds and motives of the men surrounding Abraham Lincoln, including personal secretary John Hay and scheming cabinet members William Seward and Salmon P. Chase, as well as his wife, Mary Todd. It is a book monumental in scope that never loses sight of the intimate and personal in its depiction of the power struggles that accompanied Lincoln's efforts to preserve the Union at all costs--efforts in which the eradication of slavery was far from the president's main objective. As usual, there's plenty of room for Vidal's wickedly humorous deflation of American icons, including a comic interlude in a Washington bordello in which Lincoln's former law partner informs Hay that Lincoln had contracted syphilis as a young man and had, just before marrying Mary Todd, suffered what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. (Protestors should note that Vidal is only passing along what that former partner had written in his own biography of Lincoln.) Don't be intimidated by the size of Lincoln; if you like historical fiction, you should read this book at the first opportunity. --Ron Hogan
I'd like to give this book 5 stars for the extraordinary undertaking of thought and research that it represents, but the book, while very good, is weakened by its ambition and its reliance on dialog.
I think Vidal developed insight into many of the players (Lincoln, Mary, Salmon Chase, Kate Chase, Sprague, Stanton, Seward, David, Hay...) and wanted to sketch a portrait of each one of them. This detracted from his most interesting portrait, that of Lincoln.
The characters are developed primarliy through conversation, so much that it reads more like a script than a novel. Even as a script, it's in need of an edit. Some of the conversation has tremendous impact, such as Lincoln at cabinet meetings, exchanges with Mary, meeting with free Blacks, Lincoln on his own political situation, Mary talking with relatives, David and Booth, and Hay in Paris. At other times, the dialog seems to be there because it's just too clever to leave out.
I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Vidal's Burr: A Novel. The novel was enriched by my having recently read Alexander Hamilton and Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. While I enjoyed and appreciated this book, perhaps it would have been more so had I prepared by reading something like Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in advance.
- Brilliant work of historical fiction
This is simply the best book of historical fiction I have read - a brilliant work that is enthralling and utterly plausible.
I saw Gore Vidal's Lincoln on TV in the late 80s played by Sam Waterson and Mary Tyler Moore. At that time I remember thinking of it as a very interesting movie, but did not connect it to the American Chronicle series that Gore Vidal authored.
Reading this book, the TV movie comes better to light (and I am now quite urgently trying to dig it up!).
The book itself is characterized by several wonderful elements:
Firstly, Gore Vidal is a splendid writer. The way he scripts his words, the way he sets up the scenes and the psychological probing of his characters are all scintillating.
Secondly, the subject of this novel is so towering, that the reader can be forgiven for wondering if a novel can do him justice. Gore Vidal achieves that feat - he manages to present Lincoln foremost as a master politician, a leader for his times, a compassionate, wily, honest, determined and utterly human.
Finally, it is quite amazing how many of Lincoln's senior officers (Chase, Seward, McClellan) were gunning for his office. How Lincoln manages all these competing political forces is a compelling reading.
There is enough mythology sorrounding Lincoln, without having to have fiction written around him and circumstances of the civil war. But Gore Vidal's purpose is quite genuine and sincere - taking a fictional tack frees him up to probe Lincoln the man and all the characters and circumstances he had to deal with with much more freedom and creativity - the result is a plausible, yet utterly delightful account of America's arguably greatest President.
This book will be one my prized possesions on my bookshelf....more info
- Quite close to brilliance
I have mixed emotions regarding Gore Vidal's Lincoln. Though it is, in fact, a great book, I simply don't feel it is quite as good as Burr. Does that mean I should knock it down a star to compensate? I felt I must, otherwise how could I differentiate the fact that I felt Burr to be the better book?
Lincoln is a near-perfect historical account of the heretofore little-known goings-on in the Lincoln White House. It illuminates quite brilliantly both the parties that occupied the White House during this period and those who would usurp it. On the other hand, it does little to shed light on the parties that actually fought the Civil War. Having only a very general knowledge of that war, I found it difficult to keep track of the importance of a certain battle or situation being mentioned, and I frequently foung myself realizing that I was on the losing end of an inside joke.
For all that, however, I came away from the book enlightened regarding Lincoln the man and those that were closest to him, which was the primary intention of the book. Historical fiction holds the possibility of both entertaining and enlightening perhaps more than any other form of literature, and no one does it better than Gore Vidal....more info
- couldn't put this one down
If you read just one book about this great president make it this one. Brings Lincoln to life in great detail without getting bogged down. Delicious read....more info
- Brings Lincoln to Life
The historian seeking to give life to his subjects, particularly those who lived before the 20th century, can often run into problems due to the lack of available source material. No man in American history has been more studied than the great AbrahamLincoln but how hard it is to bring him to life. The value of good historical fiction is its ability to make history both lively and interesting and to place it into the context of everyday life. Vidal's book is a great piece of literature. Brilliantly written it is also histirucally accurate. The book is essentially a character study of Lincoln from his inaugeration to his death four years later. Although a number of characters narrate the story through the omniscent device, Lincoln does not. With the exception of a historically verifed dream of his own death Lincoln had shortly before the assasination, the reader never enters Lincoln's mind. Instead he is viewed through a series of characters who surround him. His secretary John Hay, his wife Mary, his rival Salman Chase, his secretary of State William Seward and the traitor David Herold who was hanged for his part in the assasination conspiracy. Through their eyes Lincoln is presented as he was, a folksy deceptively simple mid-westerner who was shrewd, politically brilliant and deeply morose about the horrible work he was pledged to fullfill. Ultimately Lincoln is really unknowable and this is as it should be because this was his character. The narrative uses the natural ups and downs of the great struggle to present a story of great suspense and pathos. Anyone not familiar with the Civil War will learn much from this novel while being entertained. To me, a history buff, the single stand out moment that really shows where Lincoln was at comes after he is given word from General Meade about the results of the Battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln, having heard that Lee was outnumbered and overextended had hoped that the rebel army could be destroyed once and for all. Lincoln received word from Meade that his forces had driven "the enemy from our sacred soil." Lincoln was in despair. After more than two years of war, his commanding General still did not even understand that ALL the soil of the United States was sacred soil, including the seceded states. More importantly, what hope was there of destroying the rebellion when the top General saw his job as driving Lee out of the North rather than invading and taking control of the South.?
I highly recommend this book to everybody. We owe it to Lincoln's memory to understand him beyond the cliches....more info
- Great History, Great Politics, Great Novel
Andrew Delbanco says of this novel: "This novel will, I suspect, maintain a permanent place in American letters." I can only hope so; it certainly deserves it. The historical detail is perfect, yet never tedious, and with Vidal choosing which details to give us, we get the juiciest ones. This is a novel that will please history buffs, but it will also transform a reader into a history buff. (I found myself checking out biographies of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln from the library.)
If there is anything negative to be said about this book, it is simply that it is very long (657 pages, and they make full use of each page). This should not deter anyone from reading it. It just means you should buy it for yourself for Christmas and read it over the break. Or take it to the beach. Though I imagine a cup of coffee or tea and a blanket are more suited for this novel.
The Lincoln portrayed here is completely human, replete with humor, constipation, family quarrels, anxiety, wisdom--in short, a full and complex man. Scholars argue back and forth about whether Vidal has accurately portrayed Lincoln. This portrait is as accurate as any you'll find, but I promise you that no other will be this engaging and interesting. He even puts forth a believable theory about Lincoln's assassination (which he admits is largely conjecture in an afterword where he breaks down what parts of the novel are fictional and what parts factual).
I recommend this book to every history buff, to every literature buff, to every American....more info
- A most vivid account of Lincoln as man and president
Vidal's account of Lincoln's presidency paints a most vivid picture of a very uncommon man who rose to the challenge of his presidency. Lincoln, who many consider one if not the most important U.S. president, is shown with a genial mind, often deeply conflicted and uncertain, still humorous when faced with the political, strategic and moral trade offs. I found it a facinating book to read....more info
- Fascinating presidential epic
A competent historical novel seems easy to write -- after all, the story is already there; just dress it up with appropriate scenes of action and dialogue. However, a great historical novel, like Gore Vidal's "Lincoln," goes further and deeper into the motivations of its characters. It turns history into drama and historical figures into human beings, people that the reader can care about not because they really existed, but because the printed page has miraculously brought them to life.
"Lincoln" chronicles the turbulent last four years of the life of the sixteenth President of the United States. It begins in February 1861 with Lincoln arriving in Washington to take office as the chief executive of a nation in turmoil: Southern states are seceding from the Union, exacerbated by the failure of a Democrat to be elected President. Lincoln assembles a Cabinet that is quite divided on how to handle the imminent civil war: Secretary of State Seward has his eye on expanding the nation like an empire and thinks the secessionist states would rejoin the Union if Mexico (and eventually the entire Western hemisphere) were conquered; Secretary of the Treasury Chase is a staunch abolitionist who frets over how the war will be financed.
Lincoln is more concerned with the preservation of the Union than the complete abolition of slavery; he draws up the Emancipation Proclamation which frees the slaves in the Confederate states as a military necessity but allows the border states to keep their slaves as an incentive not to join the Confederacy. The war proceeds slowly and painfully as the blood of hundreds of thousands of soldiers stains the national landscape, while Lincoln struggles with imperfect generals commanding the Union army.
Lincoln's private life is also strewn with difficulty and heartbreak. Two of his sons have died while his youngest, Tad, is an insufferable brat; his wife, Mary Todd, is a spendthrift and always on the verge of insanity. Much of the novel is narrated from the perspective of Lincoln's personal secretary, John Hay, who observes the vicissitudes of White House intrigue with a sort of detached interest.
During the war, there is much espionage activity in Washington. Vidal focuses on a young drugstore clerk named David Herold who relays messages for Confederate spies and hangs out with the Surratts, a family of devout Catholics who are loyal to the South. Doing some side work as a theatrical stagehand, Herold meets a famous young actor named John Wilkes Booth who is also a Confederate symphathizer, even while he is making the rounds of fashionable Washington society. After Lincoln is re-elected in 1864, Booth resolves once and for all to punish this man he considers a tyrant, and the rest, of course, is history.
Vidal's Lincoln is a complex man. He is serious but calm and gentle, defuses the madness around him with a cynical sense of humor and a fondness for telling comical rustic anecdotes, and uses his pretenses as a mere timid country lawyer to disguise his ability to wield a dictatorial authority when pressed. And since this is a novel and not a textbook, Vidal renders a Lincoln who can be appreciated as a literary character and not just as an American monument....more info
- Wicked, Scathing, Brilliant
First, judging by some reviews here I have read, I want to say this....... Lincoln is historical fiction. NOT FACT. That having been said, this is one of the best works of historical fiction out there. A funny, wise, biting, dark and loving look at the greatest man to ever occupy the White House. An age before the political parties had basically flipped their roles, Lincoln is an almost unbelievably huge figure, defying his physical limitations and shattering the political ones heaped upon him. Mr. Vidal is a writers dream and a reader's treasure. The greatest truth here, as well as the biggest gift this book bestows upon us is the humanity painted on the stone faced figure we've always been told about in school. This book is an amazing accomplishment and an invaluable contribution to framing a clear picture of this titan of our past. Don't miss this book....more info
- Historical Fiction at Its Finest
Gore Vidal's 'Lincoln' immerses the reader in Civil War Washington with rich detail. Vidal introduces few fictional characters and hews close to the known historical record in brilliantly recreating actions and conversations. Lincoln emerges as a master political strategist who invites his chief adversaries into his Administration and then lulls them into thinking they and not he are the real powers. By the time Lincoln acheives near complete power, Chase and Seward are unsure just how it happened.
By the end, this reader more pitied than despised Mary Todd Lincoln, but felt both emotions in full towards Lincoln's vicious and insane wife. Salmon Chase comes in for a richly deserved measure of disrepute with his incessant political ambitions. Lesser known characters such William Sprague and 'Chevalier' Henry Wikoff add color and dishonor. The examination of Lincoln's second secretary, John Hay, is fascinating and enlightening.
Vidal inserts several rebels into the story, including a glory-hound named David Herold. These characters are real, but little is known about them and it shows. A reduced role for these characters would have mercifully shortened the extraordinary length of the book.
Vidal controversially has Lincoln continuing to advocate the colonization of freed slaves right up until the day of his assassination. My understanding of the generally accepted view is that Lincoln had long since abadnoned colonization as a viable policy.
Vidal's 'Lincoln' is historical fiction at its finest - entertaining and elucidating. Highly recommended.
- Gore Vidal: Lincoln A Novel
Extremely well written and researched book of the events of Lincoln's life in the White House during the Civil War. Great book for the collector, almost makes you feel that you are a part of history itself!!...more info
- Lincoln, Warts and All
This first paragraph below has been used previously to introduce author Gore Vidal's' output of other interesting historical novels (that, however, unlike many such efforts in this genre when necessary hew pretty close to the historical record- hence their value).
Listen up! As a general proposition I like my history straight up- facts, footnotes and all. There is enough work just keeping up with that work so that historical novels don't generally get a lot of my attention. In this space I have reviewed some works of the old American Stalinist Howard Fast around the American Revolution and the ex-Communist International official and Trotsky biographer Victor Serge about Stalinist times in the Russia of the 1930's, but not much else. However, one of the purposes of this space is to acquaint the new generation with a sense of history and an ability to draw some lessons from that history, if possible. That is particularly true for American history- the main arena that we have to glean some progressive ideas from. Thus an occasional foray, using the historical novel in order to get a sense of the times, is warranted. Frankly, there are few better at this craft that the old bourgeois historical novelist, Norman Mailer nemesis and social commentator Gore Vidal. Although his politics are somewhere back in the Camelot/FDR period he has a very good ear for the foibles of the American experience- read him with that caveat in mind.
Vidal, as is his format in this series of expositions on the American experience, combines fictional characters and situations with the makings and doings of real characters and events in American history, here the hard Civil War days of decision of the Lincoln administration. Here the narrator is actually a real character from that history, John Hay, one of Lincoln's two personal secretaries who later became Secretary of State in the Republican McKinley administration near the end of the 19th century (and who appears in a the later Vidal novel Empire in that very different role). The virtue of this selection of Hay as the narrator is that one is given a bird's eye view of the daily goings on (fictional or not) at the Lincoln White House and a very chose vantage point to observe the kind of things that weighted heavily on Lincoln's mind and on his agenda for preserving the Union.
Interestingly, although the Lincoln persona has been viewed from every possible perspective and from every possible political view by now Vidal has contributes a very fast moving rendition of the story with his little twist. His central premise, one shared by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her fairly recent book on Lincoln and his Cabinet, is that only a sage and driven personality like Lincoln's could have held all the diverse and generally antagonistic personalities on the coalition that he put together among pro-Unionist forces in order to save the Republic. His feigns and thrusts in all directions, seemingly after much agonizing reflection keeps one on one's toes as one turns the pages every though the outcome is known. Certainly the main alternate contenders for power (that 1864 Republican nomination was always lurking in the background) Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase evidently did not have that capacity and in the end seemingly reconciled themselves, in Chase's case kicking and screaming with daughter Kate in tow, to that secondary role (Chase got bought off by the Supreme Court Chief Justiceship).
Vidal wrote this novel in the early 1980's at a time that I was reading Carl Sandburg's volumes of biography on Lincoln. If I am not mistaken Vidal owns some debt of gratitude to the Chicago poet for the musical sense of his novel. Many of the little scenarios, such as the incessant clamor for jobs from every Tom, Dick and Harry who might have voted for Lincoln in 1860 that filled the time of Hay (and Nicolay, the other Lincoln secretary) and that make this novel so compelling I remember from reading Sandburg's Lincoln biography. Also the treatment of Lincoln's homespun humor and proverbial storytelling powers (always with some political point on the edge of the blade). As well as Lincoln's reactions to his household tragedies and the massive tragedies unfolding on the battlefields.
Finally, for those who like their history in capsule form, with a sweetener if you will, this is a very good place to begin your Lincoln or Civil War studies. In quick succession you will learn about the tribulations of physically getting Lincoln inaugurated, the first reactions from the South to that fact by the various acts of secession, the South Carolina incidents culminating in the siege and capture of Fort Sumtner, the fact of two nation states existing where one had been previously as far as foreign recognition, particularly British and French recognition, was concerned.
From there the military problems on the union beginning with Manassas and the question of competent leadership, Lincoln's frustrations with a series of military commanders, the stalemate on the battlefield. And overriding all that the struggle to determine the nature of the conflict- solely for the preservation of the Union or that and the abolition of slavery, the decisive battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg and the change in concept to "total war" with the accession of Grand and McClellan to military leadership, military victory and then assassination of Lincoln. And along the way enough political intrigue, maneuvering, cowardice and heroics by some well-known historical characters to write many novels. But that is for another day. Read this today.
- Excellant, Malicious and Ironical Biography
Gore Vidal wrote a great book about Lincoln, one of the most brilliant and opaque figures in U.S. history. Even after reading the book you are still left wondering who the man was that married the rich, but mad socialite Mary Todd, became an attorney for the Illinois Central, debated and outfoxed Judge Douglas and became the minority president who split the Union. Lincoln's motives are always layered with multiple intents and aims, his actions ambiguous. Vidal does an excellant job of protraying this ambiguity by which an utterly brilliant man managed to act most effectively in the world without being destroyed, as many brilliant people are, by their own inner demons or the jealousy of those around them.
Vidal's book is especailly good for its humor. There were numerous instances when I laughed out loud, especially at Lincoln's drool wit.
This is a book written by a politician. The analysis of the politics is masterful. For those who are interested in the military side of the war do not expect much, its just a side show to the politics of the beltway (when it was still just mud roads near a stinking, purtrid canal).
Attorneys will enjoy the book. No cheap shots. Actual intelligent analysis of the profession and its contributions to America's greatness. Engineers, on the other hand, like General McCellan come in for their fair share of criticism in a reversal of the modern myth that software engineers add value while lawyers of supposedly dead weight. Imagine for the moment General William Gates and you see the problem.
Very minor quibbles: first, a list of characters would have been very helpful, especially when you first start reading. The large cast of characters is Dostoevskian in their appearance and reappearance; some help is needed at times in keeping straight who is who.
Second, the final chapter is lame. The book should have just ended with Stanton saying: "He will belong to the ages, while we are obliged to live on in the wreckage." The comments of the French Court are a dull way to end the book.
These are minor criticisms. Overall this book is very much worth reading....more info
- A lively portait of one of our greatest leaders
For those of us who grew up on legends of Lincoln the rail-splitter, Gore Vidal's historical novel presents the reader with a man who was more complex than any folklore. The novel traces Lincoln's life from the beginnings of his presidency to his tragic end. Vidal certainly did his homework, drawing upon letters, diaries, and newspapers of the time. He portrays an Abraham Lincoln who was intelligent and sagacious in his dealings with the world, and meloncholy in his response to the world. Vidal excels in bringing his characters to life, and the novel is rich in dialogue and intrigue. Modern followers of today's political scene will no doubt recognize and appreciate the position Lincoln was in, surrounded by a cabinet of pretenders to the throne. Having to constantly deal with others whose ambitions of the Presidency must have severly tested the sagacity of the Chief Magistrate, considering the fact that he was responsible for seeing the country through the Civil War. Lincoln chose to keep his enemies closer, so that he might better keep a watch over them. How many of our modern presidents had that kind of political courage? Although Vidal chooses to strip away the folklore, he has replaced the legend with an accurate portrait of a much greater man....more info
- A Little Far Fetched (And Intended To Be).
This book is very entertaining.
Gore Vidal is an excellent author. However, this is not necessarily a good historical novel. It is quite long on conjecture and supposition, too much so. As a result, the history, the central topic that sells this book, is skewed, questionable.
But that is quite alright. It is why Mr. Vidal titled it, Lincoln: A Novel. There is no reason not to enjoy this work, it is good. Just understand that Vidal's book is more good, novelist conjecture than solid, factual history. It is an interesting and fun read, one to be enjoyed....more info
- Splendid reading
Vidal writes a very entertaining novel based on the facts of Lincoln's life from his innaugaration to his murder. Particularly interesting is his portrait of Mary Todd - she is a fascinating, mad figure who both tormented and consoled Lincoln in his struggles. While it is a big novel, it is rarely difficult to read (except when it gets bogged down in some silly conversational one upmanship between the politicians at various social settings). I enjoyed it very much. Vidal has a very clear idea of what he wants to do and does it very well. A great way to spend several evenings. I had no interest in the civil war period when I picked this up but I was thoroughly entertained....more info
- A fascinating insight into a critical time in American History
Lincoln is a fascinating read. Having read Burr, 1876, Julian, Creation and many other works by Gore Vidal, I was well prepared for the style of the novel. While there can always be debates as to why some events are covered and others ignored, I felt that the book certainly covered the main events of the time, and showed a very human Lincoln.
I recall visiting the Lincoln birthplace in Kentucky during a coast to coast bicycle ride for the Bicentennial, and I was taken by the way he was presented as so much larger that life. I guess that the sheer scale of the memorial in Washington reinforces that perception, so it is always going to be difficult to treat such a figure as human, with all the failings that means.
The Lincoln we see in the novel is both fallible and astute. He comes across as a very clever politician. Perhaps this is seen as a negative today, but it is nigh on impossible to see how he could have reached the position of president without considerable political skills.
The background to the war is only treated superficially, but the debates Lincoln participated in are covered in sufficient detail retrospectively.
All in all the book gives a very believable insight into one of the most influential people to ever attain the role of President....more info
I found the game of nuance between politicians tiring,but still a fascinating and hugely entertaining book....more info
- Historic Fiction at its Best
I am not a fan of Vidal's politics, lifestyle or world view but his historical studies are tops. This tale of Lincoln reminds one (strangely) of Safire in their fidelity to history. The characters in this book simply rise from the pages and stay with the reader long after the pages have turned and the book has been closed (the highest praise possible for a novel, by the way).
We meet the 16th President who is presented as a multi-faceted man instead of the silent, stone-faced Chief Executive we have all become used to seeing. The political ins and outs - Gore's specialty - are not only clever but vibrant. There are many tales here - political, military, personal, family - and Vidal does a good job of combining them all into a highly entertaining work of art.
As usual, it is the minor characters that make the book and this case is no exception. The less-notable politicos with all their scheming and planning emerge as wholly human and quite understandable. The book is longish but with writing like this it seemed like a novelette. This should be a welcome edition to everyone's library....more info
- How Do You End a Novel About Lincoln?
Having read Vidal's BURR, I could hardly wait to tackle the next volume in his American Chronicle series: LINCOLN. The only disappointment came in that, from the very start, I could see the assassination scene at Ford's Theater. There was no changing the fact that all roads ultimately led to that bullet in the head; and when it happened, there was nothing more to do than quickly wrap up the loose ends and that was it!
Such is the problem of most biographical novels, that they end in the death of their subject.
Vidal deflected the problem in BURR by having the main character the fictional Charlie Schuyler (who makes a cameo appearance in LINCOLN's last chapter). Although in LINCOLN, the author used multiple points of view, not any one of these point of view characters could carry the story by himself: John Hay, Secretary of State Seward, Secretary of the Treasury Chase, and Southern sympathizer David Herrold. The last of these is the weakest. Vidal fails to provide anyone who can give a good reason to stand up for the Confederacy (such as in that great scene in the movie GETTYSBURG where Col. Joshua Chamberlain's brother talks to the three rebel prisoners and why they fought). I guess it shows that Vidal is too much of a Yankee.
In the end, LINCOLN ends with the president's secretary, John Hay, in France. Perhaps more of the narrative burden should have been borne by Hay. He was certainly interesting and articulate enough, where Chase and Seward come across as eccentric and old-womanish with exaggerated opinions of themselves; and David Herold comes across as a wannabe punk.
The glory of LINCOLN is in its characterization of the President himself. Lincoln always surprises his enemies and always knows more than he lets on. Before long we learn of Mary Todd Lincoln's growing mental illness and marvel at Lincoln's gentle yet effective protection of his family from the scandals that threaten to engulf it.
All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Lincoln's presidency. (The book starts with his arrival in Washington to begin his first term.) Except for the construction problems noted above, I found the book to be an admirable character study by a writer who obviously loved his subject....more info
- Perfect portrait of an imperfect Lincoln.
Lincoln arrives in Washington incognito in the middle of the night to avoid assassins. He is protected by Pinkerton. A little nobody, sympathetic at first because he is a boy growing up, becomes progressively less so as he enters the world of amateur conspiracies. Political foes Chase and Seward work in Lincoln's shadows. U.S. Grant appears briefly with his son. Much of the story accompanies John Hay, Lincoln's young personal secretary.
Hay's is possibly Vidal's most interesting portrait. In real life, John Hay started his political career as private secretary to Lincoln and ended it as Secretary of State to Theodore Roosevelt. He served three presidents assassinated in office: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. (I have not yet read Vidal's later American novels, but I presume John Hay reappears.) We see Hay move through Washington society balls, handle Mrs. Lincoln's scandalous purchases and indiscretions, or be heartbroken by Salmon Chase's daughter Kay.
The image of Lincoln Vidal presents is that of the knowing father, but not that of a saint. Vidal's Lincoln is never at a loss as to what needs to be done, but he can be unsure of how to do it. Vidal's Lincoln does have his faults. He is a racist. He is dead set against making slaves into American citizens and wants to ship them back to Africa. His priorities are crystal clear: if he could save the union by preserving slavery, he would. The myth of Lincoln the emancipator is shattered, and yet Lincoln emerges as a greater man for it. By presenting his true objective, saving the Union, Vidal shows us Lincoln's political skills and his compassion. He values the union more than he does the immediate abolition of slavery, but he recognizes that slavery is a blot on American history. He prefers African repatriation because he believes America would be a bad home for former slaves.
Vidal shows us Lincoln's civil war. Lincoln doesn't get to Gettysburg until November 1863. During the momentous battle of July, he was at the telegraph office waiting for the news. The novel starts with Lincoln arriving in Washington and ends at his assassination. Vidal's novel redefines Lincoln the man and dramatizes a historical reevaluation of Lincoln's role in American history....more info
- So Good!!
This is a great piece of historical fiction by Gore Vidal, covering Lincoln's presidency, from the time he arrived in Washington on Feb 23, 1861 to his assasination by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. This book gives you a knew perspective on history because instead of being an omniscient narration, we see the action from the perspective of Secretary of State, William Seward, Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase. We are introduced to the abolitionist politicians such as William Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. And we see Lincoln emerge from all the doubts that people had about his capability to be president to become one of the towering figues in American history. In the final chapter, John Hay, one of Lincoln's former secretaries, says of Lincoln, after his death, "He was very sure of himself. From the beginning, he knew that he was the first man in the country, and that he was bound to get his way, if he lived" (pg 654). Hay is clearly a favorite of Vidal's and here is a reflection of Hay's as he stares at "The Ancient", as he thought of Lincoln, dead on the night of his assasination, "But then Hay realized that never again would the Ancient be reminded of a story. He had become what others would be reminded of" (pg 651). Gore is capable of writing beautifully, like in the two quotes above. And then there are Lincoln's own speeches such as the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. There is also the beautiful and young Kate Chase, daughter of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, and the object of much desire among the young men of Washington, D.C. at the time. "A grand entertainment", as Harold Bloom wrote in his review of the novel for "The New York Review of Books".
Greg Feirman......more info
- Greatest Presidential Novel
Forget BURR. This is Vidal's best novel. And I would make the case that it is the best Lincoln ?°„biography.?°ņ
The novel starts as Lincoln arrives like a thief into a hostile Washington rife with secessionist sentiment. It ends five years later with Lincoln's assassination by the nutcase actor John Wilkes Booth. We get Lincoln's battles with his Generals who don't want to fight and the radical Republicans in congress who think he is not fighting hard enough.
But the novel is not just about Lincoln's presidency and the bloody war which engulfed it. Though some 650 pages, LINCOLN is a work of extraordinary economy. Vidal manages to work in a mini-encyclopedia through anecdotes and gossip by walk-ons like Lincoln's former law partner Herndon, who tells us that Honest Abe wasn?°•t always so honest and also came down with syphilis a young man.
Gore's remarkable portrait of Lincoln tears down myths, yet constructs a monument to the man in their place. The 'Great Emancipator' is portrayed as very soft on slavery and in favor of not only of compensating slaveowners but of shipping blacks off to colonize Central America. Lincoln comes off as a racist buffoon in a meeting with leaders of the North's black community. Yet Lincoln emerges as unquestionably America's greatest president, someone who nearly single-handedly saved the union out of sheer force of will. Lincoln's disaster of a marriage to the borderline schizophrenic Mary Todd is portrayed with a degree of tenderness, Lincoln coming off more as a suffering parent to his wife rather than a sparring partner.
The narrative of the novel maintains a slight distance to Lincoln, while at times veering much closer to supporting characters, such as Lincoln's secretary Hay, Mrs. Lincoln and even the detestable Salmon Chase. I think Vidal did this because he wanted to leave readers with a feeling that they knew Lincoln on a personal level rather than as a subject. For that, I was most grateful....more info
- Lincoln made flesh and thought
At the end of most books on Lincoln that I read, I reach the inevitable part concerning his assassination and start feeling squeamish. I'm tempted to not read any further because part of me hopes that, by not reading about the cowardly murder committed in Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth, it somehow will not have happened. Lincoln will have successfully completed his second term in office, Reconstruction will have been an entirely different animal than it turned out to be and this country would be vastly different as a result.
Reaching the end of Gore Vidal's masterful "Lincoln", I felt even more squeamish, but for a different reason: in this novel, I'd heard Lincoln speak, both to himself and to others; I'd walked with him through the corridors of the White House; looked on as he met with Grant, Sherman and Porter at City Point towards the end of the war; pitied him his domestic burdens of an unstable wife and and the loss of his youngest son, Willie; and I'd witnessed first-hand the insubordination - both covert and overt - of his Cabinet, his staff and his generals and wondered how any man so little supported could have achieved the return of the South to the Union. He had become my friend, my companion and, as Booth pulled the trigger of his gun, I ached for Lincoln and mourned his loss in the most intimate of ways.
A writer that can make a reader feel that way has, in my opinion, truly accomplished something. Vidal's "Lincoln" takes the reader back into history and makes him/her a part not only of events, but of the thoughts of all the major players during the Civil War. Emphasis is placed on events in Washington, DC, rather than on the battlefields, so one doesn't get much about Grant, Sherman, etc. until the novel's end. But, again, this is about Lincoln - the man, the husband and most of all, the canny, shrewd politician. Vidal shows him subtly manipulating his warring Cabinet members like so many pieces on a chessboard, then gives us another character (Secretary John Hay, for example) watching his Commander-In-Chief's actions and evaluating them.
Vidal's narrative style is that of a camera slowly circling the room, focusing first on one character then, as that character approaches or mentions another, easily moving to that next person, linking all the events of 1861-1865 into a long chain of inevitabilties, surging forward into the climax of the death of Lincoln at Ford's Theatre and his passing into legend and into history.
This novel gives us the MAN, who is often forgotten amid the laurel wreaths and marble statues. Lincoln hurt, laughed, plotted, prayed, grieved and, eventually, triumphed and Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" takes you along for the ride.
Enjoy! I cannot recommend this novel highly enough....more info
- A Little Far Fetched (And Intended To Be).
This is a very entertaining read. Gore Vidal is a very good novelist. But this is not necessarily a good historical novel. It is quite long on conjecture, too much so. As a result, the history, the central topic that sells this book, is skewed, questionable. This is no reason not to enjoy this work, it is good. Just understand that Vidal's book is much more good novelist conjecture than solid, factual history....more info