Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: The War Years - Winner, History, 1940

Abraham Lincoln: The War Years by: Carl Sandburg
Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1939

Well, I'm finally back.  I have actually been trying to finish this book (for the second time) for the past month and finally had to give it up.  Sandburg has an incredible knowledge of the life of Abraham Lincoln.  In addition to other books on Lincoln and his family, Sandburg wrote Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and  Abraham Lincoln: The War YearsThe Prairie Years is in two volumes with a total of eleven hundred pages.  The War Years (the one that won the Pulitzer) is four volumes and more than twenty-four hundred pages.  I almost made it through the first volume, but this book is TEDIOUS! What Sandburg has written is more a history of the Civil War from the Union perspective and less a biography of Lincoln. I'm not sure if it is because Lincoln did not leave extensive personal records or if it is just how Sandburg wrote, but the book seems very detached from Lincoln, as if most sources were those who observed the man and not from the man himself.  I often felt as if I was looking in through a window at Lincoln instead of standing in the room with him, if that makes sense. 

Interestingly, I realized, as I was preparing to write this blog, that the book did win for History and not Biography.  The entire time I was reading it I thought it was supposed to be a biography, and that might have affected how I viewed it.  This book would be useful to a researcher looking for facts on the Civil War, but the researcher should be aware that Sandburg relies heavily on The Diary of A Public Man, an anonymous diary printed in the 1860s that contained supposedly eyewitness accounts of a Washington insider.  The diary is used sparingly today by historians, who prefer to rely on sources that can be more clearly traced.


RC said...

Timely post :-)

AK said...

That's funny! I didn't even think about it!