And There Was Light
Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Jon Meacham chronicles the life of Abraham Lincoln, charting how—and why—he confronted secession, threats to democracy, and the tragedy of slavery to expand the possibilities of America.
“Meacham has given us the Lincoln for our time.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize • Longlisted for the Biographers International Plutarch Award • One of the Best Books of the Year: The Christian Science Monitor, Kirkus Reviews
A president who governed a divided country has much to teach us in a twenty-first-century moment of polarization and political crisis. Hated and hailed, excoriated and revered, Abraham Lincoln was at the pinnacle of American power when implacable secessionists gave no quarter in a clash of visions bound up with money, race, identity, and faith. In him we can see the possibilities of the presidency as well as its limitations.
At once familiar and elusive, Lincoln tends to be seen as the greatest of American presidents—a remote icon—or as a politician driven more by calculation than by conviction. This illuminating new portrait gives us a very human Lincoln—an imperfect man whose moral antislavery commitment, essential to the story of justice in America, began as he grew up in an antislavery Baptist community; who insisted that slavery was a moral evil; and who sought, as he put it, to do right as God gave him to see the right.
This book tells the story of Lincoln from his birth on the Kentucky frontier in 1809 to his leadership during the Civil War to his tragic assassination in 1865: his rise, his self-education, his loves, his bouts of depression, his political failures, his deepening faith, and his persistent conviction that slavery must end. In a nation shaped by the courage of the enslaved of the era and by the brave witness of Black Americans, Lincoln’s story illustrates the ways and means of politics in a democracy, the roots and durability of racism, and the capacity of conscience to shape events.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
As a presidential historian, Jon Meacham is so evenhanded that he delivered the eulogy at George H. W. Bush’s funeral and helped write Joe Biden’s 2021 inaugural address. That “we’re all Americans” energy is perfect for this detailed biography of perhaps our most important—and divisive—president, though it must be said that And There Was Light is more than just another biography. Meacham lays out the political, social, and cultural landscape of early 19th-century America that shaped Lincoln’s upbringing and education, so that by the time we get to the chaotic 1860 presidential election, we understand exactly why he was the man for the job. And There Was Light may be the finest telling we have of Lincoln’s life and work.
Pulitzer winner Meacham (His Truth Is Marching On) more than justifies yet another Lincoln biography in this nuanced and captivating look at the president's "struggle to do right as he defined it within the political universe he and his country inhabited." Drawing sharp parallels to Lincoln's battles against "an implacable minority gave no quarter in a clash over power, race, identity, money, and faith" and today's "moment of polarization, passionate disagreement, and differing understandings of reality," Meacham highlights Lincoln's struggles to live up to a "transcendental moral order" that called on humans "to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God." For Meacham, Lincoln is above all "an example of how even the most imperfect of people, leading the most imperfect of peoples," can bend the arc of the universe toward justice. Light is shed on Lincoln's failures, including his 1849 effort to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C., which would have required municipal officers to arrest and return to their owners any enslaved people who escaped into the district, as well as his "theological quest" to understand the "concepts of God and Providence" as he grappled with the issue of slavery and the tragic death of his son, Willie, in the White House. Richly detailed and gracefully written, this is an essential reminder that "progress can be made by fallible and fallen presidents and peoples." Illus.
Let There Be Light
The author presents Lincoln as an unlikely man of destiny who truly changed the world in spite of countless negative headwinds, both personal and political, throughout his presidential years. Surprisingly, Lincoln had to contend with far more division in the Country in 1861-65 than recent presidents have found. The difference is Lincoln was a man who held onto his principle’s and followed his conscience while making decisions that would affect the entire Country and each citizen. The author slowly intersperses Lincoln’s spiritual development as Lincoln realized his connection to the spiritual realm was his conscience……..and he used it well. A reader will undoubtedly appreciate Lincoln saving the Union at all costs.
Those interested in a comprehensive biography of Lincoln that provides a thorough exploration of early and mid-19th century culture hand in hand with Lincoln’s development therein, along with his personal relationships, will be much better served by David S. Reynolds’s ABE. Separately, Meacham’s biased and oppressive effort to center Lincoln’s morality and actions as primarily, if not wholly, religious in nature is tedious and uneven. Meacham has a clear agenda in mind that does a major disservice to the complexity of America’s greatest president.
And There Was Light
An excellent new readable examination of Lincoln the Man and Lincoln the President! It give insights that should be considered in our turbulent times of today. Read it!