The Biography of a Writer
“A fine, invaluable book. . . . Certain to become essential to our understanding of the 16th president. . . . Kaplan meticulously analyzes how Lincoln’s steadily maturing prose style enabled him to come to grips with slavery and, as his own views evolved, to express his deepening opposition to it.” — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
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 both as a vehicle to express complex ideas and feelings and as an instrument of persuasion and empowerment.
This unique and engrossing 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.
Three books venture into unexplored areas as Lincoln's 2009 bicentennial approaches.Lincoln: The Biography of a WriterFred Kaplan. Harper, (416p) In this intriguing biography, English professor and literary biographer Kaplan (The Singular Mark Twain) analyzes Abraham Lincoln's writings, from the great civic anthems of his presidency to love letters, legal briefs, poems and notebook jottings, and finds a first-rate literary talent a master storyteller with an earthy wit, sharp logic and an ear for poetic phrasing. From wide reading, Kaplan contends, Lincoln gleaned influences an Aesopian moralism, a biblical sense of providence, a Byronic melancholy, a Shakespearean understanding of human complexity that shaped his approach to issues and, through his words, the nation's attitude toward slavery and war. Kaplan sometimes overdoes his critical exegeses of Lincoln's more forgettable efforts (" comic depiction of what happens when two people of the same sex are bedded has a heterodox clarity that reveals his familiarity with bodily realities") but many of these readings, like his recasting as free verse a speech on agricultural improvements, are eye-opening. The result is a fresh, revealing study of both Lincoln's language and character.