“Fred Kaplan’s Lincoln offers penetrating insights on Lincoln’s ability to explain complex ideas in language accessible to a broad range of readers and listeners.” — James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books “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 Fascinating. . . . persuasive [and] highly perceptive.” — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times From acclaimed biographer Fred Kaplan comes an illuminating look at the life of Abraham Lincoln that chronicles his genius with language.
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.