Lincoln at 200

The Age of Lincoln by Orville Vernon Burton

So the only thing actually wrong with this book is that it is nearly impossible to summarize. I’ve tried to talk about it with a few different people, and I keep stating generalities. It’s getting a little bit frustrating. Here’s the thing: The book covers the time period from the 1830s through about 1900, and it revolves around the impact of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. So Lincoln is the central figure, but of course he shows up for only about 4 years as president. But those 4 years make up the central focus of the book, which begins by setting the scene in the 1830s/1840s and concludes with the years following the Civil War. One way the author sums it up is to say that the book is about the expansion of democracy to include more people.

One controversial aspect of the book—particularly to Illinoisans, I’m guessing—is that Burton contends that Lincoln was a Southerner—by birth, in his sense of honor, and in his habits (of storytelling, use of Southern expressions, etc.) I’m not sure I’m buying it, but it’s an interesting premise that I’ve enjoyed mulling in odd moments.

The author writes beautifully—there are sentences here to savor. He weaves in fascinating anecdotes, and he intersperses small doses of wry humor. And he writes in such a way that trying to skim the book is a fool’s errand. I’ve tried; I’ve failed. Instead, I recommend you prepare for full immersion and just give yourself over to the reading of the book. It’s a rewarding experience.