Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History

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9780393065305: Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History

Even two hundred years after Abraham Lincoln's death, we, like Walt Whitman, "love the President personally."

In a stunning feat of scholarship, insight, and engaging prose, Lincoln's Body explores how a president ungainly in body and downright "ugly" of aspect came to mean so much to us.

The very roughness of Lincoln's appearance made him seem all the more common, one of us―as did his sense of humor about his own awkward physical nature. Nineteenth-century African Americans felt deep affection for their "liberator" as a "homely" man who did not hold himself apart. During Reconstruction, Southerners felt a nostalgia for the humility of Lincoln, whom they envisioned as a "conciliator." Later, teachers glorified Lincoln as a symbol of nationhood that would appeal to poor immigrants. Monument makers focused not only on the man’s gigantic body but also on his nationalist efforts to save the Union, downplaying his emancipation of the slaves.

Among both black and white liberals in the 1960s and 1970s, Lincoln was derided or fell out of fashion. More recently, Lincoln has once again been embodied (as both idealist and pragmatist, unafraid of conflict and transcending it) by outstanding historians, by self-identified Lincolnian president Barack Obama, and by actor Daniel Day-Lewis―all keeping Lincoln alive in a body of memory that speaks volumes about our nation.

35 illustrations

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About the Author:

Richard Wightman Fox is a professor of history at the University of Southern California and the author of Jesus in America and Trials of Intimacy, among other books. He lives in Venice, California.

Review:

“Fascinating...an astonishingly interesting interpretation...Fox [can be] wonderfully shrewd and often dazzling.”
- Jill Lepore, The New York Times Book Review

“Highly readable...Mr. Fox skillfully depicts how varied have been the uses that Americans have made of their greatest president...he deserves special credit.”
- Michael Burlingame, Wall Street Journal

“With subtle analysis and supple writing, preeminent cultural historian Richard Wightman Fox is especially insightful on the African-American experiences of Lincoln. Readers will sense from the first page that this is a book they will want to linger over in their delight.”
- Ronald C. White Jr., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography

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