Abraham Lincoln grew up in the long shadow of the Founding Fathers. Seeking an intellectual and emotional replacement for his own taciturn father, Lincoln turned to the great men of the founding—Washington, Paine, Jefferson—and their great documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution—for knowledge, guidance, inspiration, and purpose. Out of the power vacuum created by their passing, Lincoln emerged from among his peers as the true inheritor of the Founders' mantle, bringing their vision to bear on the Civil War and the question of slavery.
In Founders' Son, celebrated historian Richard Brookhiser presents a compelling new biography of Abraham Lincoln that highlights his lifelong struggle to carry on the work of the Founding Fathers. Following Lincoln from his humble origins in Kentucky to his assassination in Washington, D.C., Brookhiser shows us every side of the man: laborer, lawyer, congressman, president; storyteller, wit, lover of ribald jokes; depressive, poet, friend, visionary. And he shows that despite his many roles and his varied life, Lincoln returned time and time again to the Founders. They were rhetorical and political touchstones, the basis of his interest in politics, and the lodestars guiding him as he navigated first Illinois politics and then the national scene.
But their legacy with not sufficient. As the Civil War lengthened and the casualties mounted Lincoln wrestled with one more paternal figure—God the Father—to explain to himself, and to the nation, why ending slavery had come at such a terrible price.
Bridging the rich and tumultuous period from the founding of the United States to the Civil War, Founders' Son is unlike any Lincoln biography to date. Penetrating in its insight, elegant in its prose, and gripping in its vivid recreation of Lincoln's roving mind at work, this book allows us to think anew about the first hundred years of American history, and shows how we can, like Lincoln, apply the legacy of the Founding Fathers to our times.
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Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and the author of eleven books, including the James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, American, and Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. He lives in New York City.
Brookhiser has done the seemingly impossible: He has written a life of Lincoln that is fresh, original, and ideal for those new to the subject.... With deft, epigrammatic phrases Brookhiser distills Lincoln's life to its essence.... [An] elegantly wrought and intellectually profound biography. Founders' Son is a superb introduction to the greatest human being ever to live in the White House.”
Drawing on Lincoln's official papers, speeches and private letters, the book makes clear how he looked back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's Preamble to resolve the great contradiction that the Founders couldn't slavery's existence in a nation where all are created equal and have unalienable rights.”
[A] pithy biography of the man who not only ended slavery in America, but also distilled the Founders' legacy. Astonishingly, Brookhiser has added to the massive Lincoln literature a book that is both distinct and important.”
Winner of the Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award
Finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times Book Review
[Brookhiser's] melding of Lincoln with the founders yields significant implications for the interpretation of the American past in both the Revolutionary and Civil War eras.”
Wall Street Journal
[A] concise, smoothly written history of Lincoln's career and the unfolding of the ideas that animated it,' especially the ideas Lincoln drew from the men who brought forth the new nation.... [A] provocative introduction to the subject of Lincoln and the Founders.”
[B]eautifully written and choked with insights.... For Brookhiser, Lincoln's life was an encounter with a succession of fathers: his own, the Founding Fathers, and God the father. Can it be only a coincidence that in time he himself was regarded as Father Abraham?”
Brookhiser is one of America's finest writers and Founders' Son may be his finest book.... [H]e enables us to not only better understand, but also (and even more effectively than he did in his previous biographical studies) to actually feel' his subject's battles both with his antagonists and with history itself.”
An illuminating but unconventional new biography of Abraham Lincoln.... [Brookhiser] succeeds brilliantly in giving us a new and original perspective on Lincoln's statesmanship. His prose is spare and robust (the author has been schooled by Lincoln) and even readers who know little of Lincoln will find the treatment entirely readable, enjoyable, and persuasive.”
The American Scholar
There is much to admire in Founders' Son.”
[A] compact, profound, and utterly absorbing new life of Abraham Lincoln.... With searchlight intensity, it dazzlingly illuminates the great president's evolving views of slavery and the extraordinary speeches in which he unfolded that vision, molding the American mind on the central conflict in American history and resolving, at heroic and tragic cost to the nation and himself, the contradiction that the Founding Fathers themselves could not resolve.”
In this elegantly written book, Brookhiser reveals Lincoln's role in that debate [on the nature of the founders' legacy] and offers new insights into Lincoln's inner life and political thinking.”
Wall Street Journal Civil War Round-Up
Mr. Brookhiser positions Lincoln as the self-conscious heir of the 18th-century Founders and thus fends off the claim (made in the fever swamps of both left and right) that Lincoln subverted the Constitution in the interests of creating an all-powerful central government.”
A well-written and readable interpretation of Lincoln's political philosophy.”
[An] unconventional new biography of Lincoln . Brookhiser quotes many of Lincoln's speeches and letters to demonstrate how he was influenced by the founders in his struggle with the great issues of his time, slavery and civil war.”
Since he is well-chronicled, and often mythologized, it is hard to expand our understanding of Lincoln. But Richard Brookhiser does an expert job of finding new room.”
[An] insightful book on Abraham Lincoln.... Founders' Son is not a colorless history tome, bogged down in detail and trivial fact, but rather a perceptive look into the mind and world of America's 16th president. This is Brookhiser's genius as a writer, and what makes his books a joy to read; few can so clearly and accurately describe such a complex subject and the substance of what made him worthy of being studied and respected.”
Brookhiser excels in describing Lincoln's political fights over government banks and in parsing his presidency in wartime specifically, his detailed account of the complex evolution of the president's views on slavery.”
Brookhiser's discussion of the second inaugural is genuinely moving and instructive. The narrative always smoothly returns, though, to the Founders and Lincoln's unceasing attempt to divine their intentions and to examine the institutions they built and the opportunity they created for someone like him to thrive. For years now, Brookhiser has helped bring the Founders back to life, precisely Lincoln's purpose as the president contemplated for his country a new birth of freedom, the old freedom' they envisioned in 1776 but couldn't quite perfect.”
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
In his first inaugural, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the mystic chords of memory' that bound those about to fight a civil war over the meaning of union and liberty to those who had built a system of government on them during and after the Revolution. Distinguished historian Richard Brookhiser strikes those chords in Founders' Son. In doing so, he reveals Lincoln to be not only a student of the past, but a leader with the mind and courage to redeem America's first birth of freedom' with a new one, sealed in blood.”
John Boehner, Speaker of the House
Abraham Lincoln is the most written-about man in American history, yet Richard Brookhiser, a historian and writer of extraordinary talent, has written an analysis that is lively, incisive, novel and brilliant. This book reminds us of Lincoln's reverence for the Founders, his stubborn concern for first principles' and ultimately the often-overlooked reverence for the Almighty God that guided him in America's darkest hours.”
Allen Guelzo, author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion
In this sharply-etched portrait of Abraham Lincoln as the true heir of the Founders and their principles, Richard Brookhiser disposes of the reams of nonsense which have portrayed Lincoln as a sly provocateur who twisted the course of American government into a wholly different course. Just as Lincoln vindicated the Founders, Brookhiser vindicates Lincoln and offers us a statesman, not a politician, and one eminently worth imitating in today's politics.”
H. W. Brands, author of The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
With the clarity and insight his readers have come to expect, Richard Brookhiser gives us the greatest American of the nineteenth century grappling with the greatest Americans of the eighteenth. A powerful, persuasive biography of the mind of Abraham Lincoln.”
Andrew Ferguson, author of Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America
It seems impossible, but it's true: no one has ever looked at Lincoln in quite this way before and certainly not with Richard Brookhiser's graceful touch, sly wit, and deep historical knowledge. The Founders' foremost biographer has turned his eye to their greatest pupil, and everyone who cares about Lincoln (which should be everyone) will be grateful for it.”
Lincoln knew that history was both past and prologue, and he sought to appropriate the earlier age properly to guide the nation successfully through the Civil War. This highly accessible read will appeal most to readers who desire to learn more about Lincoln and especially the ideas, dogmas, and dreams that moved him to his public career and life in the White House.”
Alexander Rose, author of Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring
Lincoln was not a conventional politician, and neither is Richard Brookhiser a conventional historian, nor, fittingly, is Founders' Son a conventional biography. For the sixteenth president, as Brookhiser dazzlingly argues, ideas mattered but never so much as when translated into action. Throughout Lincoln's life, the Founders served as his touchstones, their ideals his lodestars, and he dedicated himself to completing the task they had left unfinished; the destruction of slavery, that Damoclean Sword menacing the Republic since its creation, would be both his monument and his tomb. Founders' Son is an ingenious intellectual biography, a work of the highest order written by one of our most creative historians about the most brilliant of our presidents.”
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