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Lincoln: The Presidential Archives [Book Review]

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Lincoln: The Presidential Archives
Have you ever wanted to hold the hand of a president and walk through his life with him? Well that is just how I felt as I was reading Lincoln: The Presidential Archives by Chuck Wills from DK Publishing. In this highly illustrated and very well written book you get the sense that you are actually walking side by side with President Abraham Lincoln as he faces the trials and tribulations of his youth, his first hesitant steps into politics and his triumphs and tragedies.

I really did feel a certain kinship with Lincoln that I have never felt in the past. I remember reading several books on Lincoln when I was younger, but this one takes the cake as far as moving me. As a matter of fact I was so consumed by this book as I read it that I stayed up all night and felt true emotions for this man that has become an American icon.

Digger at the Lincoln Memorial
Digger at the Lincoln Memorial
As with most iconic people, with that icon status comes a kind of watered down feeling you get for them if you haven't truly looked into what made them great. From his ubiquitous appearance on the five dollar bill to the ever present images on Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln is kind of just there in your daily life. I felt after reading this book though that I actually knew this guy as a friend.

Now what makes this book truly astounding is that it includes actual replicas of items throughout Lincoln's life. As author Chuck Wills calls it in a Question and Answer session, "It’s not just a book; it’s a museum in a book". Things like a page from his childhood arithmetic notebook and his marriage certificate. These things are included in wax paper pockets and can be taken out and examined. This isn't just a "read it" kind of book, but a "live it" kind of book.

Lincoln's math notebook and marriage certificate

Many little facts came out while reading the book that I didn't know. For instance, did you know that Lincoln actually had a patent on a boat design? I didn't. This patent is included in the book as well as his election posters and materials, including an actual pony express notification of his being elected.

Abraham Lincoln Patent Abraham Lincoln Election Poster
Lincoln's patent on a boat design, election poster and pony express announcement of him winning the election

One fact I learned is that politics was just as nasty back then and included dirty tricks. Lincoln actually published letters in a newspaper using a pseudonym of "Rebecca" attacking his rivals financial policy and management style. The letters were funny, yet harsh. Mary also joined in having letters published. The target of the letters wasn't amused though and after Lincoln stepped forth as the author, to protect Mary and the others, he was in for a shock. He was challenged to a duel.

Having been challenged to a duel Lincoln, though opposed to the practice, was a man of honor. He was actually planning on following through on it. He had the choice of weapon and being larger and not as good of a shot as his smaller opponent, Lincoln chose broadswords! The duel never took place as Lincoln sent an apologetic letter to the gentleman (which a copy of the letter is included in the book) and managed to persuade him otherwise.

Facts and stories like these are what make this book so good.

Lincoln Cabinet and letter from Mary Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation
Lincoln's cabinet members explained, a handwritten letter to Abe from his wife Mary and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation

From handwritten versions of the Emancipation Proclamation to handwritten letters from his wife Mary, Lincoln: The Presidential Archives really helps you to understand that these were real people, not just some pictures you see in books or on TV. They have personality. For instance, Mary liked to shop and wear fine things, the opposite of her husband who grew up under more humble means.

The book flows through from his election to President, to the trials of the Civil War and the failure of generals. Ultimately we all know Abraham Lincoln's fate in the end, but the book delves deeper into the conspirators themselves, their potential reasoning and their final fates.

Lincoln Conspirators Lincoln Conspirator Fates
Conspirators against Lincoln and their ultimate fates

Lincoln John Wilkes Booth Wanted
John Wilkes Booth Wanted Poster and a poster for the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre

Looking through this book now, as I review it, I think I may run away and go read it again. I got a very good feeling from this book and a message of hope, that in even dire times things can come out for the positive. Something to keep in mind in this day and age.

I give this book a big thumbs up!
Want to own this book? Purchase a copy of Lincoln: The Presidential Archives at Amazon.com and read more about this book at the DK Publishing website Lincoln: The Presidential Archives feature page.

(In the interest of full disclosure I was not paid for this review and it is my un-slanted opinion)

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Posted by Digger on October 29, 2007 01:25 PM (Permalink)

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Thanks, I just bought this book today from Borders. I made a special trip in to get it. Have been interested in Lincoln of late for some reason I'm not sure of. I am reading 'Manhunt' at the moment re: capture of Lincoln's assassin and have also read The Eloquent President.

Posted by: Fletch on August 12, 2009 05:44 AM

In your copy, the pullout that is the diagram of the vessels, third pocket I think, do you see faint writing on it, like a newspaper article?

Posted by: Gaby on July 17, 2011 08:47 PM

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