BOOK REVIEW: 'Lincoln': What Would Honest Abe Do?

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Lincoln': What Would Honest Abe Do?

The latest Participant Media Guide, "Lincoln: A President for the Ages" (PublicAffairs, 288 pages, notes, in-text black and white illustrations, index, $14.99) is a companion quality paperback timed for the release of Steven Spielberg's new film "Lincoln", starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, but it also can be enjoyed as a stand-alone book. In fact, it's an excellent one-volume introduction to Lincoln's political career.

Edited by Karl Weber "Lincoln" has leading historians answering the question: "What Would Lincoln Do?"

Abraham Lincoln was, in his time, both strongly admired and aggressively opposed -- not incidentally by many of his cabinet members who thought they were smarter and more capable than Lincoln. He has been written about more than any other president and he is still our nation's most enigmatic and captivating hero. If you think today's political campaigns are laden with invective and dirty politics, you'll learn from this book that they don't hold a candle to the 1860 campaign.


"Lincoln: A President for the Ages" introduces a new vision of Lincoln grappling with some of history's greatest challenges. He was elected at a time when the nation was splitting up over slavery. Traveling to Washington, D.C. from his home state of Illinois, he was under constant danger, especially in the slave state of Maryland and the big city of Baltimore.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Lincoln': What Would Honest Abe Do?

Produced with an estimated $50 million budget, according to IMDb (link:, the DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox and Participant Media film "Lincoln" is based on "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with playwright Tony Kushner writing the screenplay, and will have a limited release on Nov. 9, going wide Nov. 16. The movie's

Among the questions asked -- and answered -- by contributing historians in the book: Would Lincoln have dropped the bomb on Hiroshima? How would he conduct the War on Terror? Would he favor women's suffrage or gay rights? Would today's Lincoln be a star on Facebook and Twitter? Would he embrace the religious right— or denounce it? How would he have treated defeated Germany and Japan after World War II?

The answers come from an all-star array of historians and scholars, including Jean Baker, Richard Carwardine, Dan Farber, Andrew Ferguson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Allen C. Guelzo, Harold Holzer, James Malanowski, James Tackach, Frank J. Williams, and Douglas L. Wilson.


As a Civil War buff who's reviewed books on that war's battles -- most recently Jeff Shaara's "A Blaze of Glory" about Shiloh (link to my review: -- I was drawn to Chapter 6, by James Tackach, dealing with how Lincoln waged war. Tackach, whose father George Tackach survived the battle of Okinawa in February 1945, where more than 7,500 men lost their lives and 40,000 were wounded -- just one horrendous battle -- gives his answer to the question about dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. No, I won't give away this spoiler. Just consider that more than 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and sailors died in the Civil War -- more than all the other wars of the U.S. combined and almost twice the fatalities of our next most deadly war, World War II (link:


Liberals and other who question the various laws enacted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, especially the PATRIOT act, might be surprised at some of the actions of Lincoln, especially his suspension of habeas corpus and his administration's prosecution -- some might call it persecution -- of Northern dissenters during the war. Frank J. Williams writes how Lincoln would deal with the War on Terror in Chapter 9. I won't give away any spoilers, but Williams writes that one of Lincoln's harshest Northern critics -- Ohio Democratic congressman Clement L. Vallandigham -- was arrested at his home in Dayton, Ohio, on May 5, 1863 by more than 100 Union soldiers and was tried by a military tribunal. He was imprisoned for the duration of the war. Vallandigham had, in a public speech, characterized Lincoln as a tyrant and called for his overthrow.

All told, "Lincoln" is an excellent introduction to the many facets of Abraham Lincoln. I recommend it and I hope the movie comes my way.

About the editor

Karl Weber is a writer and editor based in New York. He collaborated with Muhammad Yunus on his bestseller "Creating a World Without Poverty", edited "The Best of I.F. Stone", and, with Andrew W. Savitz, coauthored "The Triple Bottom Line: How Today's Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social, and Environmental Success — And How You Can Too". He edited the previous best-selling Participant Media Guides, Food, Inc. and Waiting for "Superman." Website:

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