Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

Buy the Book

New York: Penguin, 2020. Paperback edition 2021. Also available as an e-book and audiobook.

Prizes & Top Book Lists for Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

Winner of the Lincoln Prize (see David S. Reynolds’ acceptance talk at the prize ceremony)

Winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award

One of the Wall Street Journal‘s Ten Best Books of the Year

Editors’ Choice, New York Times Book Review

Washington Post Notable Book of the Year

Christian Science Monitor and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020

Plutarch Award in biography: long-listed

Praise for Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

“A marvelous cultural biography that captures Lincoln in all his historical fullness. . . . Using popular culture in this way, to fill out the context surrounding Lincoln, is what makes Mr. Reynolds’s biography so different and so compelling . . . Where did the sympathy and compassion expressed in [Lincoln’s] Second Inaugural—’With malice toward none; with charity for all’—come from? This big, wonderful book provides the richest cultural context to explain that, and everything else, about Lincoln.” 

—Gordon Wood, Wall Street Journal

“In this prodigious and lucid ‘cultural biography,’ Reynolds draws on a lifetime of Civil War scholarship to show a Lincoln whose character and thought were shaped by the cultural and social forces swirling though America during his era….This Lincoln portrait goes further than most previous studies in probing the complexities and nuances of the man: his tastes, likes, dislikes, the quality of his thinking, the evolution of his ideas — all shaped and molded by the society around him.”

             —New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant…Drawing on a distinguished scholarly career spent immersed in the popular culture of pre–Civil War America, Reynolds, a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, illuminates aspects of Lincoln’s significance that elude more conventional biographers….Reynolds’s Lincoln does not simply reflect his times; he creates them as well…Writing a comprehensive cultural biography of Lincoln is a large task on its own, but by shifting at times out of culture and into politics, Reynolds has accomplished a good deal more.”

–Sean Wilentz, New York Review of Books

“Against all odds, Reynolds manages to say new and important things about Lincoln in his elegantly written book.”

-Eric Foner, London Review of Books

“David Reynolds’s Abe is an invaluable addition to the Lincoln literature….A work of immense erudition and vast scope…Abe offers a cornucopia of information about the cultural milieu in which Lincoln lived….The strength of this approach is evident in this book’s brilliant treatment of Lincoln and race, the most controversial aspect of the rail-splitter’s life.”

 –Michael Burlingame, Claremont Review of Books

David S. Reynolds’s Lincoln is an updated Abe, fully woke and nicely radical. Indeed, Reynolds, the author of first-rate biographies of Walt Whitman and John Brown, makes much of Lincoln’s wonderfully named and often forgotten Wide Awakes—legions of young pro-Lincoln “b’hoys,” whose resolve and aggression far exceeded that of Bernie Sanders’s army…Reynolds’s cultural history illuminates Lincoln—and particularly his transformation from self-made lawyer into American Abe. Even readers long marinated in the Lincoln literature will find revelation....Genuinely illuminating.”

 –Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

“Whether in the realms of the frontier, education, religion, law, marriage or politics, Reynolds deepens our understanding of Lincoln’s life…In 1909, Leo Tolstoy observed that Lincoln’s “genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding.” “Abe,” consistently learned and illuminating, goes a long way toward helping us fathom his transcendence.”

The Washington Post

“Impressive….monumental…. “Abe” presents a fascinating primer on everyday life in Lincoln’s time. …Reynolds compellingly argues that the president drew upon and assimilated these varied cultural strands in order to foster national unity.”  

The Christian Science Monitor


-The Chicago Tribune

“Do we need another book about Abraham Lincoln when there have been about 16,000 so far? Yes, we need to read Reynolds’ Abe. Neither hagiography nor take-down, Abe refutes the traditional view of Lincoln as the “quintessential self-made man.” Reynolds eloquently describes how Lincoln’s character was shaped by the culture of antebellum America and recovers bits of popular cultural history that combined to allow him to operate in different registers.

National Book Review, Five Hot Books

“A superb reading experience, filled with new details, new emphases, new interpretations, as well as being so well written that you just enjoy the immersion in the past for the literary experience;…provides a new way of looking at the political issues that bedevil us today.”

Bill’s Books, NBC Today in New York

Magisterial and authoritative… Reynolds provides a portrait rich in texture and context, not only of Lincoln but of the America he inhabited and helped redefine. The result is a must-read addition to the canon of Lincoln biographies.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review 

“Reynolds is one of our most significant historians, and he is up to the enormous task of creating a cultural biography of the man who would become America’s most recognizable president. A fine cultural history and biography that is accessible to all readers… consistently fun to read.”

Kirkus, starred review

“Reynolds’ magisterial biography focuses on the dozens of different influences and experiences that fortuitously coalesced to turn Lincoln into the icon he’s become….Even readers who think they know Lincoln’s life deeply will find new insights here. This is sure to win a wide audience.”

Booklist (starred review)

“This luminous biography reimagines the life and times of our greatest president through the prism of his cultural influences and teems with insights about Lincoln’s views on abolition, equality, and these disunited states.”

–“The Twenty Best Books of the Fall So Far,” O. The Oprah Magazine

The very, very best books of 2020

You may recall I already posted my best non-fiction books and best fiction books of 2020.  But, unlike on previous lists, I didn’t pick a very best book of the year because in my gut I felt it had not yet arrived.  Now I have a top three, all of which came after I posted my original list.  Here are my top three picks for the year:

David S. Reynolds. Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times.  At some point I vowed never to read another Lincoln biography, but this one won me over with its readability and also grasp of the broader cultural and political context.  You may know Reynolds from his excellent Walt Whitman book — could there be a better background to write on Lincoln?  Conceptual throughout.  At 932 pp. every page of this one is instructive, even if you feel sated in Lincoln as I did.

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution [BLOG], Fairfax: Newstex. Dec 18, 2020.


“A new enthralling biography of our president during the Civil Warwould make a nice Christmas gift for a history buff.”

Comments on ABE by the Lincoln Prize jury and committee:

“From one of the strongest pools of finalist books ever in the history of the Lincoln Prize, David Reynolds’ Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times emerged as this year’s winner—a book that accomplished the impossible, to show us something new about Lincoln while also giving us a rich history of the cultural influences that shaped his world view and gave him his unsurpassed common touch with ordinary Americans. A great read,” said President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History James G. Basker.

“Dr. Reynolds’ biography illuminates Lincoln’s transcendent words and deeds in ways that powerfully build on the author’s lifelong study of the president. But perhaps David’s most compelling contribution is how he brings to life the social, cultural, political environment that helped to shape the person Lincoln would become, and the path of progress he so masterfully forged for our nation,” said President  Robert W. Iuliano of Gettysburg College. “Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times is truly an elegant work worthy of our highest honor and celebration.”

“This rich portrayal, better than any previous work, situates Lincoln in the America that shaped him and that he in turn shaped so profoundly,” wrote the jury in their report to the board. “Reynolds’ encyclopedic knowledge of America’s religion, literature, humor, and politics allows him to populate Lincoln’s nation in unprecedented detail. [He] gives us a Lincoln of his times and of ours.”

“Jamie’s Bookshelf: Some recently published titles for the bookworm on your Christmas shopping list”

–“The Ten Best Books of September,” Christian Science Monitor

LitHub Bookmarks — Best Reviewed Books of the Week.

PW Picks: Books of the Week, September 28, 2020.

“David Reynolds’ splendid biography is chock full of fresh information and insights about Lincoln ….A work of literary distinction as well as sound scholarship, this biography will take its place as a classic in Lincoln studies.”            

—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

“Abraham Lincoln is the central figure of the American story, a flawed but noble man who insisted against all odds that the national experiment in liberty must go on in spite of all. In this wonderful new biography, David Reynolds brings the giant to life once more, reminding us of the limitations and the possibilities of politics in a fallen world.

–Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America

“ This is an Abraham Lincoln at once familiar and entirely new, a man who was very much the product of his own cultural moment.  No one but Reynolds could have written a book this good.”

James Oakes, author of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States

“Monumental…Drawing on Reynolds’s unequaled knowledge and humane understanding, Abe is a brilliant portrait of the man and of the country he saved.”  

                                              -Edward L. Ayers, winner of the Lincoln Prize

“In this compelling, thought-provoking life of the Great Emancipator, David Reynolds reminds us that a prerequisite for leadership in a democracy is an ability to tap the zeitgeist and turn it to decisive effect, as Lincoln preeminently did.”

–H. W. Brands, best-selling historian and biographer

Anne Rice, shortly before her death in December 2021, in her final interview with the New York Times, praised David Reynolds’ Abe and his other books:

New York Times: What’s the last great book you read?

Anne Rice: “Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times,” by David S. Reynolds. It’s an absolute feast for us history buffs and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I was first made aware of Reynolds thanks to his wonderful biography of Walt Whitman.

Readers’ reviews:

 “Reynolds’s magnum opus is that rarest of all history books, a page-turner that entertains as well as informs the reader. Great and thoughtful biographies should be required reading. ‘Abe’ is just that kind of biography.”

–James W. Parkinson, Parky Reviews, at  https://parkyreviews.com/book-review-abe-abraham-lincoln-in-his-times-by-david-s-reynolds/

 “Abe is a cultural and biographical story of Abraham Lincoln told by a great historian!

More books have been written about Lincoln than any historical figure with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have read all the major biographies of him from David Donald, Carl Sandburg, Sidney Blumenthal, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and countless more scholars. However, this is my favorite of that distinguished company!

C. M. Mills – an Amazon top 500 reviewer:

5.0 out of 5 stars

This is probably the best biography I have ever read….

This is a great book.

–Katherine L. Davis

5.0 out of 5 stars

Reynolds writing makes the reader feel as if she/he were living in the raucous frontier of nineteenth century America. We see the carnivals, brutal fights, hard living on the edge of existence, disease, songs, poems, politics and literature of the era. As one who has studied Lincoln since my childhood in Indiana and Kentucky I as a senior citizen learned new things about Lincoln and his times through my reading of this masterpiece! If you read one book on Lincoln this is the one to buy and savor…. A masterpiece! I love Lincoln our greatest president and I love this book!

The best Lincoln biography I’ve ever read…

I’ve read a couple Lincoln biographies, but none that feel as comprehensive and deeply researched as David Reynolds’ “Abe.” Other books tell you what Lincoln did; this one explains WHY he did what he did. Everybody is a product of their time, their geography, their culture, and Lincoln was no different. By grounding us in what it was like to live in 1800s America, Reynolds humanizes Lincoln in a way that feels both revolutionary and necessary.

–Stephen Hay:

5.0 out of 5 stars

This is a great read. If there were more stars, I would assign more. The relationship between Lincoln and the culture of the period is clearly shown. Reynolds clearly understands how Lincoln related to the atmosphere of the period and helped to shape it as much as he was shaped by it. One understands Lincoln’s political personality and his ability to react to changes over time come through in a very understandable manner. One has a much greater grasp of the differences between the North and the South. All in all, this is one of my best reads over the past 25 to 50 years. I found this to be a real page-turner. It ranks as of the five best books I have ever read.

–Roger on Goodreads

Magnificent Biography. David Reynolds’s Abe is the best (merely human) biography I’ve ever read & it has greatly deepened my appreciation of the American Civil War. It is incredibly researched, richly nuanced, and flowingly erudite. Richly deserving of the Lincoln Award.

–Dr. Harold Winton

5.0 out of 5 stars

Amazing!  I found the book so good that I also read “Beneath the American Renaissance” by the same author to learn more about the great American authors and the political currents of the time.

               –George Crofts

Discoveries on Each Page! I savored every page of this book. There is so much about Lincoln, his wife, and his adversaries I didn’t know. This work of nonfiction reads like a well crafted novel. There is something new happening all the time, and the style of the author makes the book incredibly accessible. It places Lincoln in the midst of his cultural environment, a new approach to tell his story.

–E. Clemente

5.0 out of 5 stars 

By the end of the book, the reader will really KNOW Abe Lincoln. This book humanizes Lincoln so wonderfully. Reynolds draws on impressions and stories of Lincoln from all sorts of people, from those who knew him well to those who had only briefly met him, as well as various letters, speeches, and even newspaper articles he penned during his lifetime. It’s a real treasure trove of Lincoln factoids and analysis. Reynolds effectively demonstrates how Lincoln was influenced by the culture that surrounded him, from his earliest years until his tragic death.


5.0 out of 5 stars

5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book

This book is extraordinary in that not only does it place Lincoln “In His Times” as indicated, but in that exposition, we learn so much about the early days of our country (he was born in 1809). So much about why Americans – rough and tumble as they are sometimes described here – are wholly unique in the world. This book should be required reading for all Americans. If all of us had a better sense of this history, why we are the way we are, I think there would be far less divisiveness in our country right now and far more equanimity in our political and social discourse. Required reading in this reader’s opinion. And, btw, completely crisp, to the point, easy-to-understand writing. One of the best books on history I’ve ever read.

–Kevin C.

5.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln comes alive!

Reviewed in the United States on January 3, 2022

For some time now, I have read at least one book on Abraham Lincoln and/or the Civil War each year. This book brought Lincoln more to life for me than any other – I really enjoyed seeing Lincoln in his cultural landscape. What a tremendous work Professor Reynolds has created. Thank you!

— Leslie K. King

O Captain!

A well-written cultural biography. Professor Reynolds brings to his impressive narrative the contemporary people, social movements, and art that influenced the life and work of Abraham Lincoln….All-in-all an enjoyable and thought provoking book.

–Christian Schlect

5.0 out of 5 stars

A Masterwork

A most human, thoughtful account of the life and times of the greatest American president. To achieve both professional greatness and deep personal goodness on the level that he did, has never since been rivaled by a POTUS. Notwithstanding his already massive shadow over American history and political culture, Reynolds telling suggests that Lincoln’s life and legacy should loom even larger over our troubled contemporary moment. We should all be so lucky.

–A. J.

Amazing.  My personal pick as (non-fiction) Book of the Year 2020.

If you have read dozens of books on the Civil War, Lincoln, and the surrounding aspects, this is STILL a fascinating and revelatory read. Even having read the truly outstanding Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a fly-on-the-wall look at Lincoln’s Presidency/i.e. Civil War from the Cabinet Room, another truly outstanding book, this book will uncover and illuminate multiple aspects of Lincoln’s life and likely thoughts than any other book out there…

Beautiful layout, largish print, deckle edged, so many great illustrations and photos – it really is an aethestically – and culturally – beautiful looking book to read and hold

The main text is 930+ pages of pure bliss, with plenty of inset photographs and portraiture (no Civil War maps, and surprisingly fast to read for that page count because of illustrations and font size) that continue to illustrate Reynolds’s main idea: that Lincoln was the main conciliator and compromiser despite turbulent times. Lincoln was the perfect person for this moment. And it was precisely because of his understanding of America’s popular culture that he was able to inspire the Union cause and our hearts ever since his iconic assassination.

If you know a bit about the times, this is actually the perfect biography. Not because every literal aspect of his life is uncovered, but because the cultural MIND is uncovered and it reinfuses the narrative and scope with new vigor…An invaluable contribution to the understanding of our greatest – and certainly most legendary POTUS alongside Washington- leader in the most difficult times. The assassination almost reads like a newspaper version of the story and the reader feels saddened over the loss of this man all over again.

If you are a Lincoln superfan, ESSENTIAL reading. If you are not, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. There must be a dozen essential biographies of Abe, but only this one makes you feel like you could understand his humor and anecdotes.”

Brian Willis 

David S. Reynolds has written a masterpiece. This biography now joins David Donald as the definitive one volume Abraham Lincoln biographies. Reynolds’ takes a cultural historian’s approach and brings alive Lincoln and his times better than anyone before him. If you read no other biography of Lincoln, this is it.


5.0 out of 5 stars

Reynolds has written a master work of social and cultural history of the early to mid-19th Century… the Civil War era… and how that milieu of varied influences affected Lincoln in his evolution both as a politician and as a thinker, and ultimately a defender of the core values of human rights that has set the United States apart from all prior systems of government. Overlaying it all, permeating it all, is the ever present, over riding, inescapable issue of slavery and Lincoln’s steady opposition to it, along with his ideological progression that lead him inexorably to the non-negotiable abolitionist position of the latter years of his administration (and his life).”

It is an amazing book, and a rewarding experience reading it.

There is so much that is engaging and so many digressions that are revelatory – the establishment of a national Thanksgiving, evolution of Christmas, the etymology of terms still in use today but whose origins and original usages have faded out of our consciousness, and absolutely brilliant chapters on the Gettysburg address and the Second Inaugural speech. Overlaid upon everything is slavery and the racism so prevalent throughout American culture of the day. Reynolds refutes the mythology of the “lost cause” and the war for states’ rights with which Southern apologists have masked the true, and single, cause of the war.
A brilliant book that is must reading! It is a book that, every time I put it down for the night, I looked forward to when I could pick it up and resume reading.

Urey Patrick 

5.0 out of 5 stars

5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional approach to the life of our greatest president

This is so much more than a biography of our greatest president. It is a spectacular immersion into the cultural history of Lincoln’s life and his times. I have read many wonderful books about Lincoln, but I am truly amazed at how much more I learned about him and the American people based on David Reynolds’ masterpiece.


“David and I read this to each other, and we both thought it was amazing. The USA now needs Lincoln’s ability to steer a middle path to avoid alienating people whose support he needed.

Amy Turner

5.0 out of 5 stars

A new favorite! I absolutely loved this book! So much information!


5.0 out of 5 stars

“A fantastic read….The author’s musings on the Gettysburg Address and second inaugural was some of the best writing I’ve encountered in awhile.”


5.0 out of 5 stars

Mr. Reynolds,

I just completed reading your wonderful book Abe: Abraham Lincoln In His Times. Of the many, many books I have read about our 16th President, you have written the best and most comprehensive of the lot. I have often tried to understand what Lincoln was experiencing in his day to day existence, and how he guided us through a most critical time. I came away with a deep appreciation for the keen intellect and political talents Mr. Lincoln possessed. I think the lack of leadership from the current occupant of the Presidency made me want to tackle this 900 page masterpiece. As well, living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and having access to the Allen County, Indiana library and its Lincoln Collection has always made Lincoln dear and available. Thank you so much for this valuable contribution!

The book is addressed to the lay reader and is written without much scholarly jargon. Reynolds’s clear writing makes the text a literary treasure for the committed reader. All historians writing fr the general public can take a lesson from Mr. Reynolds’s style.

–David Kelker of Fort Wayne, IN

“Terrific book!”

Dear Mr. Reynolds,

I just finished “Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times.” It is perhaps the finest biography I have ever read. Thank you for bringing to life the world of antebellum America — and its impact on our greatest President. I eagerly await your next book!
–Mark Goodin

Dear Professor David Reynolds, 

I just finished your terrific book, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times.  It was an engrossing and fascinating read.  I simply could not put it down for the past few weeks.  I cannot recall ever reading a book so lengthy that I read so quickly.  

Where to begin? First, you paint an incredible picture of what life must have been like for Lincoln on the prairie in Kentucky and Indiana in those early days. It felt like I was transported in time.  The humor, the political culture, and the rough and tumble nature of the antebellum period all come to life so vividly. The character portrait of Lincoln and his family, friends, and associates seemed so real that I feel I now know them intimately.  After first learning about Lincoln in school, it’s so easy to view him as a mythic figure beyond place and time. But the cultural environment from which he emerged, and how he tapped into that culture, seem nearly as important as the man himself after reading your wonderful biography. It’s truly unlike any biography I have ever read.  

I bought your Whitman book as a gift for a friend, and I plan to read your other books about nineteenth century America, including the John Brown one.  I look forward to whatever book you write next. 

Many thanks for this great gift to our understanding of Lincoln. 



Dr. Reynolds,

I just completed your book Abe and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I have been an admirer of President Lincoln ever since I was a young teenager (I’m now 78 years old). Over the years I have read and collected dozens of books about the Civil War and Lincoln – David Donald, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Carl Sandburg, and many others. Learning of the developmental cultural and social aspects of Lincoln’s life really expanded my understanding of him and what he did for our country.  I am very pleased to add Abe to my small library – it is an outstanding book.

Thank you,

Bob Fuller, Vermillion, SD 57069

Spectacular read

Learned behind the scenes things about Lincoln that gave a better understanding about who he was and why he made certain choices!”


5.0 out of 5 stars

 “This Book Is So Important in Understanding Lincoln and The Man He Was.

I love this book.

Having many bios of the Tycoon, this book helps you to understand the basics of the life and actions of Lincoln.

The first thing that I had never considered was the division in politics in America between the Puritans and the Cavaliers.

The people of New England were very proud of their Puritan thoughts and actions, and they essentially based the political theory that the country began with the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. They were a stern and serious people, which often rubbed others the wrong way.

The Cavaliers were associated with England, and Southern society was built upon slave labor, and these people thought themselves more intelligent and genteel even though their economy was corrupt.

Lincoln looked at this in the context of the birth of the nation being with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and embracing the idea that all men were created equal.

He was careful not to say this early on, and especially skilled at not offending those that believed differently. He never wanted to make enemies, which could come back to haunt him. In fact, about the only thing he was critical of were the actions of John Polk in seizing so much territory during the conflict with Mexico.

His vision was of an America that provided opportunity for all people. Unlike Jefferson Davis, whose speeches were more like insults, Lincoln always took the high road.

As you go through the book, you see his conduct and great wisdom that he ultimately brought to bind the nation back together.

I highly recommend this book for a new understanding of our 16th President.


–5.0 out of 5 stars

Dear Prof. Reynolds:

I have just completed reading your superb book “Abe”.  Rarely have I felt as much regret upon reaching the end of a book as I did with yours.  I simply did not want it to end.  As a serious student of Lincoln , I knew it was impossible to reach the tragic conclusion and not accept the end was near, and, indeed, I wept again reading of the President’s assasination.  As you write in your acknowledgements, there are many fine historians and biographers of Lincoln, many whom you cite in the body of the book or at the end.  I have read many of them including the superb biography by David Donald and superb “narrow” works such as Gary Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg” and Harold Holzer’s book on the Cooper Union Speech.  I have read the great histories by McPherson and Foner et al.

Yours ranks as one of the finest books written on Lincoln.  You set yourself the task of writing about the cultural milieu in which he grew up, grew to maturity and served as President and in doing so you rounded out the picture of a man who was already fully realized and described in thousands of works.  Perhaps an even greater accomplishment was to make palpable the atmosphere, at turns chaotic, crass, poisoned and yet hopeful, of much of 19th Century America.

Thank you..

Tom Goodman

This is an outstanding biography of the most-written-about man in history, on a par with Team of Rivals. I was utterly riveted from the first pages. There is not a single dry patch in the entire book even as it reaches the highest academic standards. A masterpiece: fresh, revelatory, shrewd.

Robert J. Crawford

5.0 out of 5 stars 

 “Great Book with New Additions to the Lincoln Canon

“I devoured this book. I’ve read a couple of Lincoln biographies, and the author mentions there have been thousands of books written about Abe. But I found this book to be incredibly interesting and valuable.”

–David Southworth

–5.0 out of 5 stars

Massive tome on Lincoln’s life, presented as a “cultural biography” meaning that it examines Lincoln’s life and actions in the context of the nineteenth century American culture in which he lived. As much an American cultural history as a Lincoln biography. It manages to balance both perfectly. Fascinating, and it’s the fastest I’ve breezed through a thousand-page monster since Robert Massie’s Dreadnought.”


5.0 out of 5 stars

Gillian rated it it was

I thought I knew a lot about Lincoln….I was wrong!

This is simply a magnificent biography of Lincoln. It is a majestic 900 pages of text and 100 pages of notes. But it is unique in other ways as well. If focuses upon how culture affected Lincoln throughout his life and how he in turn impacted on it.

–Ronald H. Clark

5.0 out of 5 stars

 “Must have for Lincoln lovers

I’ve read several bios of Abe and this may be the best personal bio. Its rich in details and first person accounts by those who knew him. A full record of the personality of the man who saved the union. I’d give it a ten star for content and writing style which is very user friendly. A good book indeed to add to anyone’s Lincoln library, especially good on sourcing. Careful historical work that ought to put to rest some nonsense about the great man.

Happy Hill

 “I put this book on my reading list because of all the awards it won in 2020. I have already read four books on Abraham Lincoln and there are probably thousands of them written on him. Honestly, I did not imagine this book could bring a fresh portrayal of Lincoln.

Boy was I wrong!

Against all odds, this monumental biography is full of fresh information and insights.

Joyce Thomas 

“Excellent book. Extremely detailed and footnoted. Approached Abe in a way I had never experienced before. Learned a lot not only about Lincoln but about other characters of his time!”

Alexander H. Lorch Jr

5.0 out of 5 stars

A new classic on Lincoln

This book is well written and is a product of great scholarship.”

–Paul R. Laute

5.0 out of 5 stars

Dear Professor Reynolds,

I realize that academic culture frowns on open displays of enthusiasm, let alone fandom. But gotta tell you how great I thought your Lincoln book was. I assumed I was a relatively well-informed (lay) reader about Lincoln and debated picking up your book. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The context you provided was eye-opening and exceptionally insightful. Congratulations!

Again, congratulations for such a great book,


Mordecai Lee, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Dr. Reynolds,

I just completed your book Abe and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I have been an admirer of President Lincoln ever since I was a young teenager (I’m now 78 years old) and I can remember vividly a declam class in middle school where I memorized and presented the Gettysburg Address.  I also recall writing several essays about Lincoln during my high school years. This was partly due to my interest in the Civil War when I learned I had an ancestor who fought on the Union side at Shiloh, was wounded, captured, and took part in a prisoner exchange.

Over the years I have read and collected dozens of books about the Civil War and Lincoln – David Donald, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Carl Sandburg, and many others. Learning of the developmental cultural and social aspects of Lincoln’s life really expanded my understanding of him and what he did for our country.  I am very pleased to add Abe to my small library – it is an outstanding book.

Thank you,

Bob Fuller

Vermillion, SD

“This book is a very interesting and well written book. I have learned a great deal. It is one of the best written books I have read.

Claudia Paley

5.0 out of 5 stars 

Beautiful book on Abe:

An excellently researched book. I found a lot about Lincoln I never knew and I thought I knew all there was to know. A very wonderful book to read.


5.0 out of 5 stars 

How his times Influenced his life

One of the finest non fiction books I’ve read in a long while. Reynolds captures the essence of the man and the reality of the times. I’ve read much about Lincoln, but this book puts the man into the time he lived far better than any other. Highly recommend.

5.0 out of 5 stars 

“Fabulous! Masterful! Sad to put down.”

Daniel Ford 

5.0 out of 5 stars 

“Incredible book. Writing style is easy to follow, while sprucing dialect for deeper understanding. Truly enjoyed!”


5.0 out of 5 stars 

Excellent history…a far more nuanced look at the man than other bios I have read. A lengthy read but always kept the reader involved.
–Philip E. Husted

5.0 out of 5 stars 

 “It is a vast treasure trove of everything Lincoln...

Not only is it a good read, it is a great source of any information about Lincoln.

–arnold roth

–5.0 out of 5 stars

Superb connections are documented between Lincoln’s early experiences in life and his thought processes and actions during his presidency .


5.0 out of 5 stars

“Very good book about a very great man. Perhaps America’s greatest man. Analyzing Mr Lincoln’s life in the context of the culture surrounding him—in depth—made him even more incredible.”


5.0 out of 5 stars

Abe is a phenomenal book about our 16th President. While long, very long it is an easy and compelling read. I had no intention of reading it until I saw a review in the WSJ. I am glad that I did. Even though it is 900+ pages it was a pleasure to read. Abraham Lincoln was probably our greatest President. While initially opposed to only the expansion of slavery to the new territories, he was able to politically maneuver the country to totally abolish slavery. Abolishing slavery was not the goal of the North prior and during the Civil War. The North only wanted to save the Union. Lincoln saved the union, there is no question about this. His story is amazing. He was really born in a log cabin on the Kentucky frontier in 1809. His mother died when he was very young, and he had a difficult relationship with his father. Lincoln, was for the most part, self taught by candle light. Schooling was optional because he had to work to support his family and himself. While being modestly formally educated, his Gettysburg Address and his 2nd Inaugural Speech are the equal of any politician’s speeches, and they can still thrill with their rhythms and cadences. How Lincoln became President is in itself an amazing story. In 1860, four people ran for President. Lincoln won the Electoral College with a majority but only a plurality of the votes. I cannot imagine what would have happened to the country if someone else had become President. We are still dealing with the echoes of slavery. What would have happened to this country if slavery had continued to exist? I can tell a good biography if I am sad at the end. While everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth murdered Lincoln with a cowardly shot in the back, I was dreading reading about it. I simply did not want it to happen, and I wonder how different the country would be if a strong Lincoln could have presided over the Reconstruction of the South.

Anyone interested in American History should read this book to see how we have overcome our significant differences in the past. We need a Lincoln today.”

Alan Kaplan 

Dear Professor Reynolds,

I realize that academic culture frowns on open displays of enthusiasm, let alone fandom. But gotta tell you how great I thought your Lincoln book was. I assumed I was a relatively well-informed (lay) reader about Lincoln and debated picking up your book. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The context you provided was eye-opening and exceptionally insightful. Congratulations!

Again, congratulations for such a great book,


Mordecai Lee, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

About the Book
(publisher’s site)

From one of the great living historians of 19th century America, a revelatory and enthralling new biography of Lincoln, many years in the making, that embeds him deeply in his tumultuous age.

David S. Reynolds, author of the Bancroft-prize-winning cultural biography of Walt Whitman and many other iconic works of 19th century American history, understands the currents in which Abraham Lincoln swam as well as anyone alive. His magisterial biography Abe is the product of a breathtaking full-body immersion into the riotous tumult of American life in the decades before the Civil War.

It was a country growing up and being pulled apart at the same time, with a democratic popular culture that, reflecting the country’s contradictions, oscillated between the sentimental and the grotesque. Lincoln’s lineage was considered auspicious by Emerson, Whitman and others who prophesied that it would be a new man from the West who would emerge to balance North and South. From New England Puritan stock on his father’s side and Virginia Cavalier gentry on his mother’s, Lincoln was linked by blood to the central conflict of the age. An enduring theme of his life, Reynolds shows, was his genius for striking a balance between opposing forces.

Reynolds’s Lincoln is not the self-raised child of legend; his father is much more influential and less of a flop than the legend has it. What Lincoln lacked in formal schooling he made up for in an unquenchable thirst for self-improvement; Reynolds leads us through the ad hoc course of study that stocked his mind, from childhood to his years as a lawyer. But there are many kinds of education, and Lincoln’s talent for wrestling, tall tales, and bawdy jokes made him as popular with his peers as his appetite for poetry and Shakespeare and prodigious gifts for memorization set him apart from them.

No one can entirely transcend the limitations of their time, and Lincoln was no exception. But what emerges from Reynolds’s masterful reckoning is a sense of a man who at each stage in his life managed to arrive at a broader view of things than all but his most enlightened peers. As a politician, he moved too slowly for some, and too swiftly for many more, but he always pushed hard toward justice while keeping the whole nation in mind. Abe culminates, of course, in the Civil War, the defining test of Lincoln and his beloved country. Reynolds shows us convincingly the extraordinary range of cultural artifacts Lincoln drew from as he shaped a vision of true union, transforming, in King’s words, “the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” Abraham Lincoln did not come out of nowhere. Never have his cultural influences been more sharply limned than by David S. Reynolds here. But if he was shaped by his times, he also managed at his life’s fateful hour to shape them to an extent few could have foreseen. Ultimately, this is the great drama that astonishes us still, and that Abe brings to fresh and vivid life. The measure of that life, in all its democratic fullness, will always be part of our American education.

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