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Book Reviews

The Annotated Lincoln

November 19, 2019

The Annotated Lincoln, Harold Holzer and Thomas A. Horrocks, editors, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016, 604pp., $39.95.

This recent addition to the Lincoln bibliography is essentially a chronological presentation of letters and speeches of Abraham Lincoln spanning the period from 1832 to 1865, with footnotes that provide context and historical background.

The introduction explains the motivation and purpose of the work. “This volume is designed for a wide audience that includes the general reader, scholar, teachers, students, and Lincoln enthusiasts. Considering all of the attention Abraham Lincoln has received from innumerable scholars and popular writers, not to mention his iconic status in American culture, it is surprising that no extensive annotated volume of his writings has been published until now… In ‘The Annotated Lincoln’ we guide readers through a selection of Lincoln’s essential writings, examining the extraordinary man who produced them and explaining the context in which they were composed. In doing so, we attempt to bring Lincoln’s correspondence, memoranda, and speeches more generally into the scope of contemporary scholarship, quoting selectively in the book’s margins from leading works of biography, history, and criticism to offer a larger appreciation of Lincoln’s writing, thought, and political career. Comprising almost one hundred letters, speeches, and presidential messages… complemented by some one hundred illustrations… our annotations explore Lincoln’s positions on the critical issues of his time, including slavery, racial equality, secession, and civil liberties in time of war.”

The selections represent Lincoln’s development, both politically and intellectually, as well as the maturation of his communication skills. The subjects are disparate and are not arranged by subject matter. Unlike a book which deals with a specific issue or event, it is not conducive to a front-to-back cover reading. It is, in fact, rather “dry”. As such, we doubt it will find any market among the general public, but appeal primarily to those in the world of academia. It is a beautifully printed and designed book, extensively illustrated. From the collector’s standpoint, we were excited to see many pieces of Lincolniana we were not familiar with. Hopefully, we may be able to draw upon it as a useful reference from time-to-time.