Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle was on my Christmas list for 2012. I did get it and I’m reading it now and thought this might be a good time to talk about the book. But let me tell you first why it was on my list.
I have long been an admirer of David Von Drehle’s writing. I had read Triangle: The Fire That Changed America many years ago. In 1911 a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City killed over 100 workers. This stood as the worst workplace disaster in New York City until September 11 2001. Most of the workers at the Triangle factory were poor women from the lower eastside on Manhattan. Some were burned; others jumped to their deaths. It was a horrible incident and changed the American workplace. I really was impressed with the way that David Von Drehle told the story.
Skip ahead to last year and I subscribed to Time magazine. I started noticing articles by David Von Drehle. The name was familiar. So I checked and it was the Triangle author. Then late last year, an issue came out with a few big stories on the new Lincoln movie. And there was a mention of his book. So I added that to my list.
So enough background. What do I think of the book? The short version is “I like it!” But since this a book review, I really should go into a bit more detail.
As suggested by the title Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year this does focus on one year. And that year is 1862. Since it is a calender year story, it makes sense to tell it chronologically and that is what Von Drehle with 12 monthly chapters. But before the monthly chapters comes a prologue to set the stage. And a chapter on New Years Day to flesh out the prologue, introduce some key characters, and get us into the chronological part.
It is clear that the United States is in big trouble. Many states have seceded. The federal government is broke. The was costs are several times the previous federal budgets. Even among the states who stay in the Union, there is widespread disagreement on several issues but most especially slavery. The rebels are doing well militarily. And the future of the United States is in doubt. Then there are international issues. It is really unclear if the country lawyer can handle all of this.
But during 1862 Lincoln becomes the leader we need. I’m over half way though the book now. I just finished June. I can’t comment on the end because I’m not there yet. But so far the author is doing a great job at describing the progress of the war and the political pressure on the new president.
My one quibble is maps. There are some and they really help in following military campaigns. But I am a big map fan and wish there were more maps.
So here are a few reviews I found:
Overall, I’d say this was a very good book. All the reviews I’ve seen seem to agree on that. And there are another 50 or so reviews on Amazon if you just click on the image of the book above.
It does focus on one critical year in Lincoln’s presidency so it is not a full biography or a full telling of the civil war. But it is a wonderful book about a very critical year. I highly recommend it.