by Stephen B. Oates

ISBN 978-0-945707-32-5     $35.00

492 pages including notes, bibliography and index.  32 pages of illustrations.

   On first thought it is hard to understand why anybody would write a new biography of Abraham Lincoln.  More books have already been published about Lincoln than about any other American, and many of them are excellent...
   The standard one-volume biography, however, has long been Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln, a work of exceptional scholarship and literary skill published in 1952.
   Yet during the past five or six years I have noticed, at least among college students, an increasing aversion to Thomas's book.  The early parts of the biography are too folksy, they complain; the latter chapters, too uncritical.  Except for a few unreconstructed Southerners, few of my students have disagreed with Thomas's staunchly pro-Lincoln bias, but they tend to gag when they read: "His conduct has been essentially Christian.  He conformed to the teachings of the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount..."  Besides, Thomas did not address some concerns of president day readers.  Though he dealt extensively with slavery and emancipation, "race" and "racism" do not appear in his index.  Nor does the name of Frederick Douglas, the great black leader who was Lincoln's friend.  in short, a number of younger readers feel that Thomas's biography is like a good suit made during the 1950's and carefully preserved since.  The quality of the material remains excellent, the workmanship is superior, but the garment is out of style.
   Sensing the need for a more modern biography of Lincoln, Stephen B. Oates has now published With Malice Toward None, the first major full-scale life in nearly a generation. 
   ...With Malice Toward None is an impressive performance.  Full, fair and accurate, it does, as its author boasts, cover all significant aspects of Lincoln's life.  Oates... has ably synthesized the best, most recent Lincoln scholarship.  He addresses himself directly, if not always convincingly, to such present-day concerns as Lincoln's views on race and on the future of the Negro in American society.  But what most distinguishes Oates from all previous Lincoln biographers is the fact that he is consistently nonjudgmental.  Though one senses that Oates sympathizes with his subject, it would be hard to point to a sentence, or even a phrase, that would justify that opinion. With Malice Toward None is certainly the most objective biography of Lincoln ever written. 
   Both because it (With Malice Toward None) has outstanding scholarly merits and because it so completely captures the contemporary mood, it is very probably going to replace Thomas's book as the standard one-volume life of Lincoln.

Distilled from the New York Times Book Review of March 13, 1977 by David Donald

Home Buy on Amazon