366 Days in Abraham Lincoln's Presidency: The Private, Political, and Military Decisions of America's Greatest President. By Stephen A. Wynalda. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010. 624 pp.
Lincoln and New York. Edited by Harold Holzer. New York: Philip Wilson Publishing, 2010. 288 pp.
During the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 2009, over 80 new titles about Lincoln were published. Interest has not waned much since, as new books, articles, and monographs continue to appear that address nearly every imaginable aspect of the sixteenth president's life and career. Perhaps we have reached a saturation point; and yet, as these two new books indicate, there is room for still more Lincoln material, particularly when executed with both competence and originality.
As the title indicates, Stephen A. Wynalda's 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln's Presidency offers a detailed examination of Lincoln's time in the White House, beginning with the day he was elected in 1860 and extending through the morning of April 15, 1865, when he died from the effects of John Wilkes Booth's bullet. Wynalda intersperses descriptions of Lincoln's daily activities with sidebars that briefly explore relevant aspects of Lincoln's legacy. For example, an entry for March 6, 1862, addressing Lincoln's attempt to convince abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner to support a gradual, compensated emancipation scheme is followed by a sidebar titled "why compensated emancipation failed" (p. 29).
Wynalda brings a rather unusual perspective to Lincoln (he is a journalist trained in the history of the Byzantine Empire). His entries offer a nice balance between admiration for Lincoln's leadership and political abilities--his initiatives concerning emancipation, for example--to snapshots of his less endearing moments: a September 25, 1862, letter to Union General Ambrose Burnside that Wynalda characterized as "the rant" (p. 313).
Experienced Lincoln and Civil War scholars will not find much new here in terms of information or interpretation, but the format itself is original enough that the book's structure alone communicates an interesting perspective. Taken individually, the daily entries provide nice, succinct little snapshots of Lincoln's various trials and tribulations. On the whole, the book's narrative is a useful portrait of Lincoln's presidential life, even if it provides little in the way of new interpretation or analysis.
Unlike Wynalda, Harold Holzer is a seasoned...