Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Five best brief biographies

Paul Johnson's latest book is Darwin.

One of his five favorite brief biographies, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Lincoln at Gettysburg
by Garry Wills (2006)

Of Grant's contemporary, Lincoln, there are over 1,000 biographies, many multivolume, with more appearing every year. There are few short ones, and none outstanding, but there is one that contrives to take a particular episode and use it to epitomize and illuminate the whole life. This is Garry Wills's "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America." The main text is only 175 pages, but it shows how Lincoln in this short speech was able to ennoble the war, to explain why it was necessary, to show why it succeeded in its objects and to give Americans a key text about themselves. The book sums up Lincoln's qualities and makes good his claim to be the exemplar of the American virtues and the central figure in American history. This is a two-day read—with the appendices three—but time profitably spent.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lincoln at Gettysburg is one of James Ledbetter's six notable books about speeches that changed U.S. politics.

--Marshal Zeringue