Ronald C. White

An obscure politician from Illinois, with little experience in Washington, DC, a long-shot candidate for the White House… But of course we’re taking about Abraham Lincoln, subject of the new 800-page doorstop biography A. Lincoln (Random House, $35) by Ronald C. White Jr. Even as we inaugurate our 44th president this week, our nation’s 16th leader looms large. Dozens of books have been written about Lincoln; and yet, they hardly seen enough. White takes the all-in-one approach to an epic life that spans the bookshelf from constitutional law to war strategy to frontier folklore. More than any other president, Lincoln (1809-1865) embodies American history: born in the boonies before the Industrial Revolution, he self-educated himself to become a leading corporate lawyer for the railroads; he was the first president to be widely photographed, thereby increasing his fame at a time when not all were literate; and he mastered the telegraph—the BlackBerry of its day—and other communications technologies. White calls him “a newspaper junkie” who cannily courted newspaper editors and had his speeches widely reprinted. Here we learn that there were only 250 newspapers at the time of Lincoln’s birth, and 2,500 at his assassination. And also some fun trivia: Hookers are named for a lascivious Union general who brought whores to camp? I never knew. And what does “stump speech” actually mean? It refers to the plainspoken, demonstrative style of rhetoric used to woo voters on the recently cleared frontier (not like the polished oak assembly halls of the East), where one’s podium was often, yes, a stump. BRIAN MILLER

Tue., Jan. 27, 7 p.m., 2009

 
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