When Barack Obama is sworn in today as the 44th
president of the United States, he will use
the same Bible upon which Abraham Lincoln took the oath of
office at his first inauguration in 1861.
The moment will not be the first where Obama and
Lincoln intersect. This weekend, Obama
boarded a train to trace Lincoln's own inaugural path from
Philadelphia to Washington. And he had, in
fact, announced his historic presidential bid from the
steps of the statehouse in Springfield, Ill., the
same spot where his fellow Illinois politician began his
road to the White House.
If the new leader of the free world wants to find more
ways to mirror the 16th president, he
might want to pick up a copy of a new Johns Hopkins University
Press release that some critics
describe as the definitive biography and seminal
re-examination of Lincoln.
The full life and times of Honest Abe are detailed in
Abraham Lincoln: A Life, an exhaustive and
stylishly written biography published by the JHU Press to
coincide with the 200th anniversary of
Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12.
Author and distinguished Lincoln scholar Michael
Burlingame, who received his doctorate from
Johns Hopkins, infuses a lifetime of research into the
2,000-page two-volume book, which has been
hailed by critics and embraced by consumers. The book's
initial print run of 1,500 copies sold out in
days, and the Press has received additional orders for
James L. Swanson, a fellow Lincoln scholar and author
of the bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day
Chase for Lincoln's Killer, wrote in his Publishers
Weekly review that Burlingame has produced the
most meticulously researched Lincoln biography ever
"This book supplants [Carl] Sandburg and supersedes
all other biographies," Swanson said.
"Future Lincoln books cannot be written without it, and
from no other book can a general reader learn
so much about Abraham Lincoln. It is the essential title
for the bicentennial."
Burlingame, the author or editor of a dozen books on
Lincoln, said he began work on a full-
fledged biography in 1987, though the scope of the book did
not take shape until the early 1990s.
Around that time, Burlingame uncovered a great deal of new
and not widely known information on his
subject from such sources as unpublished letters, the field
notes of earlier biographers and 19th-
century newspapers other than the usual suspects of
"I was somewhat surprised by the amount of new
information out there and felt, heck, someone
should really write an authoritative cradle-to-grave
biography on Lincoln that incorporated all these
details," he said. "I decided to undertake the task
Burlingame, the Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus
at Connecticut College, retired early,
at the age of 59, to dedicate himself to this project and
complete it in time for the bicentennial.
He used some of his research for another book
published by the JHU Press, Lincoln Observed:
Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks. Lincoln
Observed, published in 1998, collates the dispatches,
selected letters and personal reminiscences of Brooks, the
Sacramento Daily Union reporter who had
direct access to the president, a longtime friend.
In Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Burlingame combines
Brooks' observations with others gleaned from
decades of research in multiple manuscript archives,
long-neglected newspaper articles and Lincoln's
own lost journalism.
Volume 1 covers Lincoln's early childhood, his
experiences as a farm boy in Indiana and Illinois,
his legal training and the political ambition that led to a
term in Congress in the 1840s.
In volume 2, Burlingame examines Lincoln's life during
his presidency and the Civil War,
narrating in detail the crisis over Fort Sumter and
Lincoln's own battles with political rivals, hostile
newspaper editors and incompetent field commanders.
Some of the book's surprises include a quotation of
Frederick Douglass that refers to Lincoln as
"the black man's president." Douglass had long been quoted
as referring to Lincoln as "the white man's
president." It also recounts a speech in 1865 where Lincoln
told those gathered that he would allow
the black man to vote. One of the attendees was John Wilkes
Booth, who was overheard saying that
he would "run him through" before Lincoln could do that.
Three days later, Booth shot him at Ford's
Burlingame also offers new and sometimes unflattering
interpretations of Lincoln's private life,
discussing his difficult marriage to Mary Todd and the
untimely deaths of two sons to disease.
Burlingame said that through it all — a troubled
relationship with his father, career setbacks, a
fratricidal war, bouts of depression and tragic personal
losses — Lincoln preserved a keen sense of
humor and acquired a psychological maturity and strength of
character that would inspire millions of
fellow countrymen during his lifetime. "And inspire
generations to come," he said.
Robert J. Brugger, history/regional book editor at the
JHU Press, said that this book cements
Burlingame's place as the leading Lincoln scholar.
"This is the work of an extremely diligent historian.
Michael is an indefatigable researcher who
has spent his career working on Lincoln and going after
evidence both small and extensive that other
historians overlooked or simply declined to get into,"
Brugger said. "Since so much has already been
written, some people feel we know everything there is to
know about Lincoln. But this book brings
fresh insight to a great man and someone who belongs to the
The book, $125, is available through the JHU Press Web
www.press.jhu.edu. The Press and
the Alumni Association will host a talk by Burlingame at
the Maryland Historical Society on May 20;
for more information, contact Jack Holmes at