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“It was written by two young men who adored Abraham Lincoln. John Nicolay was Lincoln’s personal secretary. John Hay was Nicolay’s assistant. They were with Lincoln in the White House. They lived through—and were at the centre of—the Civil War. When Lincoln was assassinated, they believed the greatest man in American history had been taken from the American people. This was written in an era before presidents’ files were classified for security reasons. Nicolay and Hay were the secretaries; they had the records, and they used those records to write this very detailed story of Lincoln’s life and presidency. Usually biographers don’t have an inside view, but Hay and Nicolay did, so they could supplement what Lincoln’s papers conveyed with their own memories of the great man. Hay in particular had a literary flair. There is some question as to whether Hay composed some of Lincoln’s most admired letters. Usually works this long don’t evoke admiration for their fluency—just their thoroughness. But in this case, the diligence is there and so is the literary quality. And a lot of it consists of quotes from Lincoln, who himself was a wonderful writer. So you get the voice of the subject, and then you get the background from people who were there. Their work really remains unsurpassed.” Read more...
The best books on American Presidents
H W Brands, Biographer