Partial Comments from a 1939 Review of Abraham Lincoln, The War Years by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

 

From an old Bulletin of the Abraham Lincoln Association dated December 1939,  I glanced to find a book review of Sandburg’s Lincoln, The War Years by Harry E. Pratt.  Of course, it’s a positive review, overall. Who could have a problem with Sandburg’s masterpiece? 😆  Some of his comments include:

“Abraham Lincoln, The War Years is a biography of Lincoln with little emphasis upon the history of the Civil War…Sandburg has done well in not loading his work with detailed accounts of the fighting either in Congress or on the battlefield.”

B. Nash comment: Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln has always been my favorite. One of the reasons why is the very fact that he didn’t get bogged down in minute details of the fighting. Afterall, it is a biography of Lincoln-not a primary account of the war. By the way, one of the things I really dislike about Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative is it’s endless details about troop movements and the like.

 

“There is more of history and biography in this book than appeared in the author’s Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years published in 1926. There is less of the “white moon in its high riding” and the “purple loam of the prairie” and fewer extensive digressions from the detailed story of Lincoln.”

Personally, I value greatly Sandburg’s poetic style in his writings on Lincoln. I know he has received much disfavor in some circles for his colorful expressions and use of the language. I have always thought the biography’s greatness was due, at least in part, for the particular way things are said that only Sandburg could say. If one one to read a biography of Lincoln without the poetic bent-there are countless others!

 

“Again it is Sandburg the poet that records Lincoln’s death when he writes,  “The Pale Horse had come. To a deep river, to a far country, to a by-and-by whence no man returns, had gone the child of Nancy Hanks and Tom Lincoln, the wilderness boy who found far lights and tall rainbows to live by, whose name even before he died became a legend interwoven with men’s struggles for freedom the world over.”

No, it is not a strict account of history that Sandburg gives. If that is what is needed, Sandburg’s biography is not the preferred choice, I suppose. But, oh what a beautiful flowing of words!

 

“The foreward contains Sandburg’s comments on only a few of the sources of materials used. He excuses himself for not listing and evaluating them all by referring the reader to the evaluation of such materials by Professor James G. Randall at the close of Lincoln in the Dictionary of American Biography. No footnotes occur in the book which reduces the value of the work at least one half for any careful student.”

This has been the greatest objection to the Sandburg work, I think.  Again,   the “careful student” would be best to look elsewhere for such details. Sandburg, obviously knew what he was producing when he spent years writing it.

 

“The War Years possess certain distinctions; first, it is the longest biography of Lincoln; second, it is the best illustrated; third, it contains perhaps the longest sentence to be found in any biography (vol. 1 p.8 ff.); fourth, it has more human interest stories of, and about Lincoln, than any other work. The numerous minor errors of fact may well be pardoned in a biography of this character.”

Those things must have been true in 1939. I wonder if they are still true today? I looked for the “longest sentence” which Pratt refers to. I didn’t see it! I probably missed it. As for the “minor errors”-yes, there are some- to be sure. I agree with Pratt that they “may well be pardoned.”

I have mentioned previously that Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln is still a classic and should be read by all who have any interest in Lincoln-whether scholar or casual reader.

That was true in 1939 and still so today.

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One Response to “Partial Comments from a 1939 Review of Abraham Lincoln, The War Years by Carl Sandburg”

  1. […] Book: From a 2012 review that compares it to a 1939 review: “I have mentioned previously that Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln is still a classic and should be read by all who have any interest in Lincoln-whether scholar or casual reader. That was true in 1939 and still so today.”  http://abesblogcabin.org/partial-comments-from-a-1939-review-of-abraham-lincoln-the-war-years-by-car… […]

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