Review of A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal

A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809 - 1854 - Sidney Blumenthal

This is one of the more detailed history books I have ever read. This is the first in what will be a series of books that detail the political life of Abraham Lincoln. Countless books have been written about Lincoln, but what sets this book apart is the almost overwhelming details given about seemingly anyone of importance at the national and local (for Illinois and Washington, DC) levels during the years of the 1820s through the 1840s. At times it was difficult to keep all of the people organized in my head while reading, but I have to say that I learned more from this book than any book I can remember reading in a long time.

I think the author was very fair showing us Lincoln as he was, warts and all. At times he was very biased against some historical figures including John C. Calhoun (who he basically blames for everything bad that happened in the country during his time as a political leader) and Joseph Smith. If I was Mormon, I would probably be offended by the chapters describing the early years of the Mormons and their leader Smith.

I most enjoyed learning about the real divisions in the anti-slavery movements of the time. We always have the idea that all Northerners were abolitionists but as this book makes clear, the abolitionists were considered extreme radicals and there was a real difference between being an abolitionist and someone considered anti-slavery. Within those groups there were sub-groups and like any real political movement, no matter how important the cause, politics and ambition drove most of the decisions.

Highly recommended but only for those that have a deep knowledge of of the antebellum era coming into the book.