Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"A History Is Not a History Unless It Is Truth:"Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg

In this year of the bicentennial birthday of Abraham Lincoln there are many newly published books telling his story. Barry Denenberg's is one that is truly unique, from its faux-aged maroon cover to its sepia-toned, mock-aged 18 x 12 inch pages, it gives the impression of an 1866 memorial edition for the slain sixteenth president.

The book opens with a front page proclaiming


Condition Considered Hopeless

Will Not Live Through Night, Doctors Declare.

The first pages of the National News detail the events at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, followed by a second edition of this newspaper describing the escape and eventual hunting down and shooting of John Wilkes Booth. Original photographs from the period show the preparation and hanging of the four conspirators, including Mary Surratt, the first woman hanged in a Federal judgment.

The story of Lincoln's life is chronicled in similar format, from his early days in Kentucky and Indiana to the ragtag days of his early manhood, supporting himself as a militiaman in the Black Hawk War, a riverboat roustabout, a clerk and store owner, surveyor and state legislator from Sangamon County. In lively and engaging text, Denenberg tells both the familiar and unfamiliar stories of Lincoln's formative and working years in Illinois.

Those years were marked by times of great loss. Lincoln lost his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, his sister Sally in her first childbirth, his first love Anne Ratledge, and two sons, Edward and Willie, to name a few, in his own lifetime. "In this sad world of ours," he wrote on his sister's sudden passing, "sorrow comes to all; and to the young it comes with bitterest agony because it takes them unawares... I have experience enough to know what I say."

Denenberg has an ear for Lincoln stories with appeal for middle readers, recounting the events in which, under serious threats against his life, the new president-elect traveled in the disguise of an "invalid brother" by train to Washington, D.C., for his inaugural, protected by a bodyguard bristling with four guns, two knives, a slingshot, and brass knuckles. In a familiar-sounding scenario, Lincoln rode to the Capitol for his swearing-in in a carriage protected by a double file of cavalry and a company of infantry past blocked intersections and buildings with riflemen stationed on their rooftops. The author also features a copy of the letter from an admiring eleven-year-old, Grace Bedell, who advised him to grow whiskers and Lincoln's genial reply to his young fan. Into this highly readable biography, the illustrator/designer Christopher Bing had interspersed thought-provoking period photos--Lincoln's famous visit to his generals after the Battle of Antietam and the dead on the killing fields of Gettysburg--side by side with period advertisements for patent medicines, maps, woodcut illustrations, and headlines and news stories done up in authentic-looking typefaces. The final section catalogs the events, prosaic and prophetic, of Lincoln's last day.

What emerges from this unique format is a remarkable biography of Abraham Lincoln--eye-catching and yet rich in detail and design just right for the middle reader, young adult, and adult browser. The editors include a Chronology with a complete timeline of Lincoln's life and a full index. Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered is a unique bicentennial biography of our sixteenth president which captures the spirit of Lincoln's leadership in his own critical time.

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