Read Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America by Garry Wills Online


The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation "a new birth of freedom"--by tracing its first birth to the Declaration of Independence (which called all men equal) rather than to the Constitution (which tolerated slavery). In theThe power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation "a new birth of freedom"--by tracing its first birth to the Declaration of Independence (which called all men equal) rather than to the Constitution (which tolerated slavery). In the space of a mere 272 words, Lincoln brought to bear the rhetoric of the Greek Revival, the categories of Transcendentalism, and the imagery of the "rural cemetery" movement. His entire life and previous training, his deep political experience, went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece. As Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel has been restored to its bold colors and forgotten details, Garry Wills restores the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln at Gettysburg combines the same extraordinary quality of observation that defines Wills's previous best-selling portraits of modern presidents, such as Reagan's America and Nixon Agonistes, with the iconoclastic scholarship of his studies of our founding documents, such as Inventing America. By examining both the Address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew and reveals much about a President so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world, to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns. The Civil War is, to most Americans, what Lincoln wanted it to mean. Now Garry Wills explains how Lincoln wove a spell that has not, yet, been broken....

Title : Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America
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ISBN : 9780671867423
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 317 Pages
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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America Reviews

  • Darwin8u
    2019-05-20 16:31

    A REVIEW in 292:Fundamentally, the thing I love about criticism is the ability to read a damn fine book about a damn fine speech and recognize the author of the book wrote a little more than a page for every word in the Gettysburg Address. If you count appendixes and notes (and why wouldn't you when the appendix and notes matter?). I once teased my wife, during my early wooing stage, that I wanted to write an ode to every hair on her head (loads of odes). Garry Wills did. This book is both academic criticism (one chapter is infused with new historicism, one is textual criticism, one is formalist, one is mythological) and an ode to Lincoln, Language, and this damn fine speech. I could see Garry Wills publishing each chapter in some well-funded Civil War journal and eventually weaving each paper together. I'm not sure how it really happened. Wills might just have used the chapters and forms of literary criticism as an organizational framework. I am not going to do an exegesis on the book to find out. That would be far too meta. Anyway, it was a quick and fascinating read and significantly deepened my understanding of Lincoln's motives for the speech while also acting as an Entmythologisierung* of the text. No. Lincoln did not write the text on the back of a napkin while on a train TO Gettysburg. Anyway, a must read for those who love history, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, or Transcendentalism.* I'm using the German here as a joke, since there were several instances when Wills referenced Everett bringing back the seeds of Transcendentalism and higher criticism from his studies there. I'm also using it because it is 1.5x as fun as just saying demystification.

  • Eric
    2019-05-10 20:31

    Lincoln was a “radical” in both senses: he broke with tradition by returning to the roots. The heart of Wills’s book is Lincoln’s elevation of the Declaration of Independence as a transcendental text above the earthly and provisional Constitution. The Constitution, with its tolerance of slavery, was felt by Lincoln and other transcendentalist political thinkers to require renewal by the Declaration, whose unequivocal proposition of equality for all constitutes the moral center of the American system, the American Idea in timeless and transcendent form. (Lincoln, like Emerson, was very much concerned with the ebb and flow of spiritual life in and out of established institutions.) Wills argues that we owe to Lincoln our sense of a Constitution vividly informed and regularly amended by the people’s progressive approximation of a transcendent ideal. Wills also kicks over a few rocks to show us the judicial conservatives, “strict constructionists” and Neo-Confederate ideologues—Americans hostile to America’s founding ideals, statistically inevitable dregs and degenerates—who to this day begrudge Lincoln for making universal equality integral to the peoples’ conception of their Constitution. American bigots and subjectionists hate that there’s a potent liberation ideology built into the system. That must be so annoying.The polished pearl of Lincoln’s constitutional thinking, the Gettysburg Address is also, of course, a funeral oration Lincoln delivered at the cemetery where 3,512 Union soldiers killed at the battle of Gettysburg are buried, and therefore it has its fascinating social-literary situation in “nineteenth century oratory, funerary conventions, and the poetry of death.” The Address’s birth-death-rebirth imagery and rhetorical reliance on antithesis, its brevity, abstraction and dense concision, show Lincoln consciously imitating the Athenian funeral oration, the Epitaphios Logos most memorably delivered by Pericles after the first year of the Peloponnesian War (Wills even writes of the Address as having “the chaste and graven quality of an Attic frieze”). I love seeing American usage and institutions springing from the deep humanist culture of its founders and re-founders. The founders feared direct democracy, and focused their humanism on the Roman Republic; nineteenth century Americans preened themselves as heirs of democratic Athens, made Greek Revival the first truly national architectural style, and were, like much of Europe, enthralled by the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottomans. Edward Everett—the main event of the Gettysburg ceremony, not Lincoln—was “the voice of fashionably Romantic Hellenism” who had made his career speaking at fundraisers for Greek independence and delivering Periclean orations at Revolutionary War battlefields.The location of the Athenian Kerameikos outside the city walls, in precincts of contemplative rusticity, near the groves of the Academy, inspired the “rural cemetery movement” across America, a movement of which the Gettysburg National Cemetery is a famous product (others are Boston’s Mount Auburn, which drew 30,000 visitors a year; and Concord’s Sleepy Hollow, whose dedication Emerson delivered). The Greek rural cemetery’s “pantheistic identification of dissolution with initiation,” and the Greek view of patriot graves as ideal educative sites for the young caught on with nineteenth century Americans for a variety of reasons: 1. The waning of traditional religion before the Transcendentalist cult of nature (the “theological gloom” of the churchyard and the cathedral vault exchanged for picturesque open-air sublimity, landscape-as-church). 2.The necrophiliac aspects of Romanticism, and the Romantic association of melancholy with genius, mourning with profundity (Lincoln’s law partner Herndon: “His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created sympathy for him—one means of his great success”).3. The limnality fetish—séances, spirit photography, dead babies with angel headstones (Mary Lincoln conducted séances in the White House, and later had a spirit photograph taken in which the ghost of her assassinated husband leans over her protectively). A selection of morbid Victoriana:1.Mary and Abe’s spirit photo2.Assassination spread in Harper’s Weekly 3.Lincoln’s hearse4.Gettysburg dead1.2.[image error]3.4. [image error]

  • Frank Stein
    2019-05-09 14:19

    Just a beautiful piece of work that is also possibly the best book I've read on Abraham Lincoln. For one, Wills does a wonderful job of analyzing Lincoln's influences, from the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Theodore Parker to the oratory of the Greek revival movement to Romanticism, and all of it is so lucidly described and densely packed together that I often had to put the book down to absorb it all or think on it for a moment. Wills' main point though is that the Gettysburg Address, by making the Declaration of Independence America's most important "founding document" (written four score and seven years before 1863), and by substituting the aspirational call for equality made in the Declaration for the fuzzy compromises made in the Constitution, helped craft America as an international and on-going project for human betterment, rather than a local and limited one, and in so far as this speech reshaped generations of Americans' views of their country and its founding, Lincoln truly succeeded in ensuring a "new birth of freedom" for the nation. Overall it's a well-wrought description of the political and intellectual life of mid-nineteenth century America, one which also shows how a single genius managed to reshape that life going forward.

  • Louise
    2019-05-02 15:42

    This year my "Reading Challenge" is to re-read 10 books to see how they hold up to my memory. There is quite a bit in this book that I forgot over 15 years.If you asked me last week, I'd have told you it was about the use of rhetorical devices and how this style of oratory harkens back to the Greek tradition. I would not have remembered nor told you it shows how Lincoln recast the meaning of the war and fixed the Declaration of Independence as subordinate to Constitution (as noted in the title); nor would I have remembered how Wills shows the influence of the transcendentalists on Lincoln's thinking; nor would I have remembered much about the choice of venue.Wills defines the founding generation's preference for Roman (a republic, fearful of the masses) imagery to the late nineteenth century's preference for Greek (a democracy with more suffrage) imagery. He shows the development of Lincoln's mood and thought through previous speeches and bits of Lincoln's poetry and a discussion of the (later) second Inaugural Address. There is quite a bit on the 19th century American experience of death (using the word "Victorian" only as an adjective for authors) and the cemetery movement.I remembered that by not naming a person, the battlefield being dedicated or the battle fought there, "the North" or "the South" or any place, or even the Declaration of Independence which the oratory is about, he makes the piece timeless. By using nouns instead of referent pronouns he creates stirring images. By using of balance he makes it poetic. I did not remember how the war was recast in that "the great task before us" is not emancipation, but the perpetuation of self-government.It's funny how the memory works. There are a few poems that Lincoln wrote and I did not remember any of them. Most of them are forgettable, but the poem on pp. 92-93 where Lincoln lays out his beliefs on race should not have been.The contrast with oratory of its day is shown in the Appendix III in the speech delivered that same day by Pennsylvania Governor Everett. Also in Appendix III is an example of the Greek funeral oratory from which the style is derived.Were I to have rated this book last week, I'd have given it 5 stars. While it is an important book and Wills brings a lot together, today I see it as a 4 star book. While the book is short and it is not pithy. The pieces on psychobiography and the section on the transcendental influence ramble.

  • Katy
    2019-05-02 14:14

    An interesting and scholarly book on Lincoln and his speech at Gettysburg. Great information, but a bit dry at times. I appreciate this book's importance to USA History and can see why it won a Pulitzer.

  • John Sundman
    2019-05-18 15:44

    This book is great. It's elegantly written, well-argued, well-documented and full of insight and information. Wills not only explains Lincoln's rhetorical techniques, he situates them in the context of classical rhetoric (in particular the ancient Greek funeral-for-heroes speech), American cultural trends of the mid 1800's (in particular Transcendentalism and the "rural cemetery" movement), and Lincoln's own history as a writer and giver of speeches. Most importantly, he demonstrates how Lincoln used the address to promulgate his philosophy about the nature of the political Union that is the United States of America. Lincoln believed that the American people had decided that they were one people, one nation, at least as early as 1776, and emphatically proved they were with the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution. In Lincoln's view, the 1787 Constitution did not make the Union; it only made the already-existing Union (in the words of the Constitution's preamble) "more perfect". The Union was "given birth" by an idea, and its ideal was spelled out in the Declaration. The Constitution is nothing more or less than an imperfect attempt to make that ideal reality, subject to political constraints at any point in time. Seen in this light, the stirring last sentence of the Gettysburg Address is more than a clever Jedi mind-trick to arouse patriotic fervor, it's a rebuttal to every kind of "States' Rights" revisionistic history, and a succinct statement of what the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg were all about. The speech itself truly is a masterpiece, and Wills's book is equal to the task of explaining why and how this is so. Highly recommended.

  • Joe
    2019-05-16 13:38

    Wills takes us back not only to the day that Lincoln gave this speech, but also he starts off crafting deftly, and laboriously, our experiences while visiting a cemetery such as this one. That realm between the living and the dead should be used to remember and commemorate those that have fallen so that we can finish the work before us. Our work to reinvent the Union should be founded upon giving new meaning to "all men are created equal."Also, Wills explains how revolutionary Lincoln's Gettysburg address really was. And he proposes why it was so short, and also why so much was left out of it... like the words "slavery", "the South", or even the word "Union". And finally he examines how the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural are so similar, and why the "sin of slavery" was not part of the Gettysburg Address but was able to be included in his Second Inaugural.If there ever was a book that I should reread, this is one of them.

  • Jacques Bromberg
    2019-04-26 17:30

    There's a lot of junk by Gary Wills that I don't like, but I enjoyed this book enormously. Even more useful than Wills' gripping discussions of Lincoln's address, is the inclusion (in the appendices) of texts by Edward Everett, Gorgias, and Thucydides.

  • Helga Cohen
    2019-05-06 21:29

    This was a very scholarly Pulitzer Prize winning book about Lincoln and the greatest speech in our nation’s history. I memorized this speech in school but this author gives understanding to this short speech. In this book, the author examines the speech in minute and exacting detail. He analyzes Lincoln’s influences from the Transcendentalist of Emerson and the Greek oratory of Pericles. And he examines the place, the Gettysburg cemetery where the speech took place. With this speech, Lincoln succeeded in a “new birth of freedom” for the nation. I can appreciate why this book received the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. His inclusion of the appendices and text by Edward Everett was very useful in the understanding of the discussion and completeness in the understanding of this important speech and this important time in our nation’s history.

  • Amanda
    2019-05-21 14:20

    This book contains so much interesting information about Lincoln and his speeches, but I can't say I really enjoyed reading it. The style wasn't my favorite, and I wish there had been more about the Gettysburg Address. It wasn't quite what I expected and I thought some parts seemed a little out of place and unnecessary in a book that's purportedly about a single speech.

  • Jake
    2019-04-26 16:33

    The book "Lincoln at Gettysburg: Words That Remade America" by Garry Willis was a tough read for me. It took me nearly two-and-a-half weeks to read, and for most of the time, I didn’t understand what I was reading. When I did, however, I found the book extremely insightful, interesting, and thought-provoking. To start, this book gives an in depth explanation on the relationship between the Greek oratory (speaking and writing) and Lincoln’s Address. The most inducing part of these chapters was when Willis shows that the words written by famous Greek philosophers and political figures can be so closely tied to what we write today. In particular, I enjoyed seeing the comparison between the Greeks speeches for fallen soldiers to the Gettysburg Address; they are almost identical. “The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead” (63). For example, speeches honoring dead were divided into two parts: the epainesis of the dead and the parainesis of the living. One part of the epainesis, the progonoi, describes how the heroes have the nobility of great answers. Lincoln’s progonoi begins: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation . . .” The book also delves into what triggered the need for a cemetery dedication to the soldiers at Gettysburg and the “culture of death” in the mid-late nineteenth century. This part of the book was interesting, but more difficult to understand. However, it helped transition into the book’s final chapters, where the speech itself and its importance were explained. Right behind the Greek oratory chapters, this was my favorite part of the book. I can affirm with certainty that I will re-read this book. It is loaded with insightful facts and quotes that I am sure will prove to be more useful once I can better comprehend the book’s meaning. President Lincoln is high up on my favorite lists of Presidents, and I hope to continue my study on him and his impact on America.

  • Lisa
    2019-05-20 20:21

    This is the best book I've read all year. I've been to Gettysburg six times so I don't know how I missed this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. In a detailed analysis, Wills (a trained classisist) sets up the context of Lincoln's most famous speech , the Gettysburg Address and then analyzes it, showing how Lincoln borrowed from the Ancient Greek funeral orations. The analysis is smart and detailed: showing the speakers (Clay, Webster, Calhoun) who influenced Lincoln's thoughts,along with the writers (Hugh Blair) , and how the cemetery itself was part of the "rural cemetery movement" (who knew?). Not only does this book provide context and analysis of the famous speech, but the reader learns so much about the changes in oratory of the time, Lincoln's evolutionary thought processes in regards to race, and how Lincoln's previous speeches influenced this one. This is rhetorical analysis at its best and I recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln, 19th century oratory, or the Gettysburg Address secifically. Or people interested in Lincoln's previous speeches (e.g., House Divided, Lincoln Douglas Debates, Lincoln's First Inagural), as all are analyzed and assessed.

  • Nick
    2019-04-27 15:21

    I'm surprised at how little I liked this book. Honestly, I don't know how this won the Pulitzer; it's about a fifth very technical dissection of the Gettysburg Address itself, and the rest is a wandering hodgepodge (I found myself flipping page after page of information about then-contemporary cemetery design philosophy). Some of this is interesting - the author's rundown of the two hour long preceding Gettysburg Oration went into a lot of detail about public speaking in the mid 1800s that was surprisingly interesting.But this is the exception - most of the non-Address material is both boring and puzzling in that I'm not sure why it was included. I almost muddled through the whole book, but then I started running into this (from pages 116-117):"Psychobiographers, as we have seen, claim that this demonstrates Lincoln's oedipal compulsion to "kill" Douglas as a sibling rival."I don't really think I need to say any more than that. Don't bother with this book.

  • Carol Storm
    2019-05-22 16:33

    Incredibly exciting book, not just for anyone who loves American history, but for anyone who is interested in the challenge of writing well. What Gary Wills does is not just to analyze the Gettysburg Address, which is less than five hundred words long. He provides an intellectual profile of Lincoln. He analyzes the way Lincoln learned to structure his ideas on freedom, slavery, and the nature of American democracy, and he provides fascinating line by line break-downs so you can really see Lincoln grow as a writer. He also provides fascinating details on the great orators of the past who influenced Lincoln, from the Ancient Greeks like Pericles right down to Lincoln's immediate ancestors, like Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. You don't have to be a scholar of American history or the American Civil War to find this book fascinating. Anyone who cares about writing well will find it completely engrossing from start to finish!

  • Denise Kozik
    2019-04-30 18:35

    It's a great scholarly essay, but too esoteric for a casual read.

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-05-02 19:40

    A New Birth Of FreedomThe Battle of Gettysburg, a pivotal event in the Civil War, raged from July 1 to July 3, 1863. It was the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere and ended the Confederacy's second invasion of the North. Following the battle, the community of Gettysburg was thick with dead and wounded men. The Governor of Pennsylvania authorized the purchase of a cemetery for the reburial of the Union dead. The cemetery was dedicated in a ceremony on November 19, 1863. Edward Everett, a distinguished orator of the day, delivered a speech lasting over two hours. President Abraham Lincoln also accepted an invitation to deliver short remarks. His remarks of 272 became known as the Gettysburg Address. They constitute a seminal statement, and restatement of the American vision.Garry Wills' study "Lincoln at Gettysburg" deserves the accolades it has received if for no other reason than it gave many readers the opportunity to read and think about the Gettysburg Address. This is a speech that is dulled and lost in childhood. It needs to be approached and rethought as an adult to get an understanding of the depth of Lincoln's message.Wills sees the Gettysburg Address as recasting and remaking the American democratic experience. The speech expressly brings the hearer and reader back to the Declaration of Independence with its self-evident truth that "All men are created equal." This truth, Lincoln turns into a "proposition" on which our country was founded. (The Constitution, adopted thirteen years after the Declaration, countenances slavery and includes no language about human equality.) In his spare prose, Lincoln says little directly about the nature of "equality". Wills discusses the address and masterfully places it in the context of Lincoln's earlier speeches to help the reader understand the development of Lincoln's ideas on slavery, the antithesis of human equality.The Gettysburg Address also sounded the theme of the United States as a single undivided nation rather than a union or confederation of States. Wills shows how this theme too derives from the Declaration, when the people of the colonies rose up in unity to declare their Independence from Britain. Wills also reminds the reader of the sources of the idea of Nationhood in American history. He alludes to the Federalism of Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Joseph Story. In particular, Wills discusses the Webster-Hayne debates. Lincoln greatly admired Webster as well as his fellow Whig, Henry Clay. Webster uttered the famous line "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable," which resonates through the Gettysburg Address.Wills tries to show the influence on Lincoln's thought on the transcendentalism of Emerson and of Theodore Parker. I thought this one of the more challenging sections of the book. While the Declaration was born in the skepticism of British empiricism and of Deism, transcendentalism emphasized the ideal. The Declaration and the Address, and the American mission, Lincoln transformed into ideal to be struggled for and realized by the living to commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to attain it.The book also includes an excellent treatment of rhetoric and speech, tracing Lincoln's address back to Thucydides and Georgias and ending with the observation that it marked the beginning of modern American prose.Wills' book encourages the reader to think about the Gettysburg Address and the great nature of the American political experiment. (Original review edited on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017).Robin Friedman

  • Adrian
    2019-05-14 15:27

    Wills provides context for arguably the most famous speech in American political history in Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. The book does an excellent job of dispelling popular myths about the speech - for example, it wasn't written hurriedly on a last minute train to Gettysburg or on a napkin, and audience members did not universally enjoy it more than the two hour oration by All-Star Edward Everett. The book's thesis is how the Gettysburg Address raised the values of the Declaration of Independence above the words of the Constitution and ushered in a new way of thinking about equality in America. It does a good job of examining Lincoln's control of language throughout his career, and how this mastery culminated in the Gettysburg Address. Wills also discusses how the cemetery itself was a new concept to American society, and how the Gettysburg Address as well as Everett's eulogy are rooted in Ancient Greek funeral orations- here his insight is less exciting to me but some readers may find the history lesson enjoyable.Wills displays a willingness to clash with popular Civil War historians including McPherson, particularly when it comes to Licnoln's perspective on the nature of the Rebellion and of the political status of Southern States. Here, Wills's inclination to use Lincoln's letters and speeches allows for a more curious reader to further literature on the subject.Overall, I enjoyed the book, particularly as it pertains to Lincoln's political and oratory skills. I left with a greater appreciation of Lincoln, the context for the speech, and a desire visit the place where with 272 words Lincoln "wove a spell that has not, yet, been broken."

  • Ellison
    2019-05-06 14:21

    Wills paints a sharp, clear-eyed portrait of Lincoln from an angle and in a setting I had never seen before - Lincoln's love of words and his skill at using them brought to the fore front. A lot of demythification here. The address emerges as almost perfectly constructed for its purpose.

  • Mark
    2019-05-02 21:37

    Lincoln did not give the keynote address at Gettysburg; that was done by Edward Everett. It lasted two hours and is described in this book as masterpiece of its type, given at the last possible moment it could be appreciated, because shortly thereafter Lincoln's few hundred words had rendered that style of oration outdated.Wills covers what we know about the ceremony and the composition of the address, how the content fit into Lincoln's thought, and the style of Lincoln's speech. The stylistic element is probably the heart of the book, both in the break from tradition and in its connection to contemporary currents like the natural cemetery movement or transcendentalism. It's a compelling case but I found the notes on the content more interesting. There was a political philosophy painted in the address, built around liberty and equality, and drawing on the Declaration of Independence, that was not then enshrined in the Constitution but is today central to our self-image.

  • Dick
    2019-04-26 16:23

    I picked this book up at a small private book store in St. Augustine, Florida - do they have small book stores anymore? - and hoped it would be good.It was more than good. The research for the book is excellent. I was most impressed with that aspect.Had expected to see a rehash of the day at the cemetery, the repeating of the words, how Lincoln did NOT write the speech on an envelope on the way to Gettysburg. It was none of that.Rather it was a fascinating insight into Lincoln's thought process and how over time it evolved, as well as what and whom influenced him during that process. I came away finding Lincoln even more complex than I thought before reading the book.Lincoln's love of words, the language and how they influence others was made very clear in the book. Lincoln was a poet, albeit only average, but loved to compare with his private secretary John Hay who was poet laureate in his class at Brown.Lincoln and Hay developed a father son relationship over the five years Hay was one of his secretaries.The term "government of the people, of the people and for the people originated in writings of Theodore Park - a transdentalist. I came away after reading this book more convinced that after Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln was the most intellectual president we have had. Lincoln memorized a book of algorithms. He memorized many of Shakespeare's plays, as well as many of the parts in those plays.His speech at Gettysburg ran about 2.5 minutes vs 2 hours by the featured speaker Edward Everett. Everett asked for a personal copy of Lincoln's speech shortly after the dedication at the cemetery and wrote Lincoln saying that he hoped he should flatter himself that he had come as close to the central meaning of the occasion in two hours as Lincoln did in two minutes.The speech was a defining departure from the old way of long speeches to the more concise and shorter speeches. Excellent book & a great addition to my library.

  • Grady McCallie
    2019-05-16 21:31

    Over two decades after its first publication, this analysis of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address remains a powerful and persuasive work of intellectual history. Wills illuminates the speech by placing it several contexts: the Romantic-era view of cemeteries; the Transcendental view of the Declaration of Independence; Lincoln's own constitutional analysis of slavery and secession; and the techniques of rhetoric and reasoning that the Address shares with Lincoln's other speeches. Wills' writing is strong, precise, and accessibly erudite. It may be particularly rewarding to read this relatively short work in the company of two others: Edmund Wilson'sPatriotic Gore, 1962, and Drew Gilpin Faust'sThis Republic of Suffering, 2008. Wills explicitly rejects some of Wilson's analysis of Lincoln's constitutional views; but Wilson, like Wills, also takes a look at the ideas circulating in literary culture before and during the war. Faust's book, with its detailed discussion of the way the Civil War as a whole shifted American attitudes towards death, offers a terrific foil to Wills' focus on a single speech. Like both of those books, Lincoln at Gettysburg is a history of ideas, well argued and full of insights.

  • Christine Boyer
    2019-05-20 18:19

    Four score and seven years ago...I began this book! Well, not really, in fact, it was short, but it felt long. This is a very specific, detailed, analytical book about the Gettysburg Address, period. Wills takes it apart, almost sentence by sentence, and analyzes its structure and origins. Wills does a great job of conveying the fact that this very short (272 words, took Lincoln only about 3 minutes to say) speech not only packed a powerful punch, but changed the course of prose and oratory forever. (By the way, the main speaker, Edward Everett, took over 2 hours to deliver his address!). I found it very interesting. Would be a great resource for college students studying Lincoln, specifically his writing style & ability. Also, a few other topics: Greek influence on writing, transcendentalism, death & burial in the mid-1800's, the works of Gorgias and Pericles.

  • Lora
    2019-05-14 19:23

    Okay, no one throw rocks at me yet. I picked up this book with high, high hopes. After all, I think it even won a pulitzer prize. The prologue was well-written and interesting, and then... it sunk. I started reading the first chapter and was bored to tears. A whole chapter on the breakdown of the ancient Greek style of speaking? I skimmed over to chapter 2 and didn't make it through that one either. So now it's lying neglected somewhere in our apartment. If I have dismissed this book way too soon and am missing out on great things, please tell me! I'm willing to give it another try if someone will vouch for it. Otherwise, Goodwill is about to get a new book!

  • Georgiann Baldino
    2019-05-21 17:29

    This shows why the Gettysburg Address is considered one of the greatest speeches of all time. It wasn't just the human tragedy of casualties at Gettysburg--many catastrophes have parallelled the loss of life. It wasn't just what Lincoln said. Author Wills explains Lincoln's key silences. He didn't mention Gettysburg or slavery or emancipation. President Lincoln provided common ground for the opposition to come together, a test of leadership we all should understand. The book gives us history as a shared human experience.

  • Dave
    2019-05-10 15:14

    Every year around the July 4th Holiday I try to read several books with a patriotic theme. This is one of the books for 2016. Gary Wills breaks apart Lincolns famous address and presents a number of social, historical, and literary factors that influenced the language and the meaning Lincoln had behind the words. It has been long held that Lincoln scrawled these famous words in a hurry before the address was made. You learn that Lincoln gave much more thought that this is compiling these immortal words.

  • Brian Eshleman
    2019-05-02 14:16

    This is quite some time to spend on such a short text, but the author really makes it come alive. In particular, I learned from the author as he connected this speech to Greek oratory which ennobled specific events and people by connecting them to the larger identity of the body politic, and I learned from the author's knowledge of Lincoln's contemporary hearers. The strength of Romanticism in the 19th century, I learned, contributed to what Garry wills called a "culture of death" which connected easily with and admired Lincoln's melancholy nature.

  • Scott
    2019-04-26 15:29

    Wills breaks down Lincoln's speech by showing its roots in ancient Greek funeral oratory; how Lincoln changed the way we view the Constitution and Declaration of Independence; and how his words helped usher in a new leaner style of expression. And it's fluidly written, a pleasure to read. Highly recommended especially in the 150th anniversary year.

  • Scott Diamond
    2019-05-08 14:22

    Some good infor but also some agonizing detail in this book

  • Bill
    2019-05-10 17:36

    Some valuable insights, especially in parallels to ancient funeral orations. Kind of runs out of steam at the end though, with digressions into 19th-c funeral and mourning customs.

  • Maren Johnson
    2019-05-22 15:20

    Very historical