Saturday, December 27, 2008

William Lee Miller's Lincoln

William Lee Miller is my favorite living American historian. If you don't know him, you should. His book from 1998, Arguing About Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress won the D. B. Hardeman Prize for the best book about Congress and is a book I've read and reread. I've read a good deal about John Quincy Adams, including the latest biography by Joseph Wheelan, Mr. Adams Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams's Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress, which is a fine book, but I've never read a better book on Adams than William Lee Miller's. (It's available for order now as a "Lightning Print" book -- this means a book that can be ordered, prepaid and nonreturnable from the distributor. This is a newish thing in publishing that keeps titles available that would otherwise go out of print.)

Miller has written -- to date -- two books on Lincoln. Neither is a straight-forward biography, they are instead profound considerations of Lincoln as a statesman and moral force in our history.

The first, Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography, traces Lincoln's development as a politician and political thinker, using a close reading of what Lincoln actually said and wrote to create one of the most thoughtful portraits I've ever read, not of a Great Man, but of a man who became great.

The second, only now out in paperback, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, shows how Lincoln, as President, transformed both himself and the office to become our greatest President since Washington.

William Lee Miller is a national treasure; politically engaged, a teacher of great reputation, a writer of great verve and wit, an ethicist and an historian of truly remarkable gifts. I can think of no one better qualified to explore the true nature of Abraham Lincoln and his unique place in our history.


  1. I recieved the following charming email from William Lee Miller and thought is worth sharing:

    Dear Mr. Craft: Thank you enormously for your generous words about my books in the blog. As you can imagine, it is comments like yours that make it all worthwhile.
    I did not know about "Lightening Books", which I am glad to learn about from you. I surely don't want Arguing to go out of print.
    I am grateful. to you for taking the trouble to send this message and the blog with its information. Thanks again. wlm
    On Dec 27, 2008

  2. Anonymous2:30 PM

    I just came upon this post & blog, & want to say that Mr Miller is the only writer I have ever written a fan letter to. I am constantly pressing the 3 books you mention on people. He too responded to me, quickly & kindly. Sadly, he is no longer a living historian but his books should stay available. Best, Elinor N.


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