Friday, January 02, 2009

All Too Brief a Life -- Two brief Lives of Lincoln

I'm a big fan of brief lives. From Plutarch's Lives to Johnson's Lives of the Poets, to the wonderful Penguin Lives. I've been collecting the Penguins since they started the series. It is exactly the kind of project that hooks me every time; famous contemporary authors picking their own subjects and then writing a short biography. Because of the quality of the authors and the writing, I've read Penguin Lives of everyone from Elvis Presley, by Bobbie Ann Mason, to Pope John XXIII, by Thomas Cahill. Thomas Keneally, the Australian novelist, author of Schindler's Ark, wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln for the series. And a good book it is too.

Now James M. McPherson, the preeminent American historian of the Civil War, has written a brief life of Lincoln for the Oxford University Press. McPherson's Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life is everything a brief life should be; concise, accurate, carefully written, and at only 65 pages plus notes, a genuinely brief life. Priced at only $12.95 in hardcover, it is the easiest Lincoln to hand to anyone expressing an interest in the 16th President, no matter how limited the time the time of the reader.

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