James M. McPherson’s “Tried by War” is a perfect primer, not just for Civil War buffs or fans of Abraham Lincoln, but for anyone who wishes to understand the evolution of the president’s role as commander in chief. Few historians write as well as McPherson, and none evoke the sound of battle with greater clarity. There is scarcely anyone writing today who mines original sources more diligently. In “Tried by War,” McPherson draws on almost 50 years of research to present a cogent and concise narrative of how Lincoln, working against enormous odds, saved the United States of America.
This is not a book about White House table talk, the president’s spiritual values, his relations with Mary Todd or even his deep-seated opposition to slavery. It is about how Lincoln led the nation to victory: his formulation of the country’s war aims; his mobilization of public opinion; his diplomatic and economic leadership. Above all it is about his oversight of military strategy, in short, his duties as wartime commander in chief — duties that Lincoln defined and executed for the first time in the nation’s history. A peacetime president is circumscribed by elaborate checks and balances. In the full flush of war, Lincoln learned to act unilaterally.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.