the war lincoln


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.