Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

lincoln a photobiography9.5 of 10: You can’t ask for better non-fiction than Lincoln: A Photobiography. A very fair and interesting look at Abraham Lincoln from birth to death. I couldn’t put it down, which is sadly rare for non-fiction books. 

I mentioned in my goals post, that I was trying to crank through some Newbery titles in order to reach my mark of twelve this year. Fortunately, I had this one sitting on my shelf, kindly sent to me by the lovely folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (why they were offering this book, published some 22 years ago, I don’t know, but I did not quibble).

For some reason, I clearly remember seeing this book at the library many times growing up, but never read it, even in the throes of my family’s Civil War mania. Now, I can’t believe I waited so long.

lincoln a photobiography by russell freedman

There’s not much to summarize, really, as, come on, you pretty much know the basic gist of Lincoln’s life. Born in a log cabin, grew some whiskers, assassinated.

A few parts stood out to me as really well done. First, the discussion of Lincoln’s changing views on slavery and the impact his final feelings about the topic had on his decisions to run for politics was extremely well done. I thought it did an amazing job of not attempting to paint Lincoln as something he wasn’t.

Second, the Emancipation Proclamation was really terrifically described as both a moral decision for Lincoln as well as a tool in the war for the North. So interesting.

Third, and sort of related to the second, was the analysis of Lincoln as a war president and what a struggle it was for him to find his stride as the commander-in-chief. I knew all about the problems with the generals, but it was interesting to read about Lincoln getting so much grief about it back in DC and feeling the tremendous pressure of so many lives hanging in the balance of his appointments.

This book made Lincoln, who I obviously admire a great deal, so real to me. He hated the job of reviewing court-martials for the soldiers and often would try and find ways to pardon them from being sentenced to death. He said, in reference to a solider being called up for cowardice, “if Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

The pictures, too, add a lot. Sometimes I sort of skim the images in a book (this may make me a bad person), but I found myself poring over the photographs and the occasional drawing in the one. They worked perfectly with the text – I never felt like they were thrown in just for the sake of having an image.

Lincoln a Photobiography was so clearly a worthy Newbery winner (some of the books, you wonder if they just drew titles from a hat to select a winner). If you’re looking for a book about Lincoln for children, this is it – I can’t say enough good things about it. Next week, I’ll be doing some booktalking about American Hero biographies for part of a school program and you better believe this is a book I’ll be pushing hard.

Copy sent to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt many many moons ago


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  1. Excellent!
    "A house divided against itself cannot stand"
    is one of my favorite Honest Abe quotes. That, and
    "All I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother"
    Sounds like a great investment.

  2. Hmm.. didn't realize it was Friday the 13th until I clicked over to your blog. Not that that matters much.

    Anyway, this sounds really great. I love the idea of interesting non-fiction. I loved some tailored for children when I was a kid (like Helen Keller, and Louis Braille), but it's hard to sift through these days. Or to get around to sifting. So thanks!

  3. This was always on the shelves at my parents house and I don't think I've ever picked it up. I'll have to ask to borrow it. Thanks, as always, for the suggestions!

  4. It's a 200th anniversay of Lincoln…birth, maybe? That's probably why they sent it!

    Don't you love comments not related to the review?

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