In his splendid Congress at War, the seasoned historian Fergus Bordewich...skillfully describes the continuing congressional effort to abolish the institution ... The author also describes frequent tension between the president and the radical Republicans ... These and other Americans, as Mr. Bordewich...remind[s] us, only by working in tandem finally succeeded in defeating slavery—the greatest moral victory the nation has yet achieved.
... extraordinary ... With fluid, fluent style [Bordewich] encapsulates the period’s sweep, punctuating his broader narrative with colorful detail, bringing acerbic debates into clear focus ... Bordewich skillfully humanizes the back-and-forth that led to these decisions, portraying great men rolling up their sleeves and politicking, at times surreptitiously ... The author deftly draws his reader into the realities of late 18th-century America, animating settings and conditions that made life in general and political service in particular exasperating ... Bordewich writes in such a lively manner one feels like an uninvited but enthralled observer overhearing the debates of that auspicious assembly.
Although the subject of the book is specific, its implications are universal ... has an aptly pugnacious subtitle ... This is popular history of a high order—Bordewich has a terrific eye and ear for the details of his chosen time—and it thoroughly reflects the larger revisionism of our day ... Bordewich is more concerned with magnifying his Radical Republican heroes than with diminishing old Abe ... Lincoln understood the great truth of liberal-democratic policies: that it is the job of a political leader, in a time of crisis, to make the unthinkable imaginable, for then it will rapidly become possible, and soon essential. Bordewich, failing to grasp this truth, reads Lincoln’s words in ways that miss his purposes. He accuses Lincoln of looking past moral concerns when he is actually looking around corners ... Bordewich—like left revisionists generally—resists a political understanding of Lincoln’s political rhetoric. What Booth grasped in a second the revisionists tend to miss at length: that throughout the war Lincoln saw, as great politicians do, that opening the door to radical reform is the hardest part.