[An] elegant, almost conversational, exposition ... Studding this story are abundant examples of Lincoln’s determination at war’s end to blend justice with reconciliation ... To read these chapters is to discover Lincoln’s rare compound of 'empathy, honesty, humor and humility' ... These are not unfamiliar tales to students of Lincoln, but Avlon makes the retelling affecting and powerful. At the same time, Avlon plays down the highly ideological Lincoln. However much he preferred to avoid controversy, Lincoln relentlessly dedicated his political life to deploying a domestic agenda of tariffs, banking and economic infrastructure-building that deliberately overturned six decades of Democratic economic policy and set the country on a new path ... As much as Avlon is convinced that Lincoln’s 'commitment to reconciliation retains the force of revelation,' Lincoln and the Fight for Peace is short on the exact content of that revelation for the postwar years ...Avlon is not wrong to see Lincoln favoring a reinvention of the South as a small-scale manufacturing economy to replace the plantation oligarchy that triggered the war. But Lincoln played his political cards so close to the chest that, beyond this, it is unclear exactly what directions he thought Reconstruction should take ... Avlon is right to offer us comfort from the fact that we have been at moments like this before, and survived. But Lincoln was not entirely the 'soulful centrist.' And centrism, unhappily, did not spare us either a hideous civil war or a botched reconstruction.
... offers a close reading of Lincoln’s final weeks in office, with the Civil War winding down and huge questions still unresolved about the terms of surrender, the rights of newly liberated African Americans and the Reconstruction to follow ... The book also serves as a kind of leadership primer, a growing subcategory of presidential biography, and explains how Lincoln’s lessons were absorbed by later generations of presidents and policymakers ... Avlon succeeds admirably in the first task ... There the story might have ended. But Avlon brings it into the 20th century and beyond, to offer broad leadership lessons to today’s readers. The results are mixed...it is no simple matter to shoehorn other historical situations into the specific frame of 1865 ... These later chapters move quickly from decade to decade with a Forrest-Gump-like bounciness — fascinating at times but also unsettling for those accustomed to a steadier read ... But Avlon’s durable faith in Lincoln offers a boost of confidence at a time when our history, instead of uniting us, has become yet another battleground...As Lincoln understood, the work of democracy at home is indispensable to the work of peace abroad. It is reassuring to have the case for each restated so cogently.
In his very readable, if sometimes meandering, book, Avlon does not break new interpretive ground, but he does provide many personal, policy, and political details of Lincoln’s thought and actions ... Avlon sometimes strains to make Lincoln’s Civil War–era approach to peace applicable to world wars, and relies too much on post-assassination memoirs for his Lincoln tales, but he does make the case that to win a war one must also know how to win the peace and invest in doing so.