Volume II of Blumenthal’s four part biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, covering his "wilderness years," revealing the future president’s genius during the most decisive period of his political life when he seizes the moment, finds his voice, and helps create a new political party.
...a vividly written, wide-ranging and often surprising account of the president-to-be ... Blumenthal follows Lincoln’s circuitous journey into the Republicans’ embrace with an acute eye for the nuances of political rhetoric and the tactics of the committee room. He offers rich insight into strategic maneuvering in an era that relished politics both as the founders’ greatest gift to a free people and as an often ferocious blood sport. At a time when Americans may fantasize returning to a kinder and gentler style of politics, Blumenthal reminds us that every age has been fraught with anxiety and dread, and that in government, times are always tough, and the future uncertain.
In these pages, Blumenthal draws one vivid picture after another of these least-known years of Lincoln's life ... [Rival Senator Stephen] Douglas is in some ways the star of Wrestling with His Angel; he's magnificently, complexly portrayed throughout ... Blumenthal makes no secret of his affection for his subject; although intelligent and rigorous with its sources, this is a deeply sympathetic account of the Lincoln the man. But it's also unblinking in taking the measure of Lincoln the pragmatic politician, Lincoln the career politician whose personal ambition lies at odds with the more standard hagiographies but fits perfectly with the epic, multi-faceted portrait Blumenthal is volume-by-volume assembling here ... It's a tribute to Blumenthal's art that he's managed to make a period in Lincoln's life that most biographers brush past in haste a deeply fascinating story in its own right.
Although The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln is anything but a conventional biography, it often reads like a series of biographical sketches. Blumenthal cites a number of previous biographies that provide a substantial proportion of his source material. And although he draws on many of the major speeches and writings of the characters he discusses, these two volumes are works of synthesis more than of original scholarship. Where Blumenthal does rely on primary sources, they are often memoirs or recollections that are not always reliable ... As expansive as his understanding of Lincoln’s political world is, Blumenthal’s account is in other ways narrowly conceived. This is a view of history in which politics is largely explained by reference to more politics...And yet this may be unfair, a case of a critic complaining that the author should have written a different book. Blumenthal is the ideal author for the kind of history he writes. He has a journalist’s eye for the telling detail, and he passes judgment with the skill of a practiced polemicist ... For anyone wondering why Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation so soon after taking office, Sidney Blumenthal’s expansive political life of the sixteenth president is a good place to start looking for an answer.