The literature on Abraham Lincoln and leadership is vast and growing. Indeed, anticipating the bicentennial year of his birth, scholars from several fields offered major new assessments of Lincoln as a political, military, intellectual, religious, and even “literary” leader. The scholarship promises to continue unabated, at least for a time. As new Lincoln materials come to light—for example, in the recent mining of Lincoln’s legal papers—new perspectives on and new insights into Lincoln’s character and interests will emerge and refinements and revisions of older interpretations will occur. Then, too, the centrality of Lincoln to Americans’ sense of themselves and their basic principles continues to spur interest in understanding the man and his time. And, in the end, Lincoln still fascinates. The many masks and the very private nature of perhaps America’s most public face constantly invite inquiry.
This bibliographical essay focuses on books relating to aspects of Lincoln as a public person in politics and in governing. It principally draws on more recent treatments in pointing to the lines of inquiry about Lincoln and his leadership, though it also suggests important Lincoln-related works that reveal his sources and patterns of thought, and his relations with political, military, and social leaders. As such, it hardly captures the enormous Lincoln literature, so much of which is in scholarly and popular journals. Following the reference trail to such works by using the following books should chart the way to the important studies in journal and magazine form.
The best way to enter the large and sometimes tangled terrain of Lincoln scholarship is through the recent assessments by some of the most distinguished students of the man and his age. Very useful in that regard are the essays in Eric Foner, ed., Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World (New York: Norton, 2008), which survey Lincoln in such categories as the president, the emancipator, the man, and politics and memory. Also instructive is John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer, and Dawn Vogel, eds., Lincoln Revisited: New Insights from the Lincoln Forum (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), which covers a wide range of topics, from politics, to religion, to race, to relations with generals, to civil liberties, to name several subjects in the collection. The essays in part 2, “The Leader and the Legacy: Politics, Patriotism, and the Civil War,” in Susan-Mary Grant and Peter J. Parish, eds., Legacy of Disunion: The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), also repay reading. So, too, do the essays and commentary in Gabor S. Boritt, ed., The Historian’s Lincoln: Pseudohistory, Psychohistory, and History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988). For an intelligent collection of “classic” essays on Lincoln, see Sean Wilentz, ed., The Best American History Essays on Lincoln (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Orville Vernon Burton, The Age of Lincoln (New York: Hill & Wang, 2007), is a major interpretation of the nineteenthcentury United States that places Lincoln at the vital center of American identity.