Lincoln and the Jews: A History

By Stollman, Jennifer A. | American Jewish History, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Lincoln and the Jews: A History


Stollman, Jennifer A., American Jewish History


Lincoln and the Jews: A History, by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015. Xiii + 272 pp.

Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell's collaborative effort, Lincoln and the Jews: A History is a wonderful contribution to the fields of both Lincoln and American Jewish history. Scholars and citizens continue to love histories of Abraham Lincoln, as evidenced by the fact that the scholarship and interest in the sixteenth president of the United States fails to wane. While it seems that we have learned all there is to know about Lincoln's public and private lives, this book proves that there is at least one more topic that is endlessly fascinating: Lincoln and the Jews. For a very long time, American Jewish scholars have worked to excavate the historical experiences of Jews--their assimilation, their acculturation, and their historical contributions, great and small. Thank goodness for Benjamin Shappell's 35 year-long obsession with Lincoln and, in particular, his collection of memorabilia on Lincoln and Jews. Previously, Shappell lent parts of his collection for public exhibits, and that collection makes up the bulk of the materials on display here. Far from creating a singular narrative, this delightful book provides a collection of nuanced regional, gender, religious, class, economic, political and other narratives and accomplishes many things.

The book is a stunning product. The assemblage of narrative and artifacts, letters, ephemera, lithographs, and other pieces of evidence related to Lincoln and Jews is a journey in itself. The format of this book, with images on every page, allows readers to truly engage in the history. Clear and sharp reproductions invite readers to analyze letters, lithographs, and artifacts and to feel that they have a unique lens through which to view Lincoln, the man and the president, and Jews who had individual and professional relationships with him. For those of us whose eyesight has weakened because of having previously conducted such close analyses, Shappell and Sarna have made sure to provide descriptions and text revealing the most relevant aspects of the artifacts. Images are expertly paired with narratives. This historian and fan of both Lincoln and American Jewish history found herself revisiting this book numerous times, each time finding something new and fascinating about the images and corresponding text.

If this were merely a beautiful "coffee table" book that would be more than enough, but as a leading scholar of American Jewish history, Jonathan Sarna has lent his expertise and concise yet interesting and accessible narrative style to flesh out the many ways in which President Lincoln encountered Jews, Jewish populations, and biblical aspects related to Jews. …

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