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Burlingame's book named one of "Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year"

Feb. 12 is the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, and publishers are marking the occasion with a wealth of new books on America's 16th president.

Emerging at the top of the pack is Michael Burlingame, the May Buckley Sadowski '19 Professor Emeritus of History. His 2,000 page Abraham Lincoln: A Life is making national headlines and was recently named one of "Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year."

"Burlingame has produced the finest Lincoln biography in more than 60 years and one of the two or three best Lincoln books on any subject in a generation," wrote James L. Swanson of Publishers Weekly.

Historians, too, are praising the biography, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin.

"Few scholars have written with greater insight about the psychology of Lincoln," she said. "No one in recent history has uncovered more fresh sources than Michael Burlingame."

Though countless books have focused on the president, Burlingame believes that there is still more to discover. While researching for his first book, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, he found unpublished interviews by Lincoln's secretary, John Nicolay, that included new details about the president's early love life and marriage.

"When I started [writing about Lincoln], I assumed all the important material had been published," he told the Boston Globe. "But I was astonished at how much there was available - tons of new stuff."

Burlingame's two-volume work first covers Lincoln's childhood, including his time as a farm boy in Indiana and Illinois and legal training. The second volume focuses on his presidency and the Civil War.

Burlingame, who has been writing about Lincoln since 1994, is fascinated by the president's personal development.

"He is an inspiration not just because of his hardscrabble background but because of the emotional poverty he overcame," he told the Globe. "He had a terrible relationship with his father. His mother died when he was 9, he had a god-awful marriage, incredible burdens – yet in spite of all that he grew up to be this humane, psychologically whole person."

Hear more from Burlingame in the next issue of CC: Connecticut College Magazine. You can also watch his interview on C-SPAN 2's Book TV.


January 13, 2009