No American president exercised power in the manner of Abraham Lincoln, but then none needed to. Richard Carwardine's outstanding contribution to the established Profiles in Power series brings a new perspective to the oft-told tale of Lincoln's career and achievements.
This is not a conventional biography (although there are enough freshly minted anecdotes to satisfy the most jaded Lincoln-phile palate) but a study in political authority, how it was acquired and how it was used.
Almost half of the book charts the Illinois lawyer's rise to public prominence, which culminated in his nomination and election as standard-bearer of the recently formed Republican Party in November 1860.
Carwardine's assured narrative weaves together the moral, material and ideological threads of Lincoln's makeup, proposing him as an ideal choice for a political movement grounded in constitutional conservatism, economic enterprise and anti-slavery Protestantism.
In hindsight, getting elected was the easy part. Seven slave states had left the Union by the time of Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861; four more would secede in its wake; and several others, including his birthplace Kentucky, would be retained only through concerted military and political struggle.
Lincoln was morally offended by secession, as he was by slavery, but repairing the Union required more than the politics of outrage.
The final third of the book examines the changing objectives of his presidency, notably the embracing of emancipation, and the mechanisms he employed to meet them.
More effectively than any recent scholar, Carwardine shows how passionately engaged Lincoln was in mobilising popular opinion behind the Union cause, and his analysis of the president's involvement with evangelical and philanthropic organisations in particular breaks new ground.
This engrossing study adds texture and depth to our understanding of a familiar figure and deserves a wide readership among scholars and students at all levels.
Martin Crawford is reader in US history, Keele University.
Lincoln. First edition
Author - Richard Carwardine
Publisher - Longman
Pages - 352
Price - £16.99
ISBN - 0 582 039 2