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Classic Books About Abraham Lincoln

Vintage Titles Can Be Downloaded and Read on Computers and Tablets


Books about Abraham Lincoln began appearing almost immediately following his death, and the late 1800s and early 1900s were something of a golden age of Lincoln literature.

When the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission compiled an Essential Lincoln Bookshelf a few years ago, a number of the recommended books were titles which had been published in the decades immediately following Lincoln's death. Some of them are particularly valuable as they were written by people who had personal and professional relationships with Lincoln.

The following is a list of recommended vintage Lincoln books which have been scanned and can be downloaded for free. Use the links to visit Google Books, where you can read the book, download it to your computer as a .pdf file, or use the Google Play Books App to read it on an iPad or Android tablet.

A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln by John George Nicolay

John Nicolay was Lincoln's personal secretary and, along with fellow secretary John Hay, spent countless hours working closely with Lincoln in the White House. After Lincoln's death, Nicolay and Hay spent years writing a joint memoir, which ultimately appeared in ten volumes.

Nicolay condensed that colossal work into this one-volume biography, and died while working on it in 1901. The book was first published in 1902.

Washington in Lincoln's Time by Noah Brooks

Noah Brooks was a journalist who had become friendly with Lincoln in 1856 through Republican Party connections in Illinois. Brooks later worked in California and New York, and during Lincoln's time in the White House he moved to Washington to cover the government for a California newspaper. He resumed his friendship with Lincoln, and often traveled with the president.

Brooks wrote his memoir of the Lincoln White House in the 1890s. His book is considered an essential source of information about the Lincoln Administration as well as life in Washington during the Civil War.

Lincoln In the Telegraph Office by David Homer Bates

Lincoln spent many hours in the telegraph office of the War Department building, which was adjacent to the White House. The author of this memoir was a telegraph operator and cipher clerk for the military who spent many hours observing Lincoln's work as commander in chief during the Civil War.

The book, which was published in 1907, provides some details about how Lincoln would monitor battles via telegraph messages, sometimes spending entire nights waiting for updates from his commanders in the field.

Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley

The full title of this book is Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years In the White House by Elizabeth Keckley, Formerly a Slave, But More Recently Modiste, and Friend, to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.

This book, which was first published only three years after Lincoln's death, is the memoir of a former slave who became a very highly regarded dressmaker (or "modiste") in Washington, DC. Elizabeth Keckley met Mary Lincoln on inauguration day 1861, and became both her dressmaker and confidante. Keckley was able to describe conversations within the White House as well as intimate scenes such as the death bed of Willie Lincoln.

Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

The author of this memoir was an artist who spent six months at the White House working on the famous painting, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.

Carpenter had been inspired by the Emancipation Proclamation, and wanted to create a painting that would pay tribute to the historic document. Mutual friends introduced him to Lincoln in early 1864, and Lincoln liked the idea and gave the artist access to the White House. The State Dining Room was provided to him as a studio, and Carpenter was free to make sketches of various cabinet members as well as Lincoln himself.

Carpenter's book, published two years after Lincoln's death, is a unique look at life within the White House in 1864.

Abraham Lincoln by Godfrey Rathbone Benson Charnwood

This biography was written by an English nobleman, Lord Charnwood, and is considered a balanced and thorough assessment of Lincoln as a statesman and politician. The book was published in 1917, and Lincoln experts consider it a highly readable account as well as reliable history.

Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life by William H. Herndon Vol. 1

William Herndon was Abraham Lincoln's law partner in Illinois and his memoir of Lincoln is considered one of the best portraits of Lincoln by someone who knew him very well.

Herndon's book was originally published in several volumes in the 1880s. The links here are to a two-volume edition published in 1909.

Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life by William H. Herndon Vol. 2

The second volume of William Herndon's memoir of his law partnership with Lincoln covers the eventful late 1850s and Lincoln's election to the presidency.

The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln by William Eleazar Barton

Scandals and smears are nothing new in presidential politics. Rumors had long circulated alleging that Abraham Lincoln was illegitimate and his father had been someone other than Thomas Lincoln.

In this book, published in 1920, William Barton sought to put the matter to rest. The book, which is nearly 400 pages long, is subtitled An Essay on the Chastity of Nancy Hanks.

The Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol. 1

Gideon Welles served as Secretary of the Navy in the Lincoln Administration as well as the subsequent Johnson Administration. He kept a diary during his career in government and it was published years after his death, in 1911.

This first volume of the diaries of Gideon Welles covers the years 1860-1864. Welles was privy to the inner discussions of Lincoln's wartime advisers, and his diary contains priceless insights into the legendary rivalries between generals as well as Lincoln's method of making decisions during the war.

The Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol. 2

The second volume of the Gideon Welles diaries covers the years 1864-1866. Of particular interest are entries dealing with the election campaign of 1864 and, of course, assassination of Lincoln in April 1865.

Welles describes in some detail the evening of April 14, 1865, when a messenger pounded on his front door in Washington to alert him that Lincoln had been shot at Ford's Theater. On that chaotic night Welles made his way to the rooming house across the street from the theater where Lincoln had been carried. His descriptions of the scene in the house and outside are vivid and touching. He later describes visiting the White House and breaking down in tears while speaking with Lincoln's son Tad.

The Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol. 3

This third volume of the Gideon Welles diaries covers the years from 1867 to 1869, and is, of course, the least interesting to Lincoln scholars. But it does give considerable insight into the beginnings of Reconstruction and contains a wealth of material about characters such as President Andrew Johnson and General Ulysses S. Grant.

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