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Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



It would be difficult to find two books on Abraham Lincoln published in the same year and yet more unalike in their conclusions than Sidney Blumenthal’s Wrestling with His Angel (the second installment in his multi-volume survey of Lincoln’s “political life”) and Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s Six Encounters with Lincoln. Blumenthal’s narrative of Lincoln’s “wilderness years,” from 1849 to 1856, begins with Lincoln at the lowest pitch of his professional life, returning to Illinois from his solitary term in Congress, an embarrassment to his fellow Whigs, only to rise, phoenix-like, from the firestorm of the controversy over slavery in “Bleeding Kansas.” Pryor’s Lincoln, on the other hand, makes his debut a week after his inauguration as president, in what should have been his greatest moment of political triumph, only to be exposed as a bumbling, awkward poseur incompetently stumbling from pillar to post. Blumenthal is urgent, unflagging, so full of a sense of an impending doom for the republic that, by the end of the book, it almost seems beyond belief that any one person could rise equal to the task of saving it. Pryor is prickly, condescending, and schoolmarmish, contemptuous not only of Lincoln but of everyone who sees him as more than an oafish political hack. One sees in Lincoln the political sorcerer; the other sees nothing but the sorcerer’s apprentice. Here is biographical schizophrenia in spades. [excerpt]


Review of Sidney Blumenthal's Wrestling With His Angel and E.B. Pryor's Six Encounters with Lincoln.


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