NR Digital

Lincoln’s Path, Still

by Jay Winik
Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — And How We Can Do It Again, by Rich Lowry (Broadside, 288 pp., $26.99)

Rich Lowry is nothing if not prolific. He was named editor of National Review, America’s leading journal of conservatism, at the stunningly young age of 29. As if being heir to William F. Buckley Jr.’s august legacy weren’t impressive enough, 15 years later he is a regular commentator for the Fox News network; he writes a syndicated column on all matters political; and he contributes to other journals across the political spectrum, including Politico and Time. And he has even written a bestseller about the Clinton presidency, a polemic unapologetically titled Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. Now, Lowry has taken on perhaps his most ambitious project yet, a book about Abraham Lincoln.

One almost wonders what there is left to say about Lincoln. Generation after generation, this has been well-trod territory, and by some of the nation’s finest historians. We have many pictures of Lincoln, each of them rich in its own way. There is James McPherson’s Lincoln, the wartime leader, weathering death after death and incompetent general after incompetent general until he finds Ulysses S. Grant and somehow brings the Union to victory. There is Eric Foner’s Lincoln, the emancipator, swept up by his sense of purpose and imbuing the great struggle of the Civil War with a morality higher than blood, sweat, and treasure. There is David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, the master politician, protean in his own right, navigating the shoals of the nation’s intricate politics. There is Stephen Oates’s poignant Lincoln, his head bowed, morosely wandering the halls of the White House, crying out for relief from the terrible anxiety of the war. There is the Lincoln of the Gettysburg Address (Garry Wills), the Lincoln of the second inaugural (Ronald White Jr.), and Lincoln the healer (my April 1865). And the list goes on.