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Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

Written by David Von Drehle

Narrated by Robertson Dean


Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

Written by David Von Drehle

Narrated by Robertson Dean

ratings:
5/5 (42 ratings)
Length:
17 hours
Released:
Dec 11, 2012
ISBN:
9781469270302
Format:
Audiobook

Description

As 1862 dawned, the American republic was at death's door. The federal government appeared overwhelmed, the U.S. Treasury was broke, and the Union's top general was gravely ill. The Confederacy-with its booming economy, expert military leadership, and commanding position on the battlefield-had a clear view to victory. To a remarkable extent, the survival of the country depended on the judgment, cunning, and resilience of the unschooled frontier lawyer who had recently been elected president.

Twelve months later, the Civil War had become a cataclysm but the tide had turned. The Union generals who would win the war had at last emerged, and the Confederate army had suffered the key losses that would lead to its doom. The blueprint for modern America-an expanding colossus of industrial and financial might-had been indelibly inked. And the man who brought the nation through its darkest hour, Abraham Lincoln, had signed the Emancipation Proclamation and emerged as a singular leader.

In Rise to Greatness, acclaimed author David Von Drehle has created both a deeply human portrait of America's greatest president and a rich, dramatic narrative about our most fateful year.

Released:
Dec 11, 2012
ISBN:
9781469270302
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

David von Drehle is the author of Among the Lowest of the Dead, Deadlock: The Inside Story of America's Closest Election, as well as the award-winning Triangle, a history of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire that The New York Times called "social history at its best." An editor-at-large at Time magazine, he and his family live in Kansas City, Missouri.


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What people think about Rise to Greatness

4.8
42 ratings / 19 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    Tough times call for tough people. 1962 was most definitely tough times for the 16th President. David Von Drehle in his book Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year, show us just how perilous it was.Using all sorts of resources in his research, many primary resources, but also a lot of secondary sources as well.Nothing here is new, nor is his topic that earth shattering. It would take quite a novel effort to forge new paths for this subject, and as good of a read as this is, it does not rise to that level.The books narrative is quite readable and Drehle's ability to communicate clearly with his readers is a strength. Lincoln proved that he was the tough guy that the times demanded. Drehle's work showed him clearly working through the tough moments that beset him in '62. I enjoyed the read, but I am not sure who I would recommend it to other than Lincolnites and Civil War aficionados.
  • (4/5)
    I got this free in exchange for a review, which I am belatedly posting here.I am such a fan of Abraham Lincoln, but I find it interesting that the more I read, the more I find I didn't know. This one didn't have a whole lot of information that was completely new, but the perspective was a bit different. It starts with a ball in the White House while upstairs, Lincoln's young son was dying. The year was the most difficult of his life, but it was also the year that saw the turn of the Civil War. Lots of political machinations in this one, lots of military info, but also some insight into Lincoln's relationship with those closest to him. Well done.
  • (4/5)
    We heard David von Drehle speak at Chautauqua this summer and was inspired to read his book. He focuses on 1862 as the pivotal year of the Civil War. The exposition is primarily chronological and he manages a good mix of military, political and personal information. A pleasure to read.
  • (5/5)
    In David Von Drehle book, Rise to Greatness, he starts off with the premises that 1962 was the most pivotal year of the American Civil War. As we read this book we are given a look at the events of this year from the perspective of Abraham Lincoln himself. We are taken through the year month per month being exposed to the political, military and family obligations and crisis met by this president and how he dealt with each of them. A year of the Union Army being turned into a true army, the president keeping his hands on the reins of government and convincing Europe to remain out of the conflict.Not a lot of information will be new to those who have read up on Abraham Lincoln yet I found this work to be fascinating and informative. A plethora of reference material as researched by this author including personal diaries and letters of the parties involved in the administration or war. The authors perspective was refreshing, provided good insights into what was transpiring at the time and at the same time was an enjoyable read.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent. Very good rhythm and pace to the writing. Moves fluidly between topics and handles complex political and military interactions in a very readable and efficient manner. Definitely a good addition to your Civil War reading collection.
  • (5/5)
    In Rise to Greatness, David Von Drehle follows Abraham Lincoln through the pivotal year of 1862, as he confronts a series of crises - personal, political, and military. The book opens with the White House reception on January 1, 1862, and ends one year later with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. During that year, Lincoln lost his favorite son to typhoid, and had to deal with Mary Lincoln's emotional breakdowns and compulsive spending. He faced conflict and intrigue within his cabinet. He had to balance a variety of competing interests to hold the Union together; any action that pleased the abolitionists would threaten the ties to the slaveholding border states that had remained in the Union. Southern Democrats, including Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (notorious for the Dred Scott decision) held a majority on the Supreme Court, and would not hesitate to interfere with his actions. Finally, and most frustrating, Lincoln attempted to prod a succession of inexperienced generals to take action and produce the victories that were desperately needed in order to prevent European powers from intervening to support the Confederacy.Von Drehle used a variety of personal diaries, Lincoln biographies, and newspaper accounts of the day in an attempt to get inside Lincoln's head and understand how he managed to survive that terrible year. Anyone not familiar with the general narrative might want to start with a more comprehensive Lincoln biography or civil war history, but this book provides good insight into the situations Lincoln faced, and the decisions he made, during that time.
  • (3/5)
    Kinda boring but had its cool moments. Gives you added respect for lincoln
  • (5/5)
    Fantastic book and very well written. Each chapter represents a month in the year and one can truly see the “Rise in Greatness” of Lincoln. Additionally, and refreshingly, the book absolutely obliterates the generalship of George McClennan, while pointing out his positives as a patriot.

    Unlike other books the book gives one unique insight in how Lincoln grew into his role as the Great Emancipator. At the same it does not hide or sugar coat some of the more unsavory aspects of political actions.

    If you want a well balanced accounting of Lincoln and learn some interesting insights this will be a enjoyable read.
  • (5/5)
    I enjoyed this book a lot. Understanding the complexities of the early war and the dynamics politics and personalities played gave me a new appreciation for the difficult job President Lincoln has to do.
  • (5/5)
    Outstanding book. I’ve read many Lincoln books, and especially appreciated the depth and insights provided by this book about the critical year of 1862. Narrator was excellent.
  • (5/5)
    So much has been written about the Civil War and about Abraham Lincoln that there may seem to be no nuance of either that has been left unexplored. In Rise to Greatness, however, David Von Drehle finds an intriguing new avenue of approach. The book follows Lincoln month by month through 1862, which, the author argues, was the pivotal year of the war--not 1863, as many aver. Eighteen sixty-two, after all, saw such events as the fall of New Orleans, which yielded access to the lower Mississippi River; the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; and the adoption of the practice of living off the land, which lessened the need for supply lines and facilitated troop movements. Not all readers will concur with Von Drehle's assertion, but this reviewer found his argument persuasive. Rise to Greatness is an outstanding read and a real page-turner. Those interested in Lincoln or in the Civil War should not miss it.
  • (5/5)
    I have long believed, as Von Drehle does, that 1862 was the most pivotal year in the Civil War, Lincoln's life, and perhaps all of American history. Not only do we get an in-depth, well researched look at Lincoln as president and commander in chief, but also as a family man. Finding balance between needing generals to lead a fighting army, keeping the Norther citizens in favor of his policies, working in Emancipation all while keeping border states in the Union and European states out of the conflict was the key to this crucial year. Being able to see Lincoln struggle with these issues makes it clear that later successes would not have been possible without these trails. Von Drehle weaves a compelling narrative that is very easy to read that is quite detailed without getting bogged down in minutiae. I would highly recommend this for the libraries of serious Civil War and Lincoln scholars.
  • (5/5)
    By the middle of 1863, it was obvious to most observers that the Confederacy was doomed; it was only a matter of time. If the North could just find the will to keep fighting, the Union would survive. But only eighteen months earlier, the outcome had been very much in doubt, and were it not for the particular talents of one man, things might have turned out very differently. As often seems to have happened throughout history, the right man was in the right place just when he was most needed: Abraham Lincoln was in the White House.Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year is David Von Drehle’s account of how Lincoln, during 1862, evolved into exactly the leader the United States so desperately needed if the Union were to win the Civil War. The book offers a month-by-month account of the challenges faced by a President in command of an army led by one incompetent general after the other. Von Drehle makes a strong case that if Lincoln had not been up to the challenges of 1862, the military successes of 1863 may never have happened because it might have already been too late by then.Lincoln’s first task was to build an army almost from scratch. The military was unprepared to fight a war of the scale of the one it now faced, and the thousands of newly recruited soldiers depended on a handful of experienced officers (thanks to the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848) to get them ready for combat. By 1862, Lincoln expected his army to be the aggressor, but he had little luck in finding a commanding general capable of taking the fight to the enemy. That he allowed the incompetent egomaniac George McClellan to keep overall command of the Union army for as long as he did was, perhaps, Lincoln’s biggest failure. By the end of 1862, when he had finally ridded himself of the insubordinate little man, it was obvious that Lincoln had solidly redefined his role as Commander-in-Chief - and that he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to win the war.Incompetent generals with no game plan were not Lincoln’s only problem. The civilian population of the North did not seem to have any more of a will to fight, or confidence in ultimate victory, than most of his generals had. His cabinet was, by Lincoln’s choice, filled with political rivals with agendas of their own. In addition to his political problems, the president had to overcome the great personal grief of losing a son to typhoid, and had to endure the erratic, often embarrassing, behavior of his wife as she tried to cope with the same loss. Not a moment of peace, would this president know.But, endure it all, he did, and in the process, Lincoln would claim his place in history as one of the greatest leaders, especially in time of war, that the world has ever seen. David Von Drehle’s account of the year Abraham Lincoln “invented the modern presidency” is a fascinating one that now has a permanent spot on my bookshelves.Rated at: 5.0
  • (5/5)
    A fascinating look at Lincoln and his presidency during a very important year of the civil war. From his thoughts amidst the challenges of finding the generals who would fight (McClellan was great at preparing his men and armies, but was never quite ready to actually fight) to his caution over the issue of emancipation and the preservation of the Union, the reader is taken through a tumultuous year that shaped our nation's future.Von Drehle does a wonderful job weaving together a story that is gripping and thought provoking. A very enjoyable read for anyone interested in Lincoln and the Civil War,
  • (4/5)
    Von Drehle argues that 1862 was the most important year in the history of our nation, and he does so quite persuasively.Many of Lincoln’s tasks after the onset of the Civil War involved appeasement: he had to make sure the touchy border states remained in the Union [ergo he could not speak out too forcefully for emancipation]; he had to make sure Britain and France did not join the war on the side of the South [thus his capitulation on the so-called “Trent Affair”) and he had to ensure that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Tawney (author of the notorious Dred Scott decision declaring that African Americans could never be considered U.S. citizens) did not thwart his military plans to protect the North by using what could be considered extra-Constitutional actions. Moreover, the Army, which numbered only 16,000 men before the war (and these men were spread out all over the continent), had been rapidly increased to nearly five times that number. But none of them knew how to fight! Nor did most of the men picked to lead them. Somehow Lincoln had to figure out which of these novices had the makings of generals who could lead the North to victory.Needless to say, it took Lincoln a while to accomplish this last, especially as throughout his presidency he was vilified for appearing weak because of all his mollifying strategies. But Lincoln was one of the few men in a leadership position at the time who was willing and able to take the long view, and to keep his eye on the prize, which was preservation of the Union.Why was this so important? Lincoln believed the American nation, with its bestowal of power upon ordinary people to elect its government (i.e., the doctrine of self government), was “absolutely and eternally right.” Furthermore, he could conceive of no government more noble than one “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He could find no moral right in the despotism of men not only governing themselves but governing other men. But he knew a critical factor determining the success of this experiment was assurance to the citizenry that losing voters would not and could not destroy the system just because they lost. Like a marriage, any union won’t work when the parties say “I’m getting a divorce” every time something doesn’t go their way. Compromise is the key to maintaining any union worth having, and Lincoln believed firmly that the United States – this great experiment – should not perish from the earth.[And yes, there was a slight problem with the reality of the nation as it was then constituted not living up to the promise.] Lincoln begged his audience, in an 1858 debate against Stephen Douglas:"Now, my countrymen . . . if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution. Think nothing of me—take no thought for the political fate of any man whomsoever—but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence. … I am nothing; Judge Douglas is nothing. But do not destroy that immortal emblem of Humanity—the Declaration of American Independence.”Lincoln intended to help the nation “heed these sacred principles.” But he could not do it unless the “nation so conceived and so dedicated” were still in existence. This concern dictated all of his strategy, all of his decisions, all of his tactics, and it is this long-term vision that so many others in the government were unable to realize.They also were not nearly as savvy as Lincoln about realpolitik. Lincoln felt he couldn’t just get rid of Simon Cameron, his corrupt and incompetent Secretary of War, or he would create a dangerous enemy and hopelessly alienate Pennsylvanians; nor could he just get rid of Samuel Chase, whose over-the-top politicking for Lincoln’s job outraged everyone but Lincoln – he needed Chase’s financial prowess to raise the money to fight the war. Nor could Lincoln satisfy Congress by firing George McClellan, the do-nothing general who consistently snubbed, insulted, and disrespected Lincoln. McClellan was far too popular among the troops; Lincoln knew better than to lose the loyalty of the army. He could not even appease the abolitionists by outlawing slavery just yet – the preservation of the union had to take precedence. [Even so, he called the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on the first day of 1863, “the central act of my administration and the great event of the nineteenth century…..”]Again and again, Lincoln was able to push aside and rise above personal snubs, Congressional pressure, embarrassment over his wife’s questionable friendships with Confederates, and all the rest, to save the Union.. Lincoln said:“Perhaps I have too little [resentment[, but I never thought it paid.”This remarkable man had a remarkable year in 1862. As Drehle writes:"…when the first day of January [1863] came around again, Lincoln’s greatness was no longer raw. Even as he had redefined American society, he had invented the modern presidency. He had steered himself and the nation from its darkest New Year’s Day to its proudest, and in the process Lincoln had become the towering leader who forever looms over the rebirth of the American experiment.”Evaluation: You have to admire the author for undertaking this book. As he observed in his Note on Sources, “the sheer volume of material, both primary and secondary… is so vast that dropping into the subject as a writer is like falling into the sea.” Yet he succeeds admirably, providing a month-by-month account of Lincoln’s life in 1862 that puts us right into the thick of the times with a welcome lack of turgidity and tedium. Obviously the author could not include everything; new students of Lincoln may want to start with a more comprehensive biography. But for those who know even the bare outlines of Lincoln’s life and the politics surrounding it, this book provides a lively and always-interesting focused look at one of the most important years in America’s history.
  • (5/5)
    In “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s most perilous year” Dave Drehle argues that 1862 was the year in which Lincoln’s government came closest to failing and the year that Lincoln grew into the leader that we celebrate today. Drehle is an excellent writer and historian, who is, in my opinion, David McCullough’s equal when it comes to writing well researched, well reasoned, popular history. Drehel carefully lays out the challenges, military, domestic, and international, and personal, that Lincoln faced at the start of 1862. He does this with the skill of a novelist creating backstory, he neither assumes the reader is an expert nor complicates the reading with dry minutiae. Once Drehel has set the stage he takes us through the year, month by month, looking at the events affecting Lincoln and the course of the war. For me this chronological, inclusive approach, is what made the book so interesting and informative. I have never been a student of the Civil War but I found this book hard to put down. I can’t count the number of “ah-ha” moments I had while reading the book, we Americans hear so much about Lincoln and the Civil War but seldom are we given the details and background that Drehel provides. We are told that Lincoln was a great president but are not shown evidence to support the claim. Drehel provides the evidence, he shows us Lincoln’s brilliance and humor and proves that Lincoln forever be one of our greatest leaders.
  • (5/5)
    1862 was certainly, as the title posits, the "most perilous year" in the Civil War. By concentrating on this year, the author draws attention to how the up and down fortunes of the Union could have resulted in the failure of ultimate Union victory. The author makes clear, in this highly readable book, that it was Lincoln's incredibly deft handling of massively complex issues that positioned the North to prevail, even though its success was 2 1/2 years away.The major lines in the story are the evolving sophistication of Lincoln as a military strategist, his handling of the utterly contradictory views of abolitionists and those who cared little about the continuation of slavery, the delicate treatment of the border states, his handling of his head strong cabinet, and the frustrating attempts to get an eastern army that would fight. Through all of these difficulties, Lincoln kept his eye on Europe which any number of times was on the brink of intervening on the side of the Confederacy.Lincoln's handling of emancipation is one of these themes. Lincoln was personally deeply opposed to slavery. While he recognized that the war was in the first instance one to preserve the union, he came to realize that in the end the union could not be preserved with slavery still extant. His thinking on how to deal with this evolved from his attempts to "buy out" slave holders in the border states, to a serious effort at colonization of blacks to Central America or Africa to finally determining to emancipating slaves in the rebelling states on the premise of military necessity. (There were constitutional limitations on legislating slavery away versus doing so under executive decree). His executive proclamation issued after and under the strength of the Union victory at Antietam compelled the acceptance (grudgingly by many) that slavery must be abolished if a new political compact was to emerge from the military conflict. Lincoln's personal history is also told in this book. His loyalty to his wife who brought great trouble to him through her profligate spending and her mental instability. His deep grief over the death of his beloved son Willie from typhoid. The focus of the book on just one year allows full treatment of these issues.We sometimes think of Lincoln in terms of his principles. This is correctly so, but it is a fuller understanding of the man when we realize how incredibly politically skillful he was. And patient. With enormous conflicting interests and forces pulling and tugging nearly daily on him, he had to find and stick with courses that would hold together in the midst of powerful forces that would pull them down. This book does an excellent job in conveying how incredibly thoughtful Lincoln was in finding and perserving on the right path to the end.
  • (5/5)
    This is a most interesting book chock full of information, both trivial and illuminating of behind the scenes action of both Abraham Lincoln and his opposition within the Washington political establishment during the year 1862. Von Drehle is able to translate chaos into mere complexity. A recurring image in my mind, especially when reading the opening chapters, was of an ancient seer sorting through the entrails of a goat in order to divine the future and here was an author up to his elbows in the same sort of mess trying to make sense of the past.The book takes the reader in a month by month odyssey through the year 1862. There are indications that the original intent was to focus on that year as the most crucial in the greater history of America but devolved, in manner of speaking, into a close examination of the maturation of Lincoln as a leader. That is not meant to be a criticism but as an explanation of a seemingly dulling of interest in the bigger picture and concentration on the latter (or, maybe, the massiveness of the compilation of data led me to that feeling). As the book progresses, there is an emergence of the character of Lincoln from the flotsam and jetsam of the tumultuous years leading up to January 1, 1862.Because its scope is limited to one year, it loses its contextual mooring and, therefore should not be read in isolation from broader histories of the Civil War Era. It augments those histories in a most useful way but should not be read in lieu of them. It might be better thought of as a social profile of a particular man at a particular time in his life rather than as a history.There can be much that can be said about the content of the book but what it does not say is also of interest. To Von Drehle’s credit, there is no aggrandizing of “Father Abraham”; that was to come later after elevation to Sainthood brought about by the successful conclusion of the war and his assassination. There is even reference to his alleged bi-sexuality and the purely politically inspiration for the issuance of the Proclamation of Emancipation and the timing of McClellan’s ouster. By these omissions, the author adds to the credibility of his work.It is apparent that Lincoln was not the Master of the Ship of State in the opening days, weeks and months of 1862. The idea that man (read Lincoln) drives or drove events versus the proposition that events define the man is clearly decided. The seeds of the Civil War (or War Between the States) were planted well before that time during the arguments surrounding the ratification of the Constitution – the arguments presented in the Federalist Papers and the anti-federalists were to be decided on the fields of battle rather than the halls of debate. The immoral specter of slavery snuffed out the political pertinence of those legitimate arguments. The head to head confrontation between proponents of an unlimited central government and those in favor of shifting the balance of power to the states was, rightfully, overwhelmed by the immoral conviction that a state, or any level of government, can rightfully overrule the God-given rights of justice and freedom for all. Except for rare and oblique references to “States Rights”, Von Drehle avoids this issue that was, arguably, central to the secessionist’s motivation. Did Von Drehle omit or not find supporting evidence or did Lincoln not know that State’s Rights was an issue or did not care? He knew and acknowledged that fact because he hung the portrait of Andrew Jackson as a constant reminder of a similar crisis in that administration. The seeds of civil strife may have been fertilized and incubated by the Abolitionists but their germination was inevitable with or without the intervention of Lincoln, his cadre of supporters and detractors or the will of plantation owners – the war was predestined to occur, each battle demanded of itself to be fought, and every outcome was beyond the control of the military leaders involved. Lincoln’s legacy was shaped as much or more by events outside of his sphere of influence as by his strength of character. I attribute those conclusions as much to what the author says as to what he does not say.As a corollary to the above, I was struck by the revelation that, apparently, little strategic thinking went onto the North’s conduct of the war – it was conducted as a series of tactical operations and the accumulation of tactical operations bear no resemblance to strategic planning regardless of the fact that, in this case, the results were indistinguishable. Lincoln was equally engrossed in political manipulation and patronage, family tragedies, the cultivation of personal relationships and the establishment of a permanent legacy as he was of excising the cancerous growths eating their way through the flesh of our new nation not yet four score and seven years old. The author was either unable to find the wizard behind the screen manipulating the chessmen acting out the national tragedy of that era or there was no puppet master or group of conspirators pulling the strings – the North wallowed its way to victory with only a moral compass to guide it. I draw these conclusions as the result of a review of this book and its limited range between January 1 and December 31, 1862; a broader view and inclusion of supplemental knowledge might offer mitigating evidence. Further reading of histories and commentaries broader in scope might well offer contrary evidence.
  • (5/5)
    They say that context is everything and this book provides needed context to turbulent year 1862, and to the man, Abraham Lincoln.I read a lot of Civil War history, the problem is that by focusing on a particular battle or topic of that war it is easy to lose sight of the broader picture.David Von Drehle has provided that needed context with this book. While the book appears to be another Lincoln biography/history, the author does an excellent job of weaving many additional players into the story.The reader will gain perspective not only on Lincoln, but on McClellan, Grant, Mary Todd, Seward, Lord Palmerston, Emperor Louie Napoleon, and the other people that had great impact on the President and the nation during this crucial period.This is not just a simple retelling of the history of the times. To understand the man Abraham Lincoln, we need to understand the events, the people, the issues, and the pressures that made him the greatest President in American history. This book succeeds in it's task.