Abraham Lincoln: The Making of America

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
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Compelling, engaging, and nuanced biography of Honest Abe.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Excellent overview of the major debates of the antebellum period, the Civil War, and its fallout, including helpful infographics defining key terms.

Positive Messages

According to Kanefield, Lincoln was "a practical statesman and not an idealist. At each stage he was willing to settle for what he could accomplish, while remaining alert for opportunities to achieve his long-desired objective of liberty and justice for all."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though Lincoln remained politically savvy and troubled in his personal life, his commitment to preserving the Union, his eventual determination to see abolition achieved, and his steadfast resolve in the face of grave dangers and pressures made him an American icon, one whose "historic heights ... dwarf all others in our annals," as one abolitionist of his day predicted.

Violence

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in United States history, but there are no details or gory depictions of the brutal violence that's alluded to in the text.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Teri Kanefield's Abraham Lincoln: The Making of America is an extremely informative, fact-filled biography for middle schoolers about the life and times of one of the towering figures in U.S. history. Carefully attuned to the nuanced historical debate surrounding "the Great Emancipator," Kanefield shows Lincoln as a flawed, complicated figure who nevertheless served as an essential spokesman for the cause of black freedom and national unity. The book includes frank discussions about white supremacy and racism in the 19th century, though these issues are dealt with in such a way as not to glorify the North or demonize the South. Instead, Kanefield explains the complexity of the heated debate and eventual armed conflict over the future of slavery.

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What's the story?

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: THE MAKING OF AMERICA is the third historical biography in Teri Kanefield's Making of America series, which includes Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson. Here, drawing upon the vast amount of research done on the life and times of one of America's most beloved political heroes, Kanefield expertly addresses the foremost political issues of the 19th century, including the expansion and preservation of slavery, debates over "states' rights" and federal power, and the meaning of "liberty and justice for all." Following Lincoln from his troubled boyhood in a fractured family to his career as an accomplished lawyer and struggling politician, Kanefield paints a picture of a man who struggled with depression his entire life, had difficulty maintaining a balance between his devotion to work and his obligations to his family, and was unwilling or unable to fully support the cause of black freedom when it was not politically advantageous to do so. Still, over the course of his dizzying rise to national prominence, Lincoln shrewdly negotiated the incredible tensions that tore apart the nation and eventually led to the Civil War. The details of Lincoln's personal life and career trajectory are supplemented by clear, in-depth introductions to important laws, debates, and activists of his time, including Frederick Douglass and the abolition movement, Susan B. Anthony and the women's movement, and several of the landmark Supreme Court cases that protected and preserved slavery.

Is it any good?

Well-written, compelling, and at times moving, this short but comprehensive biography serves as a perfect introduction to Lincoln. It also reflects the rich work done by historians to uncover the complicated man behind the legend. Author Teri Kanefield clearly did an immense amount of research for the book, and her ability to summarize heated debates between historians and describe the current consensus of scholars makes Abraham Lincoln incredibly useful for young readers who want to look beneath the surface at the true dynamics at play in one of the most difficult times in the United States' tumultuous history.

Full of images, photographs, and drawings from primary sources like Harper's Weekly Magazine, the Making of America series continues to set the standard for engaging, educational writing about historical figures that may not be well-described in middle school textbooks. For any student interested in the Civil War or learning about 19th-century U.S. history, this biography is an excellent place to start.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Abraham Lincoln: The Making of America explores the meaning and legacy of the U.S. Civil War. What events and political movements led to an insurrection within the United States? Does the Civil War still resonate with Americans today?

  • How does the popular portrayal of Lincoln in movies, books, and historical memory compare and contrast with the complex man described in this biography?

  • After reading about the debate historians have had over Lincoln's legacy, do you think he deserves the title "the Great Emancipator"?

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