Friday 5: Books and Movies about Abraham Lincoln

Etching of Lincoln and cabinet at signing of the Emancipation Proclamation

This year, Presidents Day falls on Feb. 15, 2016. Since we’ve already covered the history of Presidents Day and some lesser-known facts about George Washington, we thought it was only fair to dedicate a post to Abraham Lincoln. If you’d like to learn more about Lincoln over the holiday weekend, here are our top five picks for books and movies, chosen by WSBA staff.

Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President,” by Harold Holzer
Recommended by RaeLani Valaile
Delivered in New York in February 1860, Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech dispelled doubts about his suitability for the presidency and reassured conservatives of his moderate stance while reaffirming his opposition to slavery. (Watch a re-enactment of the speech.) Award-winning Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer places Lincoln and his speech in the context of the times, explaining the enormous risk Lincoln took by appearing in New York, where he exposed himself to a deeply critical audience and took on Republican Senator and front-runner William Henry Seward. Holzer recounts the brilliant and innovative public relations campaign that followed as Lincoln took the speech on the road in his successful quest for the presidency. This well-regarded book gives great perspective on public relations and strategizing a campaign. It also explores how rhetoric can influence behavior when executed properly.

Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Recommended by Sue Strachan
One of the best management books you’ll ever read. “Team of Rivals” is about Lincoln’s opponents for the presidency — who, as you would expect, all have large egos and believe they are generally smarter than Lincoln, and who also feel the lingering resentment of his election. The expected response would be to surround yourself with your supporters and freeze out your rivals. With the unprecedented crisis of the Civil War looming, Lincoln did the opposite – he brought in opponents from both parties, recognizing their talents and broad perspectives as well as their resentments and egos. That team became highly productive and contributed to Lincoln’s legacy of getting the nation through its worst time. The takeaway: Bringing in diverse voices and people smarter than you is harder, but ultimately the right thing to do as a leader and manager. Lincoln had the right combination of self-confidence and humility to make it work, and it’s one of the reasons he was a great leader.

Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis
Recommended by Todd Timmcke
This 2012 drama focuses on Lincoln’s last four months in office. As the Civil War’s end approaches in 1865, Lincoln is working toward passage of a constitutional amendment that will ban slavery. If peace comes first, the southern states will block the amendment — yet an early peace could save thousands of lives and preserve the Union, Lincoln’s primary goal. The film features an all-star ensemble cast including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but is best known for Daniel Day-Lewis’s memorable performance as Lincoln.

Killing Lincoln, starring Billy Campbell
Recommended by Stephanie Perry
Based on The New York Times best-selling novel, “Killing Lincoln” tells the suspenseful history of the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination. As actor John Wilkes Booth grows single-mindedly obsessed with removing Lincoln from office by any means necessary, he forms a secret cabal to plot an unthinkable act: killing President Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Unlike the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, this is more of a documentary with re-enactments and scholarly commentary. Narrated by Tom Hanks and produced by Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, this historical documentary stars Billy Campbell (The Killing) as Lincoln.

After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace,” by A.J. Langguth
Recommended by Linda Jenkins
While this isn’t strictly about Lincoln’s life, it deals with the complex political tensions of the post-Civil-War Reconstruction Era following the president’s assassination. Author and journalist Jack Langguth’s style and attention to detail in this book makes a complicated era in history come alive for the reader. Langguth covered the civil rights movement for the New York Times and was a professor of journalism for three decades at the University of Southern California.

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