The Unpopular and the Embattled

Savas Beatie has reissued The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln as a paperback titled The Battles that Made Abraham Lincoln: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union. This republication deserves praise. Behold: a good publisher backs a good book with a softcover edition.

In the great body of Lincoln literature, the main gap is in contemporary criticism. Here author Larry Tagg gathers up a broad sampling of Lincoln criticism in which the reader can experience something like total immersion. What we normally get from our Lincoln authors is some tiny snippet of disgruntlement badly summarized and knocked down like any good little strawman. What Tagg has done in his book is to better to round out the reader's sense of Lincoln's burden by enumerating the attacks against him. Lincoln fans need not feel threatened; this author appreciates Lincoln deeply.

Tagg has done a greater service to historiography, however, in preparing the ground for some future (deep) analysis of Lincoln criticism that sorts the merited complaints from the unmerited, charge-by-charge in extended discussion. This would exceed the limits of a popular work and make for a really big book that few readers are ready for. Lincoln studies will not mature without such analysis and it will be impossible to begin it until readers (and authors) come to grips with what Larry Tagg has prepared as a first step: surveying Lincoln's unpopularity in the press and speech of the time.

This is a very important book. Once again, bravo.

(Harry interviewed Larry in 2010: "The most serious challenge in writing The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln was not to find material. That abounded — I ended up including in the book only the '10s' on a 1-to-10 scale of slurs I found on Lincoln.")