BOOK REVIEW: “Old Abe,” a Novel by John Cribb, Reviewed by Mansfield Frazier.

There have been more books written about the 16th President of the United States and the Civil War that commenced at the beginning of his first term in office than on any other subject in American history. However, virtually all of them have been in the nonfiction genre.

But John Cribb’s new book, Old Abe, takes a deep dive into the final five years of the life of arguably our greatest president through a different lens, that of fiction. The author spent a decade pouring over personal letters, government documents and written reports from various other primary and secondary sources in an attempt to capture the essence of the man and the tumultuous times during which he guided the fractured nation.

In light of what the country has been suffering through for the last four-plus years, reading Cribb’s masterful presentation of a fictionalized version of Abraham Lincoln’s life — from the time he won the presidential nomination of the newly formed Republican Party until his untimely death at the hands of an assassin — offers hope that we once again will be able to “bind up our nation’s wounds.”

Faced with the looming question of the expansion of slavery into the new western territories that would eventually be petitioning for statehood, the nation was even more divided when Lincoln assumed the presidency than it is today — and over the same issue: race. The Founding Fathers had kicked the can of slavery down the road for future generations to deal with. However, by the election of 1860, circumstances had coalesced and sectional positions over the issue of slavery had hardened to the point that war was all but inevitable.

The age-old question of, “Do the times make the man, or is it the other way around?” is one that is perhaps more closely associated with Lincoln than any other figure in American history. Thrust onto the national stage as he was after winning the office of the presidency, what was it about Lincoln that prepared him to be the right man at the right time to save the nation?

Cribb’s Old Abe takes the reader back to the formative years of Lincoln’s life, to his upbringing and thirst for knowledge, recounting how far the young man would travel — often on foot — to acquire books to study. His desire to become a lawyer in spite of the daunting odds of his birth and upbringing he had to overcome, and his marriage to Mary Todd, who predicted to anyone who would listen that her husband, upon winning his first election to the Illinois State Legislature, would one day be president. She was quite positive of it.

We all know how his presidency ends; now, thanks to John Cribb, we know more of the humanizing backstory of his remarkable life and times and are left to ponder the question of where the country would be at this juncture if providence had not placed Abraham Lincoln at the helm of the Ship of State when it did.

 

 

 

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