Readers’ Reviews for Becoming Abraham Lincoln

“Abraham Lincoln dismissed his own upbringing with a single line from Gray’s Elegy: “The short and simple annals of the poor.” But as Richard Kigel shows in this textured and gripping narrative, Lincoln would not have become president, much less an empathetic, wise, and history-making one, without the life lessons he absorbed on the prairie. Becoming Abraham Lincoln reminds us that Lincoln’s rise was neither swift nor sure—but that ultimately it remains the quintessential American story.”

—Harold Holzer, one of our leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era, author of 52 books on Lincoln, was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2008 by President George W. Bush.

“Richard Kigel has given us a vivid, empathetic, consistently entertaining look at Lincoln’s youth in the rough and tumble world that shaped his character. Full of insight, smoothly written, weaving primary sources together with an eye for authenticity and telling detail, Becoming Abraham Lincoln is a pleasure to read. There is not a dry paragraph in it. An original contribution to the Lincoln literature, which is no common thing, it also brings to life a fascinating slice of America’s past. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

—James B. Conroy, author of Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime, co-winner of the 2017 Lincoln Prize.

“In Becoming Abraham Lincoln, Richard Kigel fills a void that has existed for nearly a hundred years. Unfortunately, most modern writers cover the subject of these early years in less than a dozen pages before launching onto Lincoln’s rise to the presidency. Kigel’s work fills that void. It is modern and makes use of all the original sources as well as the writings of those Lincoln scholars who went before, giving us a fresh, up-to-date look at American’s greatest statesman. Becoming Abraham Lincoln is authoritative and written in a pleasing style that is as enjoyable to read as it is informative. “

—Dr. Edward Steers Jr., one of our leading authorities on Lincoln’s assassination, is the author of seven books on Lincoln’s death including Blood on the Moon, The Trial, The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators, and The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia.

“From the imaginative chapter titles, to the colorful episodes and serious research, Mr. Kigel’s review of Lincoln’s time as a boy and young man is first-rate. His background as a teacher clearly has helped him understand what parts of Lincoln’s past matter, to young and old alike, and perhaps best of all the attractive book and page design make this a pleasure to read as well.”

—Dr. James M. Cornelius, Curator, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

“Richard Kigel closely examines young Lincoln in this valuable study. What emerges is the story of a figure on the frontier of America who, somewhat miraculously, became our greatest President.”

—Charles B. Strozier, author of Lincoln’s Quest for Union: A Psychological Portrait and Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.

From Kirkus Review, May 1, 2017:

BECOMING ABRAHAM LINCOLN: The coming of Age of Our Greatest President
By Richard Kigel

An intimate biography of young Abraham Lincoln from primary sources—i.e., those who knew him in his formative years. Lincoln’s Illinois law partner, William Herndon, nine years his junior, was the primary and initial biographer of Lincoln after his death, and while thorough, he was guilty of “myth-making.” In this touching work geared toward students, New York City teacher Kigel (Heav’nly Tidings from the Afric Muse: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley, 2017) presents the life of the legendary president up to 25, when he first got elected to the Illinois Assembly.

The narrative is comprised exclusively of voices who knew the early Lincoln, such as family and acquaintances in his years in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. What emerges from these folksy recollections is a portrait of a young man forged in the harsh reality of frontier life in a family that moved frequently, living in basic log cabins and tending to hardscrabble farms, and where hard labor and little education were the way of life. Moreover, Lincoln was marked early on by the deaths of his newborn baby brother, his mother (when he was 9), and his only sister, who died having her first baby.

While known for his height and physical prowess, the young Lincoln was also enamored by books available to the mostly illiterate folks on the frontier, specifically the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, and Robinson Crusoe. His father was insistent his son get “a real eddication.” Lincoln relied on books as his teachers, and he fashioned himself into an inventive storyteller and great entertainer. He also garnered a reputation as a scrupulously honest man, a reputation begun in his early jobs as a ferryman and store clerk. An early trip to New Orleans by steamboat exposed him to the horrors of the slave trade.

Kigel’s emphasis on primary sources is refreshing, and he fashions an instructive work that will be especially useful for younger readers.