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The Case of Abraham Lincoln

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In her dry, dense The Case of Abraham Lincoln, Julie M. Fenster attempts to sidestep the legions of Lincoln biographies already on bookshelves by zeroing on Abe’s less-publicized Springfield lawyering days. She argues that 1856 was a pivotal year for the gangly politician because he entered the Republican Party and represented a possibly adulterous (and murderous) widow. Fenster’s anecdotes range from the mundane (Mary Lincoln’s plans to expand the family’s single-floored house) to the historic (deconstructing James Buchanan’s election). Obscure details, however, don’t always translate into compelling book-length history, and Fenster’s purposeful avoidance of Lincoln’s more renowned and colorful days is actively felt. C+

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