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Book review: 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency

Stephen A. Wynalda is a well known novelist whose past work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, a prestigious American literary prize by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot.” His latest work, 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency: The Private, Political, and Military Decisions of America’s Greatest President, takes an interesting and unusual method of examining the administration of the Illinois Rail Splitter. Wynalda takes 366 individual days, but orders them by events to cover the entire course of Lincoln and the Civil War years. His goal is not to present yet another typical Lincoln treatise (there have frankly been too many Lincoln books over the years, many of which are either rehashes of widely known material reworded for the latest generation or focused works that cover a particular element in great depth. This work tries to be a general work that tells the complete story of Lincoln in a broad-brush approach, without diving too deeply into any single aspect of the presidency at the expense of others.

Wynalda’s outline of using individual days is different, and frankly, once you get into the flow of what the author is trying to accomplish, it works quite well. Many of the stories are indeed restatements of well know incidents, but this book surprised me with how much obscure and new information it presents — material that is interesting and helps the reader better understand the complexities of being the President of the United States during perhaps the most tumultuous period in American history.
Wynalda begins his work by looking at November 6, 1860, the day Lincoln sat at home and awaited the election returns that would make him President instead of his old in-state and national rival Stephen A. Douglas, or two Southerners who had little support in the electoral vote-rich Northern states. A side bar follows the discussion, examining “How Did Lincoln get Elected?” The 84 sidebars add depth and background information, and are perhaps the best feature of the book. Wynalda moves to November 10 and 20, 1860, filling in the key details of the president-elect. He then picks an averages of 70-80 days each of the next four years to portray a Lincoln whose attention is drawn in so many directions, between roller coaster war news, family issues and tragedies, political challenges within the North, foreign relations, his own Cabinet and its diversity in views and opinions on the course of the war, domestic issues, and looking out for his own political future as he seeks a second term in the White House.
The individual topics are a wide-ranging mixture of topics from Lincoln’s view on new inventions to the death of his son Willie’s beloved pet pony. In between are some colorful and unusual stories that give a glimpse into the mind of Abraham Lincoln.
Be warned that this is a massive book, measuring over 2″ in spine thickness and running 590 pages. However, the way Wynalda has organized and structured the individual stories makes this eminently readable in short bursts for the time challenged modern book browser. It’s easy to read a few pages, set the book aside for other priorities, and then come back to it in a day, week, or even a month and not lose the flow as the stories are not interconnected or reliant on a specific sequence.
This book will appeal to anyone wishing to learn more about the 16th President and his personal and public decisions that not only influenced his wife and children, colleagues, friends, and political associates and enemies, but perhaps as much influence on shaping American history as any man in the country’s history.
The book is published by Skyhorse Publishing, whose web site offers so much more information of interest.
366 Days in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency
$29.95 ($37.50 Canada)
624 pages
Hardcover | 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
Rights: World
Published: May 2010
ISBN: 9781602399945