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The Fiery Trial: Book summary and reviews of The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner

The Fiery Trial

Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

by Eric Foner

The Fiery Trial

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Book Summary

In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln's youth in Indiana and Illinois and follows the trajectory of his career across an increasingly tense and shifting political terrain from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Although "naturally anti-slavery" for as long as he can remember, Lincoln scrupulously holds to the position that the Constitution protects the institution in the original slave states. But the political landscape is transformed in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act makes the expansion of slavery a national issue.

A man of considered words and deliberate actions, Lincoln navigates the dynamic politics deftly, taking measured steps, often along a path forged by abolitionists and radicals in his party. Lincoln rises to leadership in the new Republican Party by calibrating his politics to the broadest possible antislavery coalition. As president of a divided nation and commander in chief at war, displaying a similar compound of pragmatism and principle, Lincoln finally embraces what he calls the Civil War's "fundamental and astounding" result: the immediate, uncompensated abolition of slavery and recognition of blacks as American citizens.

Foner's Lincoln emerges as a leader, one whose greatness lies in his capacity for moral and political growth through real engagement with allies and critics alike. This powerful work will transform our understanding of the nation's greatest president and the issue that mattered most. 16 pages black-and-white illustrations and 3 maps

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2011

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience." - Publishers Weekly

"In the vast library on Lincoln, Foner's book stands out as the most sensitive and sensible reading of Lincoln's lifetime involvement with slavery and the most insightful assessment of Lincoln's - and indeed America's - imperative to move toward freedom lest it be lost. An essential work for all Americans." - Library Journal

"Look elsewhere for an understanding of the president as person, but linger here for an indispensable analysis of Lincoln navigating through the treacherous political currents of his times." - Kirkus Reviews

"The Fiery Trial does well what has already been done before 'but ne'er so well expressed.'" - The Washington Post

"More cogently than any previous historian, Foner examines the political events that shaped Lincoln and ultimately brought out his true greatness." - The New York Times

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More Information

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the period. In 2006 Foner received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia University. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians.

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