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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America

Wills, Garry

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9780671867423: Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1993, this is an account of the making of Lincoln's revolutionary masterpiece. Lincoln was asked to prepare a memorial for the battle at Gettysburg. Instead, he gave the whole nation "a birth of freedom" - by tracing its birth to the Declaration of Independence (which called all men equal) rather than the Constitution (which tolerated slavery). In the space of a mere 272 words, Lincoln combines the rhetoric of the Greek Revival and the categories of Transcendentalism, to provide stunning imagery of the Rural Cemetery Movement. His entire previous life and training, his deep political experience, went into this, his masterpiece.

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Review:

A former professor of Greek at Yale University, Wills painstakingly deconstructs Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and discovers heavy influence from the early Greeks (Pericles) and the 19th century Transcendentalists ( Edward Everett). The author also probes Lincoln's decision to rely more on the Declaration of Independence than the U.S. Constitution, a decision Wills says represented a "revolution in thought." He speaks effusively of the 272-word address: "All modern political prose descends from [it]. The Address does what all great art accomplishes. [I]t tease[s] us out of thought." Wills' book won the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

About the Author:

Garry Wills, former Henry R. Luce Professor of American Culture and Public Policy at Northwestern University, is the author of Inventing America and Explaining America, as well as Reagan's America, Under God, Nixon Agonistes, The Kennedy Imprisonment, and other books. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

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