Author Jan Morris spins an interesting tale, a mixture of biography, travelogue, and historical fiction. While it reads nicely, it has enough errors that I had to double-check the publisher. Expecting a small publishing house, I was shocked to see "Simon & Schuster" on the spine. A few sloppy typos caught my eye, but the author began to lose credibility when I found a glaring error:
...and in 1846 Springfield waved bon voyage to the fated hopefuls of the Donner Pass party, the last of whom were all too soon to eat each other's corpses in a final extremity of starvation in the Rocky Mountains.I may have a morbid fascination with the Donner Party, but any fact-checker worth his salt should have caught this. The Donner Party was caught by snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, not in the Rocky Mountains, which are hundreds of miles to the east. This error is compounded by calling them the "Donner Pass party" (I've never seen "Pass" in the name before). Look up "Donner Pass" in a dictionary, and it will tell you that it is in the Sierra Nevada. Morris may be from another country, but this is not a difficult fact to get right. When I find an error in a book, I wonder how many other errors I do not recognize because the information is entirely new to me. In fact, I found several other events in the book where her version of history didn't match mine.
Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest has a rather awkward ending. After what I consider a balanced assessment of Lincoln throughout the book, Morris declares that Lincoln's presidency fomented America's imperialistic attitudes and policies. She follows with a harsh assessment of American militarism in the twentieth century. This is an interesting idea, something that I never considered before, but it doesn't fit with the rest of the book. In hindsight, I can see parts of the book that might argue for this conclusion, but such an indictment deserves better support. Instead, it comes across as a strong opinion without much corroboration. It is as if she slapped a proposal letter for a different Lincoln book on the end of this one. Indeed, her conclusion merits further exploration, and I might like to read an entire book about that topic.
Overall, this book provides a brief overview of Lincoln embellished by visits to the places he knew. While I enjoyed it, I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Though entertaining, it misses the mark. Someone less familiar with Lincoln might get lost in the author's non-chronological organization. And while Morris hits most of the highlights, there are important things left out or glossed over. Lincoln's vaunted Second Inaugural Address gets sparse mention, and accounts of his political campaigns lack sufficient detail. At the other extreme, a Lincolnologist would find little value here. In other words, it is too scattershot for students and too frivolous for scholars. For those of us in the middle, it is a nice read but not a good history. I think I will have to read another Lincoln book to get a better picture of the man. Any recommendations?