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Walter Stahr's Stanton
09-15-2017, 02:15 PM
Post: #1
Walter Stahr's Stanton
As I slogged through the 543 pages of text (743 pp. overall) in Walter Stahr’s Stanton, I kept thinking of David McCullough’s words, “No harm’s done to history by making it something someone would want to read.” Because what surprised me most was how many times during my reading I put it down and did not look forward to picking it up again, despite its events occurring in an era of great personal interest. It felt at times like a homework assignment. On the plus side, Stahr has no axe to grind, and applies a lawyer’s objectivity (a two-edged sword, also yielding dullness) to assess evidence—every piece and word of every letter, telegram, and news item. Stanton is an even-handed book, neither a hagiography nor a vilification, and Stahr walks the careful line of impartiality. His cogent, yet verbose legal briefs of each event and situation were certainly thorough, but left me asking, where is the sense of the man? Chronology alone (he did x, then he did y, then he did z) does not generate interest for, or understanding of, or empathy for, the inner man, his psyche, his motivations, his feelings, his conflicts, his quiet torment. While Stahr justly refrains from the taboo of putting words and thoughts into Stanton’s mouth and head (as far too many “historians” have done, blithely violating the canon), it would be more compelling if he drew a few inferences now and then (it would be okay to say, “By doing x, Stanton was displaying his y, or negating his earlier, compulsive z”). As the page totals might suggest, many paragraphs simply go on too long. I found myself skimming one out of every two or three paragraphs and still following events (I almost wrote “the narrative,” but a narrative implies something more absorbing). In many a paragraph, the final sentence, instead of summarizing or providing meaning or insight, adds an additional, tedious (and not necessarily relevant) new detail. In olden days of publishing, an editor’s swift sword would have held sway. Just because an author’s research assistants (and there were apparently quite a few, from the acknowledgments) dug out copious facts, doesn’t mean every one of them has to be included. I found myself saying over and over, “Synthesize, man, synthesize! Paraphrase instead of quoting at length.” And yet, I must admit, if Stahr’s purpose was to provide the definitive Stanton biography, this may well be it, and it may be my own bias against too-dry, overly-long academic works that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to (I really did).
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09-15-2017, 05:30 PM
Post: #2
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
Thanks, Tom - exactly what I felt when attempting to read his Seward bio. One of the few books I didn't finish...
I had considered putting it on my wishlist as I find Stanton interesting (enough) but now not anymore. Is there any other/better Stanton bio?
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09-15-2017, 07:05 PM
Post: #3
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
(09-15-2017 05:30 PM)Eva Elisabeth Wrote:  Thanks, Tom - exactly what I felt when attempting to read his Seward bio. One of the few books I didn't finish...
I had considered putting it on my wishlist as I find Stanton interesting (enough) but now not anymore. Is there any other/better Stanton bio?

Haven't found one yet that I can recommend, Eva, unfortunately.
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09-15-2017, 07:38 PM (This post was last modified: 09-15-2017 07:56 PM by Gene C.)
Post: #4
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
I liked Stanton by Benjamin Thomas and Harold Hyman.
It's an oldie but a goodie.

http://rogerjnorton.com/LincolnDiscussio...ht=stanton

I'm just beginning Stahr's biography on Seward. Have read the first 100 pages. It has a lot of information, and I'm hoping the story picks up. I would rate it so far as mediocre, as it takes a bit of effort to read. So far I don't feel Seward's personality coming through. With what I've read so far, I can agree with you all regarding his writing style.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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09-16-2017, 04:14 AM
Post: #5
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
For folks wishing to read about Stanton and the rest of the Cabinet (without reading individual biographies of each one) I would recommend Lincoln's War Cabinet by Burton J. Hendrick. The book was published in 1946.

Does the book include some "peculiar"" information about Stanton? Yes, it does. Here are three examples from Hendrick's book:

(1) In his early days Stanton developed a semi-romantic relationship with the daughter of his landlady. The girl's name was Anna Howard. She died suddenly from cholera and was buried quickly. Stanton was horrified and refused to believe it. He refused to believe she was dead and thought she was buried alive. He rushed to the graveyard and exhumed the body. He convinced himself by personal inspection that the girl was indeed dead.

(2) The death of his first child, a baby girl, so affected him that after she had been buried for a time, he had her disinterred, enclosed in a metal casket, and placed on the mantelpiece in his bedroom where it was kept for several years.

(3) After his first wife's death, the Supreme Court had to suspend its sessions for a month. Stanton was arguing several cases before the court. But the court was suspended because Stanton would not leave his dead wife's grave. Every night he would put her nightcap and gown on her bed and sit beside them weeping for hours.

I had trouble finding a review of Lincoln's War Cabinet on the Internet. But I did find one. Here it is:

"Wow. I'm the only one to review this book. Special. So anyway, I'd highly recommend this book. I'd say it was better than Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, although that book may drawn on more recent Lincolnian scholarship. This book did an amazing job of capturing the essence of Lincoln and the egos and personailities he surrounded himself with. How a supposedly hick lawyer from Illinois managed to take the most domineering and brilliant minds of the day and move them around like pieces on his chessboard is a story that has been sorely neglected (at least until recently)."

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3397...er_reviews
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09-16-2017, 09:32 AM
Post: #6
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
We've been selling William Marvel's 2015 book on Stanton: Lincoln's Autocrat at Surratt House and have now reduced it to $10. Has anyone read it and is willing to comment? Here's a review from Amazon:

Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869), one of the nineteenth century's most impressive legal and political minds, wielded enormous influence and power as Lincoln's secretary of war during most of the Civil War and under Johnson during the early years of Reconstruction. In the first full biography of Stanton in more than fifty years, William Marvel offers a detailed reexamination of Stanton's life, career, and legacy. Marvel argues that while Stanton was a formidable advocate and politician, his character was hardly benign. Climbing from a difficult youth to the pinnacle of power, Stanton used his authority--and the public coffers--to pursue political vendettas, and he exercised sweeping wartime powers with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.

Though Lincoln's ability to harness a cabinet with sharp divisions and strong personalities is widely celebrated, Marvel suggests that Stanton's tenure raises important questions about Lincoln's actual control over the executive branch. This insightful biography also reveals why men like Ulysses S. Grant considered Stanton a coward and a bully, who was unashamed to use political power for partisan enforcement and personal preservation.
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09-16-2017, 05:28 PM
Post: #7
RE: Walter Stahr's Stanton
(09-16-2017 09:32 AM)L Verge Wrote:  We've been selling William Marvel's 2015 book on Stanton: Lincoln's Autocrat at Surratt House and have now reduced it to $10. Has anyone read it and is willing to comment? Here's a review from Amazon:

Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869), one of the nineteenth century's most impressive legal and political minds, wielded enormous influence and power as Lincoln's secretary of war during most of the Civil War and under Johnson during the early years of Reconstruction. In the first full biography of Stanton in more than fifty years, William Marvel offers a detailed reexamination of Stanton's life, career, and legacy. Marvel argues that while Stanton was a formidable advocate and politician, his character was hardly benign. Climbing from a difficult youth to the pinnacle of power, Stanton used his authority--and the public coffers--to pursue political vendettas, and he exercised sweeping wartime powers with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.

Though Lincoln's ability to harness a cabinet with sharp divisions and strong personalities is widely celebrated, Marvel suggests that Stanton's tenure raises important questions about Lincoln's actual control over the executive branch. This insightful biography also reveals why men like Ulysses S. Grant considered Stanton a coward and a bully, who was unashamed to use political power for partisan enforcement and personal preservation.

I'd like to know what other members think about the book, too. I have read the Thomas-Hyman bio a few times and think it captures all of the details mentioned in the review posted above. So, I am wondering if I should put it on my list. Next on my list to read (in October) is Ron Chernow's bio of Grant. I got a signed copy,
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