100 books like Prelude to Greatness

By Don E. Fehrenbacher,

Here are 100 books that Prelude to Greatness fans have personally recommended if you like Prelude to Greatness. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Lincoln

By David Herbert Donald,

Book cover of Lincoln

Charles B. Strozier Author Of Lincoln's Quest for Union

From the list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst.

Who am I?

I got my first job as a professor of history in 1972 in Springfield, Illinois, at a new university there. What can you do in Springfield except work on Lincoln? The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Lincoln draws you in. His lively mind and always well-written letters, along with his brilliant and memorable speeches, are endlessly fascinating. He also had genuine integrity as a human being and as a leader in our greatest crisis as a country. It is hard not to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln.

Charles' book list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst

Why did Charles love this book?

Donald’s one-volume biography of Lincoln remains the standard in the field. I knew David Donald and found him always generous. From his perch at Harvard, Donald dominated the Lincoln field for many decades. His biography of Lincoln stands head and shoulders above a host of more recent studies. In fact, it surprises me people keep writing biographies of Lincoln that go over the same ground repeatedly. Donald brings Lincoln alive with the authority that comes from a lifetime of reflection and writing on the Civil War and our greatest president.

By David Herbert Donald,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lincoln as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A masterful work by Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald, Lincoln is a stunning portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency.

Donald brilliantly depicts Lincoln’s gradual ascent from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to the ever-expanding political circles in Illinois, and finally to the presidency of a country divided by civil war. Donald goes beyond biography, illuminating the gradual development of Lincoln’s character, chronicling his tremendous capacity for evolution and growth, thus illustrating what made it possible for a man so inexperienced and so unprepared for the presidency to become a great moral leader. In the most troubled of times,…


Battle Cry of Freedom

By James M. McPherson,

Book cover of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Cathal J. Nolan Author Of Mercy: Humanity in War

From the list on how wars are won and lost.

Who am I?

I'm an award-winning teacher and writer who introduces students and readers to war in a profession that today is at best indifferent to military history, and more often hostile. That gives me a wry sense of irony, as colleagues would rather teach about fashion than fascism and truffles over tragedy. Having written a multiple award-winning book that covered 2,000 years of war, frankly I was sickened by how the same mistakes were made over and again. It has made me devoted to exploring possibilities for humane behavior within the most inhumane and degraded moral environment humanity creates; where individuality is subsumed in collective violence and humanity is obscured as a faceless, merciless enemy.

Cathal's book list on how wars are won and lost

Why did Cathal love this book?

Beautifully written masterwork on one of the most important wars of the 19th century. It takes the reader from the experience of ordinary soldiers in battle to key debates around the cabinet table, in a rare display of dexterity and understanding of all levels of war. You will enter Grant’s HQ from where he ran the critical Western theater of operations and sit across from Lincoln as he makes the key decision for a hard war that let the Union maximize its resources and win. And you will walk into Lee’s HQ where the Confederacy lost the war in bursts of Southern hubris that led to two ill-conceived invasions of the North that provoked the final crushing.  

By James M. McPherson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Battle Cry of Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now featuring a new Afterword by the author, this handy paperback edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom is without question the definitive one-volume history of the Civil War.
James McPherson's fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War including the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. From there it moves into…


Mary Todd Lincoln

By Justin G. Turner, Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln

Book cover of Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters

Charles B. Strozier Author Of Lincoln's Quest for Union

From the list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst.

Who am I?

I got my first job as a professor of history in 1972 in Springfield, Illinois, at a new university there. What can you do in Springfield except work on Lincoln? The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Lincoln draws you in. His lively mind and always well-written letters, along with his brilliant and memorable speeches, are endlessly fascinating. He also had genuine integrity as a human being and as a leader in our greatest crisis as a country. It is hard not to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln.

Charles' book list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst

Why did Charles love this book?

Mary Todd Lincoln has been seriously misunderstood by most observers (including her most recent biographer). She was in fact a smart, lively, well-educated woman whom Lincoln loved and to whom he was emotionally drawn. Her troubled personality led to some distance between her and her husband in the 1850s, and her post-assassination despair grew in large part from the unrelenting criticism she endured. This definitive collection of her letters, interspersed with excellent biographical information, contextualizes the documents in a highly readable volume. Mary Todd Lincoln deserves our close and sympathetic attention.

By Justin G. Turner, Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mary Todd Lincoln as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The personal correspondences of Mary Todd Lincoln create an intimate portrait of her life and marriage to Lincoln as well as her struggles after his death


Herndon's Informants

By Douglas L. Wilson, Rodney O. Davis,

Book cover of Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln

Charles B. Strozier Author Of Lincoln's Quest for Union

From the list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst.

Who am I?

I got my first job as a professor of history in 1972 in Springfield, Illinois, at a new university there. What can you do in Springfield except work on Lincoln? The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Lincoln draws you in. His lively mind and always well-written letters, along with his brilliant and memorable speeches, are endlessly fascinating. He also had genuine integrity as a human being and as a leader in our greatest crisis as a country. It is hard not to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln.

Charles' book list on Abraham Lincoln from a historian and psychoanalyst

Why did Charles love this book?

William Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner and knew and worked with him from the early 1840s until 1861 when Lincoln left for Washington. After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Herndon tirelessly interviewed many of Lincoln’s family and neighbors from his childhood and youth. As I noted many years ago, Herndon’s project was the first oral history in American literature. His vast collection was long disdained by scholars. I used the records extensively myself and in the 1980s and 1990s those in the Lincoln field realized the letters and interviews were a priceless source. Doug Wilson and his colleagues did an excellent job in editing the Herndon material that is both invaluable for understanding Lincoln and providing a social history of the frontier in the early part of the 19th century.

By Douglas L. Wilson, Rodney O. Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Herndon's Informants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award

Women to whom Lincoln proposed marriage, political allies and adversaries, judges and fellow attorneys, longtime comrades, erstwhile friends--all speak out here in words first gathered by William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, between 1865 and 1890. Historian David Herbert Donald has called Herndon's materials "the basic source for Abraham Lincoln's early years."

Now available in paperback, Herndon's Informants collects and annotates more than 600 letters and interviews providing information about Abraham Lincoln's prepolitical and prelegal careers. Some of the people Herndon questioned were illiterate. Others could read but barely write. The editors'…


Lincoln and Douglas

By Allen C. Guelzo,

Book cover of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America

Richard J. Carwardine Author Of Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power

From the list on what made Abraham Lincoln a great president.

Who am I?

How could a historian of the US not find Lincoln an endlessly fascinating figure? As a young(ish) university teacher, I jumped at the invitation to write a study of the 16th president, but didn’t expect it to win the coveted Lincoln Prize. When it did, in 2004, the community of American Lincoln scholars made me, a Welsh professor from Oxford University, doubly welcome. In several books I’ve examined Lincoln’s political skill, strategic ambition, and moral purposes. But he was more than a gifted pragmatist. His greater goal was to leave his nation stronger and a little closer to realizing the principles of equality laid out in the Declaration of Independence of 1776.

Richard's book list on what made Abraham Lincoln a great president

Why did Richard love this book?

I first encountered Lincoln as an Oxford undergraduate, spellbound by his public jousting with the “Little Giant,” Stephen Douglas, his Democratic opponent in the US Senate race of 1858. The campaign crisscrossed the plains of Illinois and brought the Republican Lincoln to national attention. Guelzo, a Lincoln Prize-winner, writes stylishly, capturing the feel of the prairies, and above all gets to the heart of the issues that divided the candidates: race and slavery. An unapologetic white supremacist, Douglas was neutral on slavery; Lincoln argued against it and its westward spread. He declared slavery wrong and at odds with the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglas was elected but Lincoln’s raised profile would help elect him to the presidency two years later.

By Allen C. Guelzo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln and Douglas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the two-time winner of the prestigious Lincoln Prize, a stirring and surprising account of the debates that made Lincoln a national figure and defined the slavery issue that would bring the country to war.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history.

What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United…


Lincoln's Sons

By Ruth Painter Randall,

Book cover of Lincoln's Sons

Jason Emerson Author Of Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln

From the list on presidential children.

Who am I?

I'm an independent historian and journalist who has spent over 25 years studying Abraham Lincoln and his family. My fascination with the Great Emancipator began when I worked first as a student volunteer and then as a park ranger at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. As I writer who has always loved history, I decided I should start writing about history. I've authored or edited eight books (seven on Lincoln and his family) as well as numerous articles. My big break came when I discovered a cache of Mary Lincoln’s missing letters, written during her time in a sanitarium in 1875, which had been missing for nearly 100 years.

Jason's book list on presidential children

Why did Jason love this book?

Abraham Lincoln may be the most written about president (and person) in American history, but his children have been relatively relegated to innocuous side characters who all have a few good stories about them. Lincoln’s Sons by Ruth Painter Randall is still the go-to book for anyone interested in the Lincoln boys, as well as their relationships with their parents. In addition to their early years in Springfield and the famous antics of Willie and Tad in the White House, Randall also follows the boys after the death of their father. She explains the sad life of Tad from 1865 until his early death in 1871, and gives a full accounting of Robert’s impressive legacy as lawyer, businessman, public servant, and protector of his father’s legacy—for decades the only book to do so. There have been a few other books ostensibly about the Lincoln boys in the years since Randall’s…

By Ruth Painter Randall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln's Sons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

270 paged hardcover "Lincoln's Sons" by Ruth Painter Randall.


Courting Mr. Lincoln

By Louis Bayard,

Book cover of Courting Mr. Lincoln

Margaret Rodenberg Author Of Finding Napoleon: A Novel

From the list on famous leaders we thought we understood.

Who am I?

When I lived in France as a youngster, museum portraits became friends. I could hear courtiers scheming in Versailles and gladiators clashing in coliseums. Naturally, decades later, when I learned Napoleon Bonaparte tried to write a novel of love and betrayal, I vowed to finish it for him. But to ghostwrite for Napoleon, I had to know him as personally as his great love Josephine did. I dove into research, translated his writing to capture his cadence, and became secretary of the Napoleonic Historical Society. Finally, on remote St. Helena Island in the ramshackle rooms where Napoleon died in exile, I found the intimate connection I demand from historical fiction.

Margaret's book list on famous leaders we thought we understood

Why did Margaret love this book?

Write about Abraham Lincoln’s intimate life? I wouldn’t dare, but I’m thrilled Louis Bayard did. Courting Mr. Lincoln catches America’s icon at his pivot from aw-shucks buffoon to fast-track politician. Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s roommate who’s in love with him, applies social veneer, teaching him to dress and dance, and where to rest those spidery arms during dinner. The friends’ touching love never crosses into sexual on the page. Yet, intimacy flows through Bayard’s extraordinary writing. We, too, inhabit Lincoln’s long torso, flailing elbows, and head crammed in a too-small top hat. Alas, a society matron pushes Lincoln “toward destiny,” requiring marriage with Mary Todd. Melancholy Lincoln, snared in grasping love, moves on to save our nation. Because of this book, I’ll always consider Abraham Lincoln a beautiful man.

By Louis Bayard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Courting Mr. Lincoln as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Mary Todd meets Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the winter of 1840, he is on no one's short list to be president. A country lawyer living above a dry goods shop, he is lacking both money and manners, and his gift for oratory surprises those who meet him. Mary, a quick, self-possessed debutante with an interest in debates and elections, at first finds him an enigma. "I can only hope," she tells his roommate, the handsome, charming Joshua Speed, "that his waters being so very still, they also run deep."

It's not long, though, before she sees the Lincoln…


West from Appomattox

By Heather Cox Richardson,

Book cover of West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War

David Prior Author Of Between Freedom and Progress: The Lost World of Reconstruction Politics

From the list on how the Civil War changed history.

Who am I?

As a historian of the Civil War, I love thinking about how the war shaped what came after it. The Civil War, and the abolition of slavery that was wrapped up with it, is perhaps the most important turning point in the history of the United States. It had so many afterlives and made such a deep impact on everything from the daily lives of the formerly enslaved in the southern states to popular culture to the shape of the country’s economy. As a historian of the period, I’ve written and edited multiple books and scholarly articles on the period. Still, I remain fascinated by how much more there is to learn and study!  

David's book list on how the Civil War changed history

Why did David love this book?

I can’t help but be struck by how Richardson brought together so many big topics so smoothly in one volume.

Usually, historians treat the stories of the post-war South, North, and West separately, but Richardson unites them by looking at how Civil War-era Americans thought about foundational ideas like work, freedom, and order.

Arguing that the whole country went through a broader, national reconstruction, Richardson follows ideas about “bad workers” and “special interests” from 1865 down to the early 20th century, using vignettes of interesting and important individuals to move the story along.  

By Heather Cox Richardson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked West from Appomattox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the popular "Letters from an American" newsletter: a sweeping story of how Northerners, Southerners, and Westerners together created modern America in the years from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt

A Wall Street Journal Bestseller

The story of Reconstruction is not simply about the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War. Instead, the late nineteenth century defined modern America, as Southerners, Northerners, and Westerners gradually hammered out a national identity that united three regions into a country that could become a world power. Ultimately, the story of Reconstruction is about how a middle class formed in…


Lincoln on the Verge

By Ted Widmer,

Book cover of Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

Sylvia Shults Author Of Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays

From the list on nonfiction books that read like a novel.

Who am I?

Sylvia Shults is a librarian by day, a ghost hunter by night, and the “hostess with the mostest ghosties” of the Lights Out podcast. During her twenty-plus-year career in libraries, she has managed to smuggle enough words out in her pockets to put together several books of her own, including 44 Years in Darkness, Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, and Spirits of Christmas. She sits in dark, spooky places so you don't have to, and shares her experiences of her brushes with the other side of the Veil.

Sylvia's book list on nonfiction books that read like a novel

Why did Sylvia love this book?

This book rocked my world. Imagine this: Congress is meeting to ratify the election of a new president. But half the country doesn't want the new guy; in fact, there are armed thugs wandering around the streets of Washington, making noise about insurrection. The rumors of violence are so disturbing that the police force is put on high alert, and the Vice President, carrying the election paperwork, is assigned extra security. Sound familiar? This was the situation in 1861, as Abraham Lincoln was readying himself for his trip to the Capitol to take office. The book follows his train ride there, and the writing rollicks along just like a train speeding down a track. I adored this book, and for me, it was made even more compelling because I read it about a week after the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. As a really well-written book, filled with history…

By Ted Widmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln on the Verge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE LINCOLN FORUM BOOK PRIZE

"A Lincoln classic...superb." -The Washington Post

"A book for our time."-Doris Kearns Goodwin

Lincoln on the Verge tells the dramatic story of America's greatest president discovering his own strength to save the Republic.

As a divided nation plunges into the deepest crisis in its history, Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Washington and his inauguration-an inauguration Southerners have vowed to prevent. Lincoln on the Verge charts these pivotal thirteen days of travel, as Lincoln discovers his power, speaks directly to the public, and sees his country up close. Drawing on new research, this…


Lincoln's Springfield Neighborhood

By Bonnie E Paull, Richard E Hart,

Book cover of Lincoln's Springfield Neighborhood

Michael Burlingame Author Of The Black Man's President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, and the Pursuit of Racial Equality

From the list on Lincoln as an anti-racist.

Who am I?

As a college freshman, I was profoundly affected by a mesmerizing, Pulitzer-Prize-winning professor and Lincoln scholar, David Herbert Donald, who became an important mentor. I was drawn to Lincoln as source of personal inspiration, someone who triumphed over adversity, one who despite a childhood of emotional malnutrition and grinding poverty, despite a lack of formal education, despite a series of career failures, despite a woe-filled marriage, despite a tendency to depression, despite a painful midlife crisis, despite the early death of his mother and his siblings as well as of his sweetheart and two of his four children, became a model of psychological maturity, moral clarity, and unimpeachable integrity.

Michael's book list on Lincoln as an anti-racist

Why did Michael love this book?

Richard Hart, a prominent, civic-minded Springfield lawyer and an exceptionally kind and generous friend, was also an avid local historian who tirelessly examined original sources in search of information about Springfield during Lincoln’s time.

In 1999, he published a seminal article demonstrating that African Americans “were a significant part not only of the town’s life, but of Abraham Lincoln’s life and environment.” He then elaborated on that point in this book, written with the assistance of Bonnie Paull, a retired professor of English.

I dedicated one of my books to Hart, paying tribute to him as the author “who pioneered the way,” showing that Lincoln’s interaction with African American neighbors, friends, clients, and employees in the Illinois capital profoundly shaped his racial egalitarianism.

By Bonnie E Paull, Richard E Hart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln's Springfield Neighborhood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When an emotional Abraham Lincoln took leave of his Springfield neighbors, never to return, his moving tribute to the town and its people reflected their profound influence on the newly elected president. His old neighborhood still stands today as a National Historic Site. The story of the life Lincoln and his family built there returns to us through the careful work of authors Bonnie E. Paull and Richard E. Hart. Journey back in time and meet this diverse but harmonious community as it participated in the business of everyday living while gradually playing a larger role on the national stage.


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