Cover image for Abe : a novel
Abe : a novel
Slotkin, Richard, 1942-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2000.
Physical Description:
xii, 478 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Award-winning historian and novelist Richard Slotkin recreates the childhood of Abe Lincoln.

In a brilliant work of historical imagination, Abe immerses the reader in the isolating poverty and difficult circumstances that shaped Abraham Lincoln's character. Marked by his mother's horrible death and the struggle to keep reading and learning in the face of his father's fierce disapproval, Abe persevered, growing into the complicated and empathetic man who changed the course of American history. Slotkin's Abe comes of age during a dramatic flatboat journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. Along the way, Abe and his companions see slavery firsthand and experience the violence-and the pleasures-of frontier settlements and the cities of Natchez and New Orleans. Numerous historical characters make appearances alongside the colorful denizens of the Mississippi: preachers and vigilantes, planters and thieves, prostitutes and lady reformers.

Transformed by what he has seen and done, Abe returns to make his final break with his father and to step out of the wilderness into New Salem-and history.

Author Notes

Richar Slotkin is the Olin Professor of American Studies at Wesleyan University. He is the author of Gunfighter Nation and Regeneration Through Violence, both National Book Award Finalists, and The Crater.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Lincoln, Lincoln! Do we ever tire of reading about the martyred sixteenth president? He appears even in fiction, and in this case as the main character in a greatly detailed, obviously meticulously researched novel about his early life. Writing in a voice that grows in sophistication from a back-woodsy tone to one much more cultivated, reflecting Lincoln's path from very humble birth in rural Kentucky to young manhood in the town of New Salem, Illinois, Slotkin excels at depicting the customs of time and place as he follows Lincoln's drive to leave his difficult father behind and to pursue what life has to offer on a much bigger plane than that which his old man could offer. We see Lincoln's intellectual curiosity driving him to absorb and better himself; we see him on a life-altering flatboat journey down the Mississippi River, an adventure rendered here with the author's keen understanding of not only history but geography. The ultimate effect of this slow-moving story is an authentic immersion into the young Lincoln's experiences. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Slotkin's young Abe Lincoln may owe something to Twain's Huck Finn and his trip down the great Mississippi, but it owes far more to Slotkin's own fine wit and inventiveness as well as years of research into American frontier life. Novels about revered historical figures are notoriously difficult to bring to life, being chained to plausibility and to a story line already too well known. Slotkin's Lincoln, traced from a toddler of two to a muscular 23 embarking on his first campaign for public office, is funny, robust, a rough and tumble lad of the frontier who longs to live on a greater stage--an idea planted in him by a few treasured books. Abe grows up among an uneducated breed of frontiersmen who abhor slavery and the chicanery of civilized law, and migrate from Kentucky to Indiana and on into the West trying to escape them. Pap Lincoln has more than a little in common with Pap Finn, and like Twain, Slotkin combines elements of frontier humor, folklore and philosophizing, along with a very contemporary frankness about the everyday urges and needs of future presidents. His is a Lincoln as good with his fists as with his wits, who peddles sang-root elixir down the Mississippi and loses his innocence in a Natchez fancy house. Traveling downriver, Abe meets "the greatest actor of the English-speaking world," Junius Brutus Booth, and visits the plantation of Joseph Davis, who laments the absence of his soldier brother Jefferson. The wonder of it is, none of this seems mawkish, implausible or in any way salacious. "Do you know that any man that larns to make sense when he talks can go as far as he likes in this country?" Abe tells a friend at age 14, speaking with the conviction a frontier boy would have to feel to grow into the man who would later become a president. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved