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Friday, February 22, 2013


Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr - Book review

Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man

By: Walter Stahr

Published: September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 720 pages
ISBN-10: 1439121168
ISBN-13: 978-1439121160
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

"Most Americans know Seward's name and that Alaska was 'Seward's Folly', but they do not know much else about him", writes acclaimed biographer Wlater Stahr, in his brilliant and landmark book Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man. The author shares the life, in lively and outstanding detail, of one of the most important and complex figures of his nineteenth century America.

Walter Stahr recognizes the monumental importance of William Seward, to the transformational period of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. One of the most important individuals of the nineteenth century, William Seward served as Governor of New York, a United States Senator, and was considered the front runner for President in 1860. Walter Stahr delves into the powerful impact of William Seward, not only as Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, but as a key adviser on foreign affairs, politics, and personnel issues.

The author points out how Seward's contemporaries considered him the most influential person in the Lincoln Cabinet, and as a result he was targeted for assassination, along with President Lincoln, by John Wilkes Booth. William Seward survived the attempt, continued to serve as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson, and began the process that established America as a global empire.

Walter Stahr (photo left) understands that the popular impression of William Seward today falls far short of the towering importance of the man in his time. Not only was William Seward influential in politics, but Walter Stahr presents a portrait of a man who was a colorful story teller and raconteur. With his unkempt hair and messy attire, William Seward was an intriguing character who regaled guests, from all walks of life, with his tales. Despite this disarming appearance, William Seward was considered the foremost statesman in the North, prior to the Civil War.

William Seward's political importance continued during the conflagration of the War, and long afterward. An outspoken opponent of slavery before the War, Seward continued his support for the policies of Abraham Lincoln during Reconstruction. Alienating some of the radical Reconstructionists, William Seward continued on a pragmatic course, that the author considers a step toward reconciliation with the South, and a restoration of a restored Union.

For me, the power of the book is how Walter Stahr combines a powerful historical narrative of the political life of William Seward, with an intimate portrait of the man behind the politics and public office. The author brings history to life, creating a complete and balanced picture of a leading figure of his time. Walter Stahr presents the controversy and accomplishments of William Seward with an even hand and lively prose. The author covers Seward's entire political career, but even more intriguingly offers some crucial insights into the private man as well.

William Seward was a larger than life personality during his eventful lifetime, and this biography certainly does justice to this complex and important man. The author draws on numerous sources, including those long neglected by historians. The book includes notes for each chapter to facilitate even more research into the life and times of the fascinating William Seward.

I highly recommend the important and engaging biography Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by William Stahr, to professionals in academia, students of history and politics, and anyone interested in the life of one of the most important and interesting figures of the nineteenth century. This book is a much needed biography of a pivotal individual during one of the most tumultuous and transformational eras of American history.

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