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Lincoln in the World by Kevin Peraino
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Lincoln in the World

Best Seller
Lincoln in the World by Kevin Peraino
Paperback $15.00
Oct 28, 2014 | ISBN 9780307887214

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    Oct 28, 2014 | ISBN 9780307887214

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One of the Daily Beast‘s “Best Books on President Lincoln”

“Revealing and fresh … There is much here that will interest even those steeped in the vast Lincoln literature.” Washington Post

“A form of intellectual isolationism frequently mars the work of American historians, who often study U.S. politicians without appreciating how those figures’ perceptions of events overseas influenced their ideas about their country’s role in global affairs. Lincoln in the World avoids this pitfall…. [I]t is an important step toward a richer and more useful understanding of the American past.” –Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

“[Peraino’s] technique works brilliantly…. A well-written, finely researched and provocative study of what, to many, is a lesser-known aspect of the Civil War period and Lincoln’s presidency.” Charleston Post and Courier

“At once informative and interesting, showcasing the formation of specific slices of Lincoln’s foreign policy and portraying a very human Lincoln—as opposed to the demigod he has become in the popular imagination…. A perceptive work that is both entertaining and accessible to a general readership.” Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Riveting and revealing… A recommended addition to Lincoln collections.” Library Journal

“With original research, Peraino achieves a remarkable triple play for readers of Lincoln, the Civil War, and diplomatic history.” Booklist

“Kevin Peraino is a major new historical talent, combining the sensibility of a gifted writer and storyteller with a keen analytic intelligence. You may think you know all you need to know about Abraham Lincoln, but in this lucid and compelling new book, you will discover that you’ve only heard half the story. Here is the Lincoln who looked abroad, struggling with, and ultimately shaping, America’s role in the world.” –Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

“Lincoln came into the presidency professing that, as a country lawyer, he knew nothing about foreign affairs. He had never been abroad. Yet as Kevin Peraino shows in this penetrating account, Lincoln steered American policy through the shoals of potential foreign intervention in the Civil War and brought the U.S. triumphantly through this crisis as the exemplar of democratic freedoms in a changing world.”–James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“Peraino’s narrative beautifully illustrates the political battles that shaped Lincoln’s approach to diplomacy.” Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

“With the virtues of both a scholar (his research is prodigious) and a journalist (he writes with verve and flair), Kevin Peraino shines a bright light on a neglected aspect of Lincoln’s remarkable leadership.” –Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life

“A French army in Mexico, Spanish ships in the Caribbean, Britain threatening warPresident Lincoln had to contend with more than the forces of the Confederacy. With keen insight and a lively, deft touch, Kevin Peraino puts Lincoln on the world stage, struggling with the tension between realism and idealism that would shape American foreign policy down to this day. A riveting and original work.”  –Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff

Lincoln in the World is an engaging and important book. An accomplished storyteller, Kevin Peraino makes a persuasive case for Abraham Lincoln as one of this nation’s most effective foreign policy presidents and a key figure in its emergence as a great power.” –George C. Herring, author of From Colony to Superpower

“Elegantly written, thoroughly analyzed, well researched, and up to date on scholarship, this is a masterfully crafted analysis of a born diplomat of the first order… Award-winning quality…” –Howard Jones, author of Blue and Gray Diplomacy

“A fascinating bookend to the Lincoln story…. The author shares the heartening and uplifting details of Lincoln’s influence in the world. In so doing, he inspires us in our America that remains a ‘house divided.'” –Frank J. Williams, founding chair of The Lincoln Forum

“Original and convincing … Using well-written yet accessible prose, Peraino proves persuasively his overarching contention that Lincoln deserves a place alongside Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and other presidents as an architect of American power…. Highly recommended for scholars and general audiences alike.” — Civil War History

“Kevin Peraino brings fresh purpose and sophisticated insight on foreign policy to his fascinating study of Lincoln and the world…. This is a smart, incisive, and beautifully written book that everyone with an interest in Lincoln and the Civil War will want to read.” — Don H. Doyle, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Kevin Peraino, author of LINCOLN IN THE WORLD:
The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power

Q) As a veteran foreign correspondent who has reported from throughout the world
(Libya, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt) you’ve long been fascinated by foreign affairs, witnessing it at the street level. How did this experience prime you to pen your book, Lincoln in the World?

A) In the news business it’s easy to find yourself fixated on the diplomatic donnybrook of the week. With this project I wanted to step back a little and take a macro approach—to try to make sense of what I had seen by looking at global affairs through the lens of some long-standing traditions of American foreign policy. The diplomacy of the Civil War caught my attention right away. It was clearly an overlooked story that was bursting with colorful personalities and important lessons for our own times.

Q) You went to college in Illinois (Northwestern University), the Land of Lincoln. Did that in some way encourage the writing of Lincoln in the World? Were you inspired by any other books, articles, or movies about Lincoln?

A) Absolutely. In the Chicago area, the streets are named after Sherman and Sheridan, the parks after Grant and Lincoln. I bought my first tattered copy of Carl Sandburg’s classic biography at a used bookshop on the North Shore while I was working as a cub reporter in Newsweek’s Chicago bureau just out of school. 

Q) What sets Lincoln in the World apart from other books on the Great Emancipator?

A) There are thousands of books about Lincoln—but virtually none about his foreign policy. There hasn’t been a holistic, human account of Lincoln’s role in foreign affairs in nearly seventy years. Part of the problem is that Lincoln had a powerful and competent secretary of state in William Henry Seward. So books that put Lincoln at the center of his own foreign policy tend to end up as hagiographies. To solve that problem, I included only those episodes in which Lincoln was deeply involved—tightly focusing the narrative around five distinct conflicts that helped define the character of a Lincolnian foreign policy.

Q) When did you discover that this piece of Lincoln history was largely untold?

A) Almost right away. A great author once told me that the best books to write are the ones you want to read. I found myself strongly drawn to this overlooked aspect of Lincoln’s life, and I wanted to learn more. But there was very little out there.

Q) Jon Meacham, James McPherson, Amanda Foreman, and Michael Burlingame are among the handful of heavy hitters who have praised Lincoln in the World, calling it “engaging,” “penetrating,” “riveting,” and “elegantly written.” With such a welcome early reception, did you have any concerns adding to the existing Lincoln literature?

A) Yes! My friends teased me about it: What could I possibly add to the record about one of the world’s most written-about figures? But what astonished me as I was researching this was just how much fascinating new material about Lincoln has recently come to light. Scholars like Burlingame have dug deeply into the archival material in recent years—combing through not just the traditional letters and diaries, but also the archived papers of past historians and biographers, looking for information that has ended up on the cutting room floor. I took a similar approach—traveling from Springfield to London to Lexington in search of fresh material.

Q) Lincoln isn’t generally remembered as a great foreign-policy president, but in your book you argue that he was one of America’s indispensable diplomats—and a key architect of America’s emergence as a global superpower. Tell us about that.

A) It’s all in the way you look at it. James Randall, the great Lincoln biographer, once observed that compared to Teddy Roosevelt, or Woodrow Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt, Lincoln’s involvement in international relations was minimal. That’s true enough—and makes perfect sense, since there was a devastating war raging on American soil. But Randall also rightly saw that the things Lincoln did do on the global stage were hugely important. So my approach was to home in on those critical foreign-policy decisions and really explore them in detail. As a result, we see Lincoln in a different light. 

Q) Did you come across any interesting facts or details about Lincoln in your research that you think readers would be surprised to learn?

A) I was struck by Mary Lincoln’s attempts to influence diplomatic appointments. She was far more cosmopolitan than her husband. As a girl she had attended a school where students spoke French, run by Parisian aristocrats. Her parents were friends with some of the country’s great diplomats, and her childhood home was filled with Belgian rugs and French mahogany furniture. She certainly felt—with some justification—that she was more knowledgeable about the world than her husband. And she let him know it. On several occasions she urged him to appoint her candidates as foreign envoys, and she repeatedly tangled with Lincoln’s chief diplomat, Seward.

Q) There are many fascinating individuals who were involved in Lincoln’s foreign policy legacy and who you highlight in Lincoln in the World. Who did you find most interesting to research?

A) The French emperor, Napoleon III, was a particularly intriguing character. He was a poor strategist and a serial womanizer—deeply insecure and usually inscrutable. Otto von Bismarck described him as “a great unfathomed capacity.” Even his youthful girlfriends found him difficult to read. One marriage prospect later said that Napoleon was so opaque that she worried she would have “broken his head open just to see what was in it.” Lincoln, too, found himself wondering what Napoleon was thinking when the French emperor invaded Mexico during the height of the Civil War. 

Q) What do you think are some of the important takeaways of Lincoln’s foreign policy for the present day? How do you think the foreign policy of President Obama is similar or different to President Lincoln’s?

A) In one sense, there’s no comparison—the U.S. was essentially an emerging market in the Civil War era; now it’s the most powerful nation on the planet. But there are some intriguing similarities in the times. The mid-nineteenth century was an information age. The newspaper culture of the Civil War era is not so different from our own world of burgeoning new media. Yet it was also a period of brutal realism, an age that resembles in significant ways our own increasingly multipolar world.

Q) The Lincoln who you portray in your book is in many ways a different man than we think we know. Which aspect of his character most surprised you?

A) I was genuinely surprised by the scope of his worldview. We learn in grade school that European politics played some role in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. But Lincoln was constantly thinking about America’s place in the world. His first political handbill, nearly thirty years before the outbreak of the Civil War, argued that local schools should teach students more about foreign cultures. His economic vision as a Whig coming up in Illinois politics was all about building roads and canals—important links to the outside world. By the time he took office, he was making the case that the “central idea” of the looming war was to prove “that popular government is not an absurdity.” We’ve all heard Lincoln’s famous lines about America as the world’s “last, best hope.” But there’s a lot more to the story.

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