Book Review – Abraham Lincoln The Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend by Lois J. Einhorn

Abraham LincolnThis 1992 book is somewhat uneven and could have used some better editing, but it does provide some excellent insights into Abraham Lincoln’s rhetorical style. The author, Lois J. Einhorn, was an Associate Professor of Rhetoric at the State University of New York.

Part of a series on Great American Orators, the book provides a rhetorical analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s speaking. It is useful to note that while several of his speeches are considered great literary works by present day scholars, Lincoln’s actual presentation was generally considered to be unassuming. He spoke slowly and deliberately. His voice was high-pitched, but clear and powerful enough that even listeners who were far away could hear him. He was not particularly animated, remaining largely motionless throughout his speeches. And it usually took a few minutes into his speech before he got into a rhythm.

This last point is one of the reasons that, Einhorn says, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was not particularly successful as a speech to the listeners at the event. After listening for two hours to the Edward Everett’s animated speech, most of the crowd was still getting resettled during the less than three minutes of Lincoln’s offering. It simply was over before they were ready to listen, and before Lincoln warmed up. Only over time would the literary genius of the Address come to be appreciated. The chapter dealing with the rhetorical qualities of this speech is one of the best in the book.

Other chapters look at Lincoln’s use of humor, his evolving rhetorical stances on emancipation, and the contrasting responses to his first inaugural address – the North heard conciliation, the South aggression and ridicule. As noted, the writing is a bit uneven but the overall result is some very interesting and thoughtful analysis of Lincoln’s style from the perspective of oratory rather than literary.

The analysis takes up the first half of the book only. The second half provides the full texts of nine of Lincoln’s speeches, ranging from the Lyceum Address to his Second Inaugural Address. This is definitely of interest to those who like to read between the lines of what they hear and read.

David J. Kent is an avid Lincolnophile and the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. You can order a signed copy directly from me, download the ebook at barnesandnoble.com, and find hard copies exclusively at Barnes and Noble bookstores.

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