And There Was Light [Book Review] #AbrahamLincoln #Emancipation #CivilWar #Biography

And There Was Light by Jon Meacham is a comprehensive and compelling biography of a great U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln.

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham

And There Was Light by Jon Meacham (cover) Image: black and white headshot of Abraham Lincoln

Genre/Categories/Setting: Nonfiction, U.S. President, U.S. History, U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation, Civil War, Biography

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My Summary of And There Was Light:

A resolute and imperfect man is committed to the abolition of slavery and holding the Union together. Jon Meacham uses primary sources to share Abraham Lincoln’s story from the time of his birth to his turbulent years of leadership through his assassination.

My Thoughts:

The Moral Case for Emancipation

Although I don’t want February (the month the U.S. celebrates the birthdays of two presidents) to slip away without reviewing And There Was Light, I can’t possibly write an adequate review of this complex and complicated book. It would be impossible to communicate all my highlights. I will simply say that from my perspective, And There Was Light is worthwhile, important, compelling, and highly recommended.

What I Appreciated:

  • Primary Sources: I especially appreciate that Meacham relates the story of Lincoln and his leadership through primary sources (correspondence, direct quotes, speeches, newspaper articles, etc.).
  • Meacham weaves primary sources together to create a well-researched, well-reasoned, cohesive, and compelling narrative.
  • The moral case for Emancipation (greater than a political principal).
  • The fair presentation of facts.
  • The close examination of Lincoln as (mostly) self educated, a moral leader, and resolute in his convictions.
  • The audio format read by the author.

What I Learned:

  • I can better appreciate how complicated it was for Lincoln to hold the Union together (North and South) while simultaneously fighting for Emancipation of the Slaves.
  • I learned of Lincoln’s moral commitment to freeing the slaves. For him it was a well thought out moral principal greater than any political one. I have a new appreciation for Lincoln as he read other great thinkers, informed himself, sharpened his reasoning, and wrestled with his decision.
  • I can more fully understand now the complications of balancing Emancipation, holding the union together, and managing the feeling/beliefs of many people (including his constituents and some members of his administration) who doubted that Blacks could truly coexist with whites.
  • It’s fascinating to get inside Lincoln’s mind as he wrestles with the moral case for slavery and how the preservation of the Union and Emancipation depend on the other.
  • Once formed, I learned how resolute and unwavering Lincoln was in his convictions.

Recommending And There Was Light

My thoughts in this review are inadequate to express the importance of Abraham Lincoln and his convictions. This is a book that demands rereading and careful contemplation. I’m highly recommending And There Was Light for readers of U.S. History and for those curious about Abraham Lincoln. Everyone will likely form their own opinions and find something compelling about this great President.

My Rating:  5  Stars


And There Was Light by Jon Meacham (cover) Image: text over a partial image of Abraham Lincoln

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Meet the Author of And There Was Light, Jon Meacham

Author of And There Was Light, Jon MeachamJon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer. The author of the New York Times bestsellers Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston, and Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, he is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Meacham lives in Nashville with his wife and children.


Is this fascinating biography on your TBR or have you read it?
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  1. Carol, thank you so much for this review. Lincoln is my son’s favorite president, but there are so many good books about him that it’s hard to know which ones to buy or recommend for him. This sounds like one we’d both appreciate and learn from. I’m so glad, as well, that you liked the audio; that’s usually the best format for me to take in nonfiction like this.

    • I hope you both enjoy it! I love that Meacham is focused on Lincoln’s inner turmoil and motivations and the moral case for emancipation. It’s honest and compelling.

  2. Excellent review Carol. So I did a search at my library for this book and was shocked at all the Abraham Lincoln books that came up. They have this one in large print with maps and illustrations, so I have requested it, but am still waffling about using an audible credit to get it as well. This is the type of nonfiction that I am gravitating to lately.

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