In, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Worlds That Remade America, the author analyzes the very famous speech by our 16th president Abraham Lincoln. This speech, The Gettysburg Address, is one of the most known speeches of our nation’s history. If the speech would not have been written and said, we could live in a totally different America than the one we do today. The author, Gary Wills, is a very established American author and historian, specifically specializing in American History. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for non-fiction with this book.
The historically famous speech was written and spoken by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 on the property of Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Gary Wills wrote this Pulitzer Prize winning novel on a 272 word speech that was written over 150 years ago. Even if you aren’t a fan of this book, it is very impressive that he wrote an award winning book on such a short speech. Even though this speech was extremely impactful and the message was strong, I can imagine that it would be very hard to write an entire book on such a short work. To me, that creates a positive opinion on the book and the author from the beginning. Although, I personally did enjoy this book more than I had expected I would. It was full of information on a topic I am not extremely familiar with, and now I feel that I am more educated on this specific topic.
I found some of the things that he said to be very interesting. In fact, I had previously learned in school that Lincoln wrote The Gettysburg Address on an envelope when he was on the way to Gettysburg. I always thought that was crazy, for such an important speech to be thrown together like that. However, the author reveals in the Prologue that this was not true at all and that Lincoln actually spent a great deal of time preparing this speech and reviewing it over so that it would be perfected before he ever left Washington. Something else that Wills addresses in the prologue that is believed to be true is that the crowd was stunned at how short that Lincoln’s speech was compared to Edward Everett, the other speaker. But actually, Wills puts a stop to that myth and explains that Everett was the main speaker of the event that day and that the general public was aware of that. Lincoln was only supposed to make a few short remarks and address the cemetery being dedicated.
In the first section of the book ‘Oratory of The Greek Revival’, Wills says that the speech was traditionally Greek Revival which I found to be very interesting. He compares the address to ancients, like Pericles, and it contrasts many things like life and death, mortal and immortal. He also notes that the culture on death in the Civil War also helps inform the Gettysburg Address.
Another section of the book is his analyzation on Lincoln’s oratory speech style. He talks about his rhythm, the way it does not flow together well, and how brief it was. He even compares all American novels to be “offspring of Huckleberry Finn”(p. 148). He says that Lincoln’s words were not up to speed with technology.
I think Wills intended on shutting down myths, and giving Lincoln the recognition he deserved on such a historical speech with this novel. I believe that Wills wanted us to take from this book that Lincoln was extremely intelligent and wanted us to take from this speech the same attitude that we would take from the Declaration of Independence, which he compares the speech too. He says that the Declaration is this nation’s founding document, not the Constitution. Both the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address had the same moral of “new freedom”. The author organized and covered the topics of this book in a way that was very easy to understand. Which makes it easier to understand what he wants us to understand from Lincoln’s speech.
This book has better help me understand that the Gettysburg address was a true work and was extremely thought out on lincoln’s behalf, not just some 272 word speech that was thrown together on an envelope in the back of a car. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that is interested in the Civil War or is trying to gain information on Lincoln or the Gettysburg Address. I would also recommend, and would like to read myself, more books by the author Gary Wills. He is a credible writer and now having read one of his works I can have that opinion for myself. This was a very well written and easy to understand book about one of our nation’s greatest speeches.