Book Review: Giants

This insightful examination of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass shows how they rose from humble beginnings to become key figures in American history. Born dirt poor, Lincoln spent less then a year in school while Douglass grew up as a slave, forbidden to learn how to read or write. Yet, with the assistance from the women in their lives, both men overcame their lack of education to become master wordsmiths and motivators at a contentious point in history.

As a black man, Douglass had to cope with the extremes of racial prejudice, which contributed to his more revolutionary outlook. At first, he was sharply critical of Lincoln’s conservatism that included the racist attitudes of the day. Eventually, even though they frequently disagreed, the two men developed a complex relationship based upon respect and understanding of each other and their goals. This relationship forged the direction of the Civil War and led to the abolishment of slavery.

By intertwining the lives of these men, Stauffer has shed light on the forces that shaped them and ultimately, the direction of their political careers while casting them as warm, flawed human beings. As such, Lincoln and Douglass had to continually modify their views until eventually, although they started out with very different political agendas, found themselves working together to bring about massive changes that continue to this day. It is certain they would be proud to see Obama’s upcoming inauguration.


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