So far as I know, Carl Sandburg is hardly known today, though my edition of this set starts with a recounting of a speech he was invited to make before Congress. Generally, he was a poet, but became so fascinated by Abraham Lincoln he wrote a two-volume biography of his life before becoming president. That fired Sandburg’s interest so much he went on to write a further four volumes on the remaining five years of Lincoln’s life.

That was written from 1926 to 1939. In the ’50s, he condensed those six books down to three, and in the ’60s they made the transition to paperback, and my edition is the eighth Dell printing in 1968.

A roughly forty-year run as a popular biography is no small feat.

The telescoping of time is more pronounced than the above mention alludes to, as the third book (part two of The War Years) is merely the last year of Lincoln’s life. Some of this is natural, as relatively little is known of Lincoln’s younger life, needing to rely on memories recounted later by him and people who knew him, while the mass of correspondence and records grow denser later in life.

The split between the first two books is pretty obvious; The Prairie Years leaves off with Lincoln leaving Illinois for Washington D.C., and The War Years picks up with his tour east, and the concerns about the possibility of an assassination attempt on the way. Part two of The War Years picks up with the fight over the Republican nomination in 1864. Two-term presidents had been unknown since Jackson (thirty years before), and pretty much every Republican senator wanted a crack at it instead of him.

All along, we get stories of Lincoln’s stories, but these also become more prominent as the biography goes on. Given how they were a large part of how he explained his thoughts to others, it would be impossible to do without them. We also get plenty of quotes from newspapers and speeches friendly and hostile to him, and a good sense of how he was perceived at the time is given. Only two of Lincoln’s speeches are given in full (Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural, naturally), though a third comes in for a number of mentions (A House Divided). This is popular history, so the story of the Civil War is bound up in here, and generally not assumed that the reader knows the salient particulars, But, it is generally told from the viewpoint of the White House.

Overall, it’s well written and recommended. If you study the Civil War, there’s a lot that will be familiar, but there’s a lot of material that would be easy to have missed unless you’ve studied Lincoln in particular.