Abraham Lincoln

“Abraham Lincoln: The Making of America,” by Teri Kanefield. Abrams, 2018. 240 pages, $16.99.

I have made mention before of my appreciation for history books aimed at a young adult audience. They are to the point, and the authors are often obliged to explain more abstract concepts instead of just glossing over them. This is perfect for a limited mind such as my own who wants the main story without the minutes for every meeting.

Teri Kanefield is a California lawyer, author and blogger, and she has set out on an ambitious journey: creating a series of books that focus on the central debates that have occurred in the history of the United States AND making these readable for middle schoolers. I applaud the effort.

Each book in the “Making of America” series (of which three are out so far: Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln) focuses on the title character as well as the debate that defined their career. Hamilton’s book describes the fight between Federalists and Anti-Federalists and especially Hamilton’s tireless advocacy for the federal government’s supremacy in finances. Jackson led the way for all subsequent populists and pushed for more aspects of government to be beholden to the popular vote. Abraham Lincoln, obviously, was at the center of state’s rights vs. federal law.

Each book is lively, readable and full of explanations for those who haven’t learned, say, what a tariff or mercantilism is. Any time an abstract concept pops up in the book, Kanefield has a black background, white text aside that explains the idea and usually the two modes of thought concerning it.

Due to the intended audience, some topics are shied away from. The affair between Alexander Hamilton and Maria Reynolds is left completely untouched and his general sexual proclivities are vaguely alluded to as flirtatiousness (though she does include the fun fact that Martha Washington named a tomcat after him). Jackson’s violent temper is left described in full force, though how you would write a biography about him without it is beyond me.

Kanefield does a good job of making use of original letters from the subjects without requiring constant reading of the older-style language. She puts selections of their original writing in the back of the book, so that kids can get a taste of their prosaic style without being buried in it.

My one criticism of the books is one that I’ve had to make mention of more than I’d like. Teri’s bias shows. It usually shows in the form of loaded words when, for example, describing the two ways of reading the Constitution as written in Alexander Hamilton.

Frustrating editorializing aside, I still like the books. I’ve read Hamilton and Jackson and am almost finished with Lincoln. I plan on reading the rest as they are released.

Aaron Pauls is a service technician for McKinzie Pest Control.

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