Civil War Book Review: Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln

Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln
by Jason Emerson

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 1st Edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809330555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809330553


Only one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons live long enough to marry and have children.  Christened Robert Todd Lincoln, he was Robert T. Lincoln in business and Bob to his friends.  He was born in a boarding house in the 1840s and died in a mansion in the 1920s.  Robert Todd Lincoln saw much of and made some of America’s history in the late Nineteen Century.

Jason Emerson gives us a scholarly and readable biography of a remarkable person.  The book concentrates on Lincoln’s public life in business and politics.  The author tells us about his private life but never descends into gossip or speculation.  The only real exception is Lincoln’s relationship with his mother.  For very good reasons, Robert T. Lincoln committed Mary Todd Lincoln to a sanitarium (asylum).  The press had a field day at his expense creating a very public embarrassment that still colors the public’s views.  The part of the book is very detailed.  The events leading up to the hearing, the hearing, the press’ reaction, the solution and Mary’s feelings to Robert are treated fairly.

Protecting his father’s memory and managing the public record consumed large amount of Lincoln’s time.  He was very protective of his father’s papers, working to control what is said and who said it was not an easy task.  Part of this work was managing Lincoln’s body.  From the burial site, the structure of tomb and protecting the body from kidnappers is a constant effort.

While doing this, Lincoln managed to become a well-respected Chicago lawyer, Secretary of War, Minister to England and chairman of the Pullman Car Company.  An active Republican, he is mentioned as a possible candidate for President at multiple conventions.  Through all of this, he refused to use his father’s fame to advance himself.

This is a look at our history that few can hope to duplicate.  Robert T. Lincoln is in the room at Appomattox.  He sees his father die, on the platform when Garfield is shot and sees McKinley hours after he is shot.  In an odd twist of fate, you can see JFK’s grave from Lincoln’s grave.

The book captures the complex character of Robert T. Lincoln.  In his professional life, he is intensely formal and somewhat unforgiving.  In his political persona, he gives a good speech but lacks his father’s warmth.  As “Bob”, he is a warm caring close friend that tells excellent stories.

The book contains a full set of illustrations, Bibliography, endnotes and index.  It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Lincoln or America from the Civil War to the Roaring Twenties.


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