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And There Was Light summary

Jon Meacham

Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

4.6 (67 ratings)
19 mins

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And There Was Light by Jon Meacham is a biography of the life and achievements of Thomas Edison, highlighting his entrepreneurial spirit, innovative ideas, and lasting influence on modern technology.

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    And There Was Light
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    Early Life

    Though a gifted, persuasive speaker, there was one subject about which Abraham Lincoln was less than loquacious: his background. Once, when a correspondent asked for information about his upbringing, Lincoln responded: “There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me.”

    Lincoln was embarrassed by his humble origins in rural Kentucky. His mother, Nancy, had frequently been the subject of rumors, thanks to her family’s reputation for promiscuity. Meanwhile, his father, Thomas, was the youngest son of a large family and had been orphaned at the age of six. As a result, he was never educated, illiterate, and unable to write anything lengthier than his name.

    Abe Lincoln’s early years weren’t exactly cheerful ones. Growing up in Kentucky, the winters were cold and bleak. His toes stuck out of his threadbare boots and his clothes were tattered and worn. His family’s farm, Knob Creek, lived up to its name: full of thick, knobby cedar trees spread across deep ravines.

    As a child, his father hired his son out to the neighbors and then took his wages. Lincoln resented this all his life and once even remarked, “I used to be a slave.” The experience made such an impression on him that it may have informed his antislavery views as an adult. Making his life even more difficult, he became motherless at the age of nine after Nancy fell sick and died.

    Unlike his father, young Abe received a little formal education –⁠ less than a year –⁠ which proved to be invaluable. Specifically, he learned to write. Afterward, he wrote everywhere, scrawling letters with pieces of charcoal in the dust, the sand, and the snow. Lincoln was obsessed with learning and possessed an innate curiosity. Books were his escape. He read voraciously, and what he read created his intellectual and moral foundation.

    Religiously, young Abe was exposed to the Baptist faith. In Baptist churches, opposition to slavery was common and abolition a frequent topic. The Lincolns were also members of the Baptist Licking-Locust Association Friends of Humanity –⁠ which was also known as an “emancipation association.” Later, Lincoln would claim that he was “naturally antislavery.” He wasn’t just embellishing the truth for political gain.

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    What is And There Was Light about?

    And There Was Light (2022) is a biography of Abraham Lincoln that takes a nuanced look at a complex leader. Focusing especially on Lincoln’s evolving views on and actions around slavery, it’s a picture of a man who wrestled with his moral convictions while attempting to hold together a divided nation. Echoes of that struggle still ring out today, making it essential to keep Lincoln’s story at the forefront of American consciousness.

    Who should read And There Was Light?

    • American history enthusiasts
    • People interested in controversial historical figures
    • Budding political pundits looking to add to their historical knowledge

    About the Author

    Jon Meacham is a historian, biographer, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion. He currently serves as the Canon Historian of the Washington National Cathedral and contributes to the New York Times Book Review as well as other publications. His numerous New York Times best-selling books include His Truth Is Marching On, The Soul of America, Thomas Jefferson, and Destiny and Power.

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