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“A masterwork [by] the preeminent historian of the Civil War era.”―Boston Globe

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln''s lifelong engagement with the nation''s critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln''s greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth. 16 pages of black-and-white illustrations; 3 maps

Review

Do we need another book on Lincoln? Yes, we do if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner. --David S. Reynolds"

Moving and rewarding. . . . A master historian at work. --David W. Blight"

No one else has written about [Lincoln''s] trajectory of change with such balance, fairness, depth of analysis, and lucid precision of language. --James M. McPherson"

Starred Review. Original and compelling .In the vast library on Lincoln, Foner s book stands out as the most sensible and sensitive reading of Lincoln s lifetime involvement with slavery and the most insightful assessment of Lincoln s and indeed America s imperative to move toward freedom lest it be lost. An essential work for all Americans. "

While many thousands of books deal with Lincoln and slavery, Eric Foner has written the definitive account of this crucial subject, illuminating in a highly original and profound way the interactions of race, slavery, public opinion, politics, and Lincoln''s own character that led to the wholly improbable uncompensated emancipation of some four million slaves. Even seasoned historians will acquire fresh and new perspectives from reading The Fiery Trial. --David Brion Davis, author of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World"

Do we need yet another book on Lincoln?... Well, yes, we do if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner. Foner tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it.... Because of his broad-ranging knowledge of the 19th century, Foner is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln''s attitudes toward slavery that we have.--David S. Reynolds

From the Back Cover

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE FIERY TRIAL: "While many thousands of books deal with Lincoln and slavery, Eric Foner has written the definitive account of this crucial subject, illuminating in a highly original and profound way the interactions of race, slavery, public opinion, politics, and Lincoln''s own character that led to the wholly improbable uncompensated emancipation of some four million slaves. Even seasoned historians will acquire fresh and new perspectives from reading The Fiery Trial." --David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University, author of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World "Definitive and breathtaking: with dazzling clarity and authority, demonstrating a total command of his sources and a sense of moral justice that transcends history, Foner has done nothing less than provide the most persuasive book ever written on Lincoln''s vital place in the fight for freedom in America. This volume stands alone in the field. It is not only the best account ever written on the subject; henceforth, it should be regarded as the only account." --Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect "Eric Foner has done it again. The Fiery Trial explores the pivotal subject of Lincoln and slavery free from the mists of hagiography and the muck of denigration. With his usual stylish mastery, Foner advances enlightened debate over our greatest president, the origins and unfolding of the Civil War, and the abolition of southern slavery. His book marks an auspicious intellectual beginning to the sesquicentennial of the American Iliad." --Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

About the Author

Eric Foner is the author of many award-winning books on the Civil War and Reconstruction, including The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He is DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University.

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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
409 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Renney Senn
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great Storytelling with Nuance
Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2017
Any admirer of Lincoln and his contribution to the American story will be highly impressed and entertained by Mr. Foner''s "Fiery Trial." Most books I have read on the subject tend to make the entire issue of slavery and the Civil War far more "black and white" then the... See more
Any admirer of Lincoln and his contribution to the American story will be highly impressed and entertained by Mr. Foner''s "Fiery Trial." Most books I have read on the subject tend to make the entire issue of slavery and the Civil War far more "black and white" then the story Mr. Foner so skillfully reveals. The almost limitless and constantly mutating variations between abolitionist and slaveholding racist are precisely depicted, making the story so vividly real and instructive.

Equally compelling is the author''s treatment of Lincoln as he grappled with the profound racial-political complexities that so gradually transformed his thinking; issues that were seemingly irreconcilable at the time and that remain profoundly vexing. In so doing, the author succeeds in achieving what the best historical storytelling can, making a granite-like American icon human despite his greatness.

I would recommend this as a highly readable and eminently enlightening record of one of the most challenging periods in our history. It is especially relevant amidst the crippling and perplexing divisions we see in our country at present.
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Albert Winkler
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant book
Reviewed in the United States on August 10, 2018
I am a Lincoln aficionado, and I''ve read dozens of books about him. This book by Foner is among the very best. Lincoln''s many biographers often refer to his dealings with slavery in large sections, but Foner''s work is the most detailed and well argued of them all. I was... See more
I am a Lincoln aficionado, and I''ve read dozens of books about him. This book by Foner is among the very best. Lincoln''s many biographers often refer to his dealings with slavery in large sections, but Foner''s work is the most detailed and well argued of them all. I was so intrigued by the book that I''ve listened to it twice, and I may give it another go. I''m so impressed with this book that I consider it not only one of the best books I''ve read on Lincoln, but it is also among the best history books I''ve ever read.
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A little tedious, yet careful analysis
Reviewed in the United States on November 13, 2017
The Fiery Trial goes a long way into the growth in Abraham Lincoln''s views over the course of the Civil War. It develops the changes that occurred, and the areas that did not change. The war itself brought about his understanding that slavery itself must be destroyed to... See more
The Fiery Trial goes a long way into the growth in Abraham Lincoln''s views over the course of the Civil War. It develops the changes that occurred, and the areas that did not change. The war itself brought about his understanding that slavery itself must be destroyed to achieve victory. The remarkable ability to see error in his own views and change those previous views is no doubt the single most remarkable element of Lincoln''s greatness. The book at times becomes tedious in this analysis. But the language is clear and never pretentious. Glad I read it.
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Eric Lee Smith
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Something New About Lincoln, Amazing!
Reviewed in the United States on January 14, 2015
By focusing on Lincoln''s thoughts about slavery and their evolution over time, Foner brings into clear view the many tangled issues and tormented arguments about slavery during the 30 years before and during the Civil War.. I never understood why Lincoln was... See more
By focusing on Lincoln''s thoughts about slavery and their evolution over time, Foner brings into clear view the many tangled issues and tormented arguments about slavery during the 30 years before and during the Civil War..

I never understood why Lincoln was considered a "moderate" on the subject of slavery, given that he freed the slaves. But after having read this book it is remarkably clear why he is considered a moderate. His views on slavery evolved dramatically, especially once the Civil War began. But even until the middle of 1862 he was still a moderate in favor of compensation for slave owners and resettlement of the freedmen to Central America. Only in late 1862 did he give up that idea and embrace emancipation as we know it. The story about how he got there is long and fascinating.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize and deservedly so, in my opinion. Saying something new about Lincoln challenges even the best historian, but to make a breakthrough like this is remarkable. Foner''s writes concisely and the narrative moves along briskly, with only a few patches where the book bogs down a bit. The many details crackle with meaning when put into vibrant contrasts by the author. Over and over again I found myself facing facts and ideas that were new to me, and I consider myself well versed in this subject. Highly recommended.
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Franklin the Mouse
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Slaving Over Slavery
Reviewed in the United States on October 28, 2014
There are more books about President Lincoln than any other person to lead our nation. Man, I''ve read stuff about his chronic depression, the guy''s influential writing style, how he used religious symbolism to sway the public, a detailed dissection of the Gettysburg Address... See more
There are more books about President Lincoln than any other person to lead our nation. Man, I''ve read stuff about his chronic depression, the guy''s influential writing style, how he used religious symbolism to sway the public, a detailed dissection of the Gettysburg Address (''Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America'' by Garry Wills is outstanding,) and even how he suffered from constipation throughout his life. It is difficult not to feel morally superior after reading Mr. Foner''s book about an age that allowed slavery, people to sue others for saying you practiced miscegenation, and mob rule being a common form of justice. Destroying a person''s home or place of business or, hell, even killing people who said or printed unpopular things isn''t exactly embracing the whole Constitution''s Freedom-of-Speech thingy. Present-day pundit a-holes say plenty of outrageous stuff, but we''re not stringing up their murdered corpses to the nearest flag pole. I leave those wonderful thoughts exclusively for my dreams.

What Mr. Foner does so well in ''The Fiery Trial'' is explain not only how President Lincoln''s attitudes about slavery and African-Americans evolved over his life, but that he was not always at the forefront of dealing with the "most peculiar institution." Sometimes, good ole Abe led the charge, other times Republican Congressmen were at the forefront, and sometimes the Great Emancipator was reacting to unexpected events. But, as the author correctly states, our 16th President''s capacity for growth was the essence of his greatness. He held many popular beliefs of the mid-1800s such as blacks were innately inferior to whites and colonization of all African-Americans to another continent was the best option once they were emancipated.

The book avoids delving into the war battles and remains focused on showing Abraham Lincoln as all too human. Starting from his birth in 1809, it traces his mindset on slavery throughout his life including the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, his debates with Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, and the Civil War. The reader will see that Not-So-Honest Abe was a political animal who tailored things to meet his objectives just like all great politicians. You may also come to recognize that all sitting presidents have citizens who adore them, are indifferent, or think he''s the biggest nincompoop to hold elective office. Lincoln''s critics (and there were many both in the North as well as the South) were just as nasty as politicians and pundits of today. Welcome to democracy, people. Mr. Foner separates the man from the myths and shows much to admire about President Lincoln. It is a highly entertaining, balanced, and topnotch historical work. Personally, I think President Lincoln lucked-out in being assassinated and not having to deal with the hellacious complexities of Reconstruction.
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Paul
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
On the Road With Lincoln to Emancipation
Reviewed in the United States on February 2, 2011
Foner gives us a good story on the progression of Lincoln''s thoughts and actions in regards to slavery and emancipation. In the century and a half since the death of Lincoln, he has been presented to us in our history books as the great emancipator, but Foner... See more
Foner gives us a good story on the progression of Lincoln''s thoughts and actions in regards to slavery and emancipation.

In the century and a half since the death of Lincoln, he has been presented to us in our history books as the great emancipator, but Foner presents an accurate and well documented history of Lincoln and his actions during this important part of our history. Foner''s honesty is evident when on page 120 he says that race is our obsession , not Lincoln''s. That is so true, because as a society, we make grave mistakes when we try to translate the lives of the long departed into the sizzle of the 21st century. Lincoln is no exception.

Over the years of his presidency, Lincoln carefully gauged the sentiments of the nation from every angle, attempting not to alienate his uneasy coalition and to eventually have his vision of emancipation become reality.
There is much discussion of the border states in this book. They were important Lincoln because he did not want to do anything to flush them into the arms of the Confederacy. He was to have said that he hoped God was on his side, but he must have Kentucky. His birth state held slaves, and had a policy of an armed neutrality, and while Lincoln was careful regarding Kentucky and all the border states, the Confederacy helped to wound herself when she marched an army into Kentucky.

Lincoln, and many like him wanted to have a long term emancipation, compensating slave owners loyal to the union, and deporting or relocating (pick your word here)slaves to central America, or back to Africa. What struck me so evident in the book, is that outside of possibly the state of Massachusetts and the immediate area surrounding it, the white people in America wanted rid of the black man. They were against slavery and the concept that one man could own another, but totally against any attempt to assimilate the black population into a white owned society. And, when you think about it, it was easy for the Abolitionists to clamor for total emancipation and suffrage and civil rights for the freed slave, when the vast majority of the four million victims of this evil thing were located primarily in the deep South. It is easy to advocate something that has little effect on you or your region, but Lincoln understood that such a thing would be a tremendous adjustment for the nation, and while there were organizations set up to promote colonization of blacks, the vast majority of blacks considered themselves Americans and insisted on staying here in an attempt to gain their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.

It was also interesting that the author shows that when emancipation was brought to Washington, D.C. at the end of January 1863, the Treasury paid $900,000 to hundreds of former slave holders for 3,000 slaves aged from an infant to 93 years of age. I suppose it helps to illustrate the enormity of the problem. To resolve the issue for 3,000 is nothing in comparison to the four million held in captivity. If nothing else, it shows how ineffective government was back then in attempting to address the problem. Ultimately, it was a war that was required to rid this from the nation, and once in it, Lincoln never waivered in his determination to see the thing through, not only for the benefit of the slaves, but also the long term benefits to the nation.

And, in all honesty, Foner and all of us have to admit that the Emancipation Proclamation was symbolic, but often, history proves to us that perception is more important than reality.

The story is a long and complicated one, but Foner does provide it with interest to the reader and shows the trials that Lincoln indeed went through in this process.

I have a small criticism for the editor of the book who allowed that the fall of Vicksburg and the final defeat of Lee at Gettysburg fell on the same day. Any moderately educated student of the Civil War knows better than this, and it gently detracts from the book.

Regardless, there is a lot of information here. I have read it twice and encourage readers to add it to their libraries because it is an honest representation of a difficult time, and shows not only the extreme patience of Lincoln, but also his ultimate wisdom.
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J. Lockie
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Masterful Tracking of the Slavery Issue Through Lincoln''s Eyes
Reviewed in the United States on September 21, 2011
Dr. Foner''s The Fiery Trial... exquisitely paints the mournful picture of America''s struggle with itself over the slavery issue. I have read how the founding fathers skillfully, yet reluctantly postponed the slavery problem to preserve a UNITED states and... See more
Dr. Foner''s The Fiery Trial... exquisitely paints the mournful picture of America''s struggle with itself over the slavery issue.

I have read how the founding fathers skillfully, yet reluctantly postponed the slavery problem to preserve a UNITED states and successfully start up a new country. Now I understand how difficult it was for politicians to confront this issue later on.

As a history buff and retired American expatriate, I have taken up the study of US history from the Revolutionary War through Reconstruction. The Fiery Trial... with its Gettysburg Address, the House Divided speech and expert unbiased analysis, brought tears to my eyes more than any other book so far.

The Fiery Trial... helped me appreciate how the slavery issue almost destroyed the United States. We Americans often take for granted the freedom and liberty we have inherited. Washington got the country started on the right foot, Hamilton built an effective balance of power between the states and a viable federal government. And leaders like Lincoln tight roped a delicate political trial-by-jury to save the Union and end slavery.

I suggest reading The Fiery Trial before reading Dr. Foner''s other fine book, Reconstruction...
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Travis Davies
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
All Americans should read this
Reviewed in the United States on August 31, 2019
This book describes the 16th president between a 2 decades before and after the civil war. The author did a thorough job at explaining the culture of the time and place, and the real meat of potatoes of the entire slavery debate; which most people are not taught in their... See more
This book describes the 16th president between a 2 decades before and after the civil war. The author did a thorough job at explaining the culture of the time and place, and the real meat of potatoes of the entire slavery debate; which most people are not taught in their high school history classes. I agree with Henry Rollins when he said that this book should be required reading by every American High School Student.
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Top reviews from other countries

R Helen
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent and surprising look at Lincoln''s views on slavery
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 30, 2016
"The Fiery Trial" delves deeply into Lincoln''s views on slavery, and traces his attitudes as they evolve from his early years right up through his last speech as President. As it is often assumed that Lincoln was an abolitionist, this book shows clearly that he was...See more
"The Fiery Trial" delves deeply into Lincoln''s views on slavery, and traces his attitudes as they evolve from his early years right up through his last speech as President. As it is often assumed that Lincoln was an abolitionist, this book shows clearly that he was not. In fact, his views on African Americans would shock most Americans today. But Foner also clearly shows that Lincoln was a man of growth and he was not afraid to change his views as reality presented itself. The book will surprise most of us whose history of the Civil War goes no further than what we''ve learned in grade school. For example, the famous Emancipation Proclamation surprisingly did not free all the slaves in the Union at once. Those in the border states who had not seceded from the Union (as well as some isolated places elsewhere) got to keep their slaves. It was only late in the War that Lincoln realized this would not work and advocated for an amendment to end slavery completely. For anyone interested in Civil War history, this book is a must in understanding the complicated role slavery played in the Civil War and Lincoln''s thoughts. "The Fiery Trial," however, is written as a popular history book. It is not written in the fashionable narrative style that so many authors use today. It is well written and well-researched, but it will not flow like a novel, if that is what you are looking for. However, it is extremely informative and well worth the effort of reading. I would definitely recommend if you have an interest in American history and race relations. I think this book should be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the unique history that has brought the United States to where it is today.
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Sparky
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
which he obviously enjoyed as he kept telling me about
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 14, 2018
A rare book for my son, which he obviously enjoyed as he kept telling me about it
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Bob Taylor
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Lincoln''s problems
Reviewed in Canada on February 14, 2021
Foner, Hofstadter and Bailyn; three great writers on American history who influenced me greatly.
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VIC
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 23, 2015
could''nt put it down, a book for the serious scholar or casual reader.
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Judith Kirkwood
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 24, 2015
love this book
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