Eric Foner – The Fiery Trial


Pulitzer Prize, History, 2011

In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln’s youth in Indiana and Illinois and follows the trajectory of his career across an increasingly tense and shifting political terrain from Illinois to Washington, D.C.

Although “naturally anti-slavery” for as long as he can remember, Lincoln scrupulously holds to the position that the Constitution protects the institution in the original slave states. But the political landscape is transformed in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act makes the expansion of slavery a national issue.

A man of considered words and deliberate actions, Lincoln navigates the dynamic politics deftly, taking measured steps, often along a path forged by abolitionists and radicals in his party. Lincoln rises to leadership in the new Republican Party by calibrating his politics to the broadest possible antislavery coalition. As president of a divided nation and commander in chief at war, displaying a similar compound of pragmatism and principle, Lincoln finally embraces what he calls the Civil War’s “fundamental and astounding” result: the immediate, uncompensated abolition of slavery and recognition of blacks as American citizens. Foner’s Lincoln emerges as a leader, one whose greatness lies in his capacity for moral and political growth through real engagement with allies and critics alike. This powerful work will transform our understanding of the nation’s greatest president and the issue that mattered most.

Author: Eric Foner
Narrator: Norman Dietz
Duration: 18 hours 7 minutes
Released: 10 May 2010
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Language: English

User Review:

terrarium differing

The Fiery Trial is a valuable and very comprehensive review of the evolution of Lincoln’s attitudes and positions on the issue of slavery and, to a lesser degree, race. Lincoln definitely grew over time, often forced by events. Foner’s meticulous scholarship presents this fascinating and important process in broad scope as well as historical and personal context. The book demonstrates the remarkable duration of Lincoln’s erroneous view that compensated emancipation and colonization could be a big part of the solution to America’s founding problem. It also shows how Lincoln used public letters much as modern politicians use Twitter. The narration is not nearly as good as the book, however. One irritant is the reader’s mispronunciation of Chief Justice Taney’s name as “Tay-nee” rather than “Taw-nee.” An even bigger annoyance is the voice the narrator uses when reading Lincoln’s speeches. It is so awfully bad that it more than once nearly caused me to discontinue the book. I am glad I persevered, but if I ever return to the book it will be the print version. Maybe Lincoln sounded like that but, if so, it is a good thing radio and television had not yet been invented!