In This Review

Lincoln and the Fight for Peace
Lincoln and the Fight for Peace
By John Avlon
Simon & Schuster, 2022, 368 pp.

Avlon braves a subject about which thousands of books have already been written by finding a relatively empty niche in the gigantic literature on President Abraham Lincoln, namely the president’s plans for winning the peace after the Civil War. It is a particularly timely subject now in a polarized United States and world. Lincoln wanted to pair an unambiguous military victory—he insisted on the Confederacy’s unconditional surrender—with plans for a magnanimous peace that would emphasize political reconciliation, economic growth, and incremental movement toward racial inclusion. Although those plans were fatally undermined by his chosen successor, Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s wisdom has influenced successful postwar reconstructions ever since, especially in Germany and Japan after World War II. In his research, Avlon was “struck by how thin the study of peace and postwar stabilization is compared to the study of war” and how much scholarship on these two ends of the same stick needs to be “recalibrated.” His own book underlines this thinness in its comments on current thinking about postwar policies (particularly by making some incorrect statements about U.S. planning for Iraq after the 2003 invasion), but this doesn’t diminish the value of its highly readable, original treatment of Lincoln’s tragically interrupted plans to heal the country.