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

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SIU Press, Mar 27, 2012 - History - 600 pages

Although he was Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s oldest and last surviving son, the details of Robert T. Lincoln’s life are misunderstood by some and unknown to many others. Nearly half a century after the last biography about Abraham Lincoln’s son was published, historian and author Jason Emerson illuminates the life of this remarkable man and his achievements in Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln. Emerson, after nearly ten years of research, draws upon previously unavailable materials to offer the first truly definitive biography of the famous lawyer, businessman, and statesman who, much more than merely the son of America’s most famous president, made his own indelible mark on one of the most progressive and dynamic eras in United States history.

Born in a boardinghouse but passing his last days at ease on a lavish country estate, Robert Lincoln played many roles during his lifetime. As a president’s son, a Union soldier, an ambassador to Great Britain, and a U.S. secretary of war, Lincoln was indisputably a titan of his age. Much like his father, he became one of the nation’s most respected and influential men, building a successful law practice in the city of Chicago, serving shrewdly as president of the Pullman Car Company, and at one time even being considered as a candidate for the U.S. presidency.

Along the way he bore witness to some of the most dramatic moments in America’s history, including Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; the advent of the railroad, telephone, electrical, and automobile industries; the circumstances surrounding the assassinations of three presidents of the United States; and the momentous presidential election of 1912. Giant in the Shadows also reveals Robert T. Lincoln’s complex relationships with his famous parents and includes previously unpublished insights into their personalities. Emerson reveals new details about Robert’s role as his father’s confidant during the brutal years of the Civil War and his reaction to his father’s murder; his prosecution of the thieves who attempted to steal his father’s body in 1876 and the extraordinary measures he took to ensure it would never happen again; as well as details about the painful decision to have his mother committed to a mental facility. In addition Emerson explores the relationship between Robert and his children, and exposes the actual story of his stewardship of the Lincoln legacy—including what he and his wife really destroyed and what was preserved. Emerson also delves into the true reason Robert is not buried in the Lincoln tomb in Springfield but instead was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Meticulously researched, full of never-before-seen photographs and new insight into historical events, Giant in the Shadows is the missing chapter of the Lincoln family story. Emerson’s riveting work is more than simply a biography; it is a tale of American achievement in the Gilded Age and the endurance of the Lincoln legacy.

Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition

Book of the Year by the Illinois State historical Society, 2013


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User Review  - gayla.bassham - LibraryThing

I liked this book, but mainly because of my Lincoln obsession. The writing is a bit dry, and I felt that there wasn't a lot of insight into who Lincoln was as a person. This may be due to his own ... Read full review

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User Review  - bookswoman - LibraryThing

I must admit to knowing almost nothing about Robert Todd Lincoln. In fact, I probably would have had trouble coming up with his name if asked. I saw a book review for this book and decided I needed to ... Read full review


1 I Was Born in the Globe Tavern
2 Is Bicarb a Swear Word?
3 The Most Profitable Year of My Life
4 Robert Lincoln Has Been Dubbed the Prince of Rails
5 He Is Only Mr Robert Lincoln of Cambridge
6 A Very Dreadful Night
7 I Feel Utterly without Spirit or Courage
17 I Expect Only the Greatest Satisfaction
18 I Dont Want to Be Nobody nor Nothink except a Chicago Shyster
Gallery 2
19 As Much a Man of Destiny as His Lamented Father
20 Minister Lincoln Was Quietness Personified
21 What Would His Father Say?
22 I Am Now a Vermont Farmer
23 My Filial Gratitude Cannot Find Adequate Expression

8 One of the Most Promising Young Men of the West
Gallery 1
9 I Am Likely to Have a Good Deal of Trouble
10 I Am in Better Shape Than Most
11 I Have Done My Duty as I Best Know
12 I Could Have Stopped This Scheme with Little Trouble
13 I Dont Want to Be Minister to England or Anywhere Else
14 How Many Hours of Sorrow I Have Passed in This Town
15 The Best Secretary of War since Jefferson Davis
16 I Am Not a Candidate
24 I Am Now Enjoying Life
25 He Simply Went to Sleep
His Own Place in the Sun
Author Biography
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About the author (2012)

Jason Emerson is a journalist and an independent historian who has been researching and writing about the Lincoln family for nearly 20 years. He is a former National Park Service park ranger at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, in Springfield, Illinois. His previous books include The Madness of Mary Lincoln (SIU Press, 2007—named Book of the Year by the Illinois State Historical Society), Lincoln the Inventor (SIU Press, 2009), and The Dark Days of Abraham Lincoln’s Widow, as Revealed by Her Own Letters (SIU Press, 2011). He lives near Syracuse, New York.

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