By Harold Holzer
Recommended reading level: 10 and up
Reviewed by Kathy Davis
Eddie, Robert, Willie, Tad – beloved sons of Abraham Lincoln. They were spirited, spoiled, beautiful, privileged children of the president of the United States. Yet status, wealth, love, and power could not save three of them from untimely deaths. Only Robert would live to see wrinkles and gray hair. For the short season Lincoln was a parent he relished the role. His staff members viewed his boys as mischievous, devious monsters. Through his devoted eyes Abe could only see crafty, adventurous, entertaining boys being boys. Anything they did from smearing artist’s paint on the walls to letting animals run free in the white house made Abe smile and sigh with delight. What would those rambunctious boys think of next?
On another memorable day, the boys were busily exploring the White House when they discovered a tiny attic room that housed a pile of bundled-up wires. The wires rang the bells that summoned servants to the various downstairs rooms. Soon all the bells were ringing through the mansion at the same time. Willie and Tad had seized the wires and were gleefully tugging them all simultaneously. Their father ordered them down from the attic, but naturally did nothing to punish them.
Excluding his frequent absences from home for work duties, any child would think Lincoln the perfect parent. Do what you want, jump on the furniture, scream in dad’s face, interrupt him at work for no good reason, and fear no consequences. No discipline?! Shouldn’t these boys then turn out to be hellions? Maybe Eddie, had he lived longer. But it’s doubtful based on how the other boys grew. Willie was smart, witty, articulate, very much like his father. His death at age eleven was so devastating to the Lincolns that neither Mary or Abe ever truly recovered from the loss. Tad, likely learning disabled, grew up to be a gracious, humble gentleman, and his premature death at age eighteen sent Mary over the sanity edge. What became of Robert? What did he accomplish in his 83 years of life, and are there any descendants of Abraham Lincoln alive today?
The author sprinkles in very little politics, focusing rather on a lovely yet heart wrenching view of the joys and losses our Civil War president experienced in his gone to soon life. In addition, Holzer gives insight into the intricacies of the Lincoln’s marital relationship, and understandingly sympathizes with the burdens Robert Lincoln carried throughout his life.
Parents in particular will be both enchanted and haunted as they see a new side of Lincoln, and will linger over the many photographs of the first family. I adore Lincoln, and will eagerly sponge anything I can on his life. This is now one of my favorite books about him – and I love him even more for how deep and pure his love was for his boys. More than for his speeches, wisdom, historic accomplishments, and presidency, I think Lincoln would want to be remembered for being a good father who loved, oh how he loved his sons.
“In the end, it’s not the years on your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln