Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait by Leonard S. Marcus

Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait is an unusual and touching look at our nation’s 16th president through the then-new medium of photography.

Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait: The Story of a Photograph That Became an American Icon by Leonard S. Marcus. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2023, 95 pages plus notes, bibliography, and index.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-up

“If I had another face, would I be wearing this one?” That was Abraham Lincoln’s famous rejoinder to his opponent suggesting he was two-faced. But for a man universally regarded as homely, Lincoln understood the power of photography better than most of his generation. He sat for his photographic portrait over a hundred times, leaving behind one of the most widely recognized faces in American history. This book is a kind of biography, but it charts the man’s life through his many images. Ranging widely in few pages, it also touches on photographic techniques, famous practitioners like Matthew Brady, the politics of Emancipation, the trauma of war, and the (literal) snapshot of mid-century Washington D.C.

The ”iconic photograph” is the famous image of Lincoln reading to his youngest son Tad, from a book wrongly assumed to be a Bible. It was taken on February 9, 1864, at Matthew Brady’s D. C. studio by a talented immigrant, Anthony Berger. After Lincoln’s assassination 14 months later, the image was incorporated by Currier & Ives, and other popular lithographers, into Lincoln family scenes that graced thousands of parlors across the nation.

The fate of both and father and son is a tragic footnote to history, and the book ends on an off-note (in my opinion) but a uniquely personal approach, beautifully and economically written.

Overall Rating: 4.25

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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