One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln’s Road to Civil War

By John C. Waugh

Harcourt, 2007
496 pages

This is the compelling narrative of Abraham Lincoln’s rise from an undistinguished birth on the Kentucky frontier to the presidency of the United States in the time of its greatest crises. It tells the story, in stunning lively detail, of how this humble, remarkable man became the one man great enough to lead the Union through a Civil War and make it one nation again.

It takes us on Lincoln’s road to the Civil War, from his first public rejection of slavery early in his career to his dramatic arrival in Washington on the eve of disunion. We live again the dramatic quarter-century rivalry between Lincoln and the great Stephen Douglas — through their early rise together in Illinois politics, through their great debates in 1858, to the final climax of their stirring reach for the presidency itself.

Drawing heavily on Lincoln’s own writings and speeches, and through the eyes of his contemporaries, we see America as Lincoln saw it. We relive the drama of this critical passage in our history and draw ever closer to understanding this one man great enough to have led the divided nation safely through it.

What Historians Think

“John C. Waugh’s One Man Great Enough is an eloquent and thought-provoking look at the road that took Lincoln to the verge of the Civil War and his national greatness. Well researched and superbly written, One Man Great Enough is among the finest Lincoln books I’ve ever read.”
— Steven E. Woodworth, Professor of History, Texas Christian University

One Man Great Enough is a treasure. It is a gift to all of us as we approach Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Richly written, it is the wonderful story of the evolving leadership and political courage of an American who should be emulated by every public official.”
— Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and founding Chair of The Lincoln Forum

“John C. Waugh brings his customary verve, drama, and authority to the story of Lincoln’s emergence into national prominence.  As always, he combines a historian’s vision with a journalist’s nose for news — and the result is another rich page-turner which will make readers think they are along for Abraham Lincoln’s improbable ride to fame.”
— Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln at Cooper Union

“Journalist-historian John C. Waugh has scored another tour de force. One Man Great Enough provides a needed bookend to his earlier masterpiece Reelecting Lincoln, the story of a rail-splitter’s long and rocky road to the White House. Waugh’s years on Capitol Hill and as a correspondent and bureau chief on The Christian Science Monitor have served him well. Drawing on these skills and insights, coupled with a graceful literary style, Waugh provides special dimensions to the exciting story that brought the right man to the presidency as the nation faced its greatest crisis.”
— Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service

“Exquisite timing and polished prose showcase Waugh’s encompassing command of Lincoln and his times. In the hands of this master historian and stylist, the story and people have new vitality and the lessons taught by a peerless figure reverberate long after the last page is turned.”
— Lynda L. Crist, Editor of the Jefferson Davis Papers, Rice University

What Reviewers Say

“This is a fascinating look into the lives of one of America’s best-known presidents, Abraham Lincoln, born 200 years ago Feb. 12. Waugh presents the story of Lincoln’s life from his birth in Kentucky to his political and legal career in Illinois to the day he was inaugurated as president.  He does this on a personal level with quotes woven into the story from Lincoln, his family and friends. He presents Lincoln’s major debates with Stephen A. Douglas, his political opponent on the slavery issue. This book is highly recommended to those interested in Lincoln and U.S. history before the Civil War.”
— The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, OK

“An intimate narrative…[a] familiar though freshly re-imagined journey.”
— Bookpage

“[Waugh’s] easy and good-humored style will appeal to many readers. He does not forsake arguably unreliable narrators, such as Lincoln cousin Dennis Hanks and while some scholars might object, others will see the magic in keeping such voices with us in following Lincoln’s journey. Recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.” 
— Library Journal Reviews

“Waugh’s…. judicious use of the historical record and his dramatic prose make for an enjoyable read…. [He] is especially good on the Lincoln/Douglas dynamic, following their parallel careers from their battles as young lawyers in Springfield to their epic 1858 senate race, to the presidential contest of 1860.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“In his latest book, Waugh employs the same combination of lively prose backed with solid research to examine Lincoln’s life story from birth to his first presidential inauguration, rarely straying from the themes of the future of the Union, impending Civil War, and more important, slavery.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Waugh is a smooth and gifted writer who liberally quotes from Lincoln’s own writing and speeches…. [His} description of life on the frontier and the prairies is fascinating.”
— Glenn Speer, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)