In the hazardous fictional terrain of his historical novels, Gore Vidal is never especially kind to American history in general, or to its icons in particular. Yet in this brilliantly realised study of Abraham Lincoln, he paints a surprising and near-heroic picture of the man who led America through four of the most divisive and dangerous years of the nation’s history. Observed alternately by his loved ones, his rivals and his future assassins, Lincoln at first appears as an inept and naïve backwoods lawyer. People in this novel are not averse to turning up, getting drunk, and regaling the reader with details of Lincoln’s whoring activities and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of folksy stories. Yet gradually Lincoln the towering leader of deep vision emerges in a Washington engulfed by fear, greed and the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s loving but mentally decomposing wife, his view from the White House on slavery and America’s bloodiest war, and his own, fierce personal ambition: all are portrayed with a vibrancy and an urgency that almost belies what they have now become ? history itself.