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The Global Lincoln$

Richard Carwardine and Jay Sexton

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379112

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780195379112.001.0001

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(p.303) Appendix Foreign Language Biographies of Lincoln

(p.303) Appendix Foreign Language Biographies of Lincoln

The Global Lincoln
Oxford University Press

A full assessment of the contours of Lincoln’s global presence and influence requires some means of empirical measurement. To that end, this appendix quantifies foreign biographies of Lincoln based on various library catalogues, union library catalogues, and bibliographies, especially WorldCat and the appendix of foreign language works in Jay Monaghan’s Lincoln Bibliography, 1839–1939.1 Using a broad definition of biographical works, this research reveals 654 works in 53 foreign languages. While this does not represent a definitive list of foreign language biographies, nor conclusively demonstrate which languages have produced the most books on Lincoln, it provides an indication of their probable numbers and presents a general overview of trends, both within and across nations.

It is surprising that Chinese languages and dialects might constitute the most numerous of foreign language lives. The research conducted found 120 distinct Chinese biographies, compared to 90 in German, 75 in Spanish, and 63 in French. The predominance of Chinese literature on Lincoln is a recent phenomenon—85 editions of Chinese biographies have been published since 1980, 43 of them since 2000. By contrast the greatest concentration of German biographies was published in the years immediately following Lincoln’s assassination. The Chinese figure may be slightly misleading as 50 are translations and 28 seem to be intended for juvenile audiences. However, the number of biographies in other languages is also inflated by translations. Of the 90 German biographies 39 are translations, as are 36 of those in Spanish. If only original biographies focused specifically on Lincoln and written for adult audiences are included, then Chinese works stand-out less. Of such works 46 are in Chinese, 47 in French, 42 in German, 27 in Japanese, and 19 in Spanish.

The surge in Chinese lives of Lincoln in recent decades is no doubt due to China’s increasing openness and contact with the United States. It might also be that Lincoln has a particular significance in China because he defeated secession and (p.304) maintained the Union—acts which raise obvious parallels to the current situations Chinese leaders face in Taiwan and Tibet (a point explored in De-min Tao’s essay in this volume).2 However, a large proportion of the biographies in Chinese have had editions published in Taiwan. Forty-five editions of Lincoln biographies have been published there, compared to 96 in mainland China. It seems that analogies to Taiwan can only partially explain Lincoln’s recent influence in Chinese contexts. The traction of the American president in other national and historical contexts might provide a further explanation for his presence in contemporary China: Lincoln’s image has had its greatest political potency in places where the liberal and democratic values he embodies have been most contested (a point examined in chapter one of this volume).3

Numerous foreign-language biographical works about Lincoln followed in the wake of his death, with 65 works published in 1865 and 1866. The large production of studies in these years was principally driven by works in German and French, many of which were published letters, speeches, orations, and eulogies containing biographical sketches of Lincoln. By the 1870s this interest had diminished, but since the turn of the twentieth century foreign language biographies have been produced with increasing frequency right up to recent times, especially since 2000. Peaks in the numbers published coincide with the centennial and sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. A spate of publications also appeared in 1925, many of which were translations of Emanuel Hertz’s essay Abraham Lincoln: The Seer, which portrayed Lincoln as a divinely-inspired prophet.4 While Chinese biographies closely mirror the global growth in Lincoln studies in recent decades, German language biographies have not. There has been a small but steady production of biographies in German each decade. Until the mid-twentieth century, their publication also closely followed the pattern of all foreign language works, with peaks in 1865–66, 1909 and 1925 (that being said, no less than three original German biographies of Lincoln appeared in the bicentennial year of 2009).

Spanish-language works mostly have been published outside Spain. Nineteen editions have been published in Spain, 19 in the United States, and 41 in Latin America. Similarly, 16 of 22 editions of Portuguese works have been published in Brazil. Judged by this measure, Lincoln is a more visible figure in Latin America than in the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish biographical works have also been a predominantly late-twentieth century phenomenon, more like Chinese than German in this respect. Indeed, works in Spanish have closely followed the trend of all foreign works in the second half of the twentieth century, especially the surge in biographic works since 2000. Incidentally, only 19 of the 75 Spanish language works are original biographies: 36 are translations, 19 are for juvenile audiences, and 18 are lives of Lincoln in biographical compilations, works of the “Great Americans” genre.

It has often been noted that there have been comparatively few recent French biographies of Lincoln. Indeed, if one discounts translations, biographies for (p.305) juvenile audiences and biographical compilations, there have only been 6 original French biographies of Lincoln in the second half of the twentieth century. If one includes these categories, there have been 16, 7 of which are translations. It is true that the publication of biographies of Lincoln in French has been slow since the 1860s, when there were numerous works, many of which were published letters, speeches, orations, and eulogies containing biographical sketches. Thirty of the 63 catalogued French biographies of Lincoln were published in the 1860s. This lends credence to the view advanced in Michael Vorenberg’s essay in this volume that the influence of Lincoln waned in France with the rise of the Third Republic.5

Of the 654 biographies catalogued, 251 seem to be translations. Some works have been particularly popular and have been frequently translated into numerous languages. Perhaps the most translated is Emil Ludwig’s controversial German biography Abraham Lincoln (1930) which was suppressed by Hitler: it has been translated 18 times into 11 different languages (Ludwig’s study is discussed in Jörg Nagler’s essay in this volume).6 Emanuel Hertz’s essay Abraham Lincoln: The Seer has been translated 16 times into 12 different languages. Biographies by Benjamin Platt Thomas, Carl Sandburg, and Dale Carnegie have all been translated numerous times, into numerous languages.7 Among the biographies translated into Chinese are Ludwig’s (8 different translations), Carnegie’s (6) and Sandburg’s (4). Given that most of these have been published since 2000, it may be surprising that so many are translations of books from the first half of the previous century, and in the case of Ludwig’s biography, from a non-English work. This may be because these works were no longer under copyright.

Another barometer for gauging Lincoln’s influence is to compare the number of foreign language biographies listed by WorldCat for a selection of other notable American leaders. The following totals are based solely on WorldCat and are therefore not comprehensive, but since they are drawn from a single catalogue they are broadly comparable. The fairer comparison is between biographies published since 1970, when all of these subjects had passed into history. This evidence strongly suggests that Lincoln has had great global influence even when compared to other great Americans of very recent memory.

Abraham Lincoln

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Franklin D. Roosevelt

John F. Kennedy

Martin Luther King Jr.

All entries







Since 1970







It is difficult to empirically measure Lincoln’s global influence. How has his legacy varied between different countries? How has his influence compared with that of other American leaders? Biographies alone cannot provide a carefully calibrated measure of visibility, let alone impact or influence. The figures presented here do not tell us how many copies were sold, who bought them, how (p.306) widely they circulated, and what status they enjoyed. Nonetheless, these totals do provide a broad measure of pulses of interest in Lincoln around the globe. Biographies have been published in languages as diverse as Gujarati, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Siouan, Slovak, Uighur, Welsh, and many others. Lincoln is a truly global figure, and his influence surpasses that of most American historical figures.

Appendix Foreign Language Biographies of Lincoln (p.307)


(1.) Jay Monaghan, Lincoln Bibliography, 1839–1939, 2 vols. (Springfield, Ill: Illinois State Historical Library, 1943–1945).

(2.) See chapter 13.

(3.) See chapter 1.

(4.) Emanuel Hertz, Abraham Lincoln: The Seer (New York[?]: 1925). Hertz was a Jewish Austrian immigrant, a leading Lincoln scholar, and collector of Lincolniana. Abraham Lincoln: The Seer was originally a WOR radio broadcast on February 12, 1925.

(5.) See chapter 5.

(6.) Emil Ludwig, Abraham Lincoln (London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1930). See chapter 14.

(7.) Benjamin Platt Thomas, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1952); Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926); Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939); Dale Carnegie, Lincoln the Unknown (New York: Century Co. 1932). (p.308)