The UCI Libraries had the honor to host a book talk with New York Times bestselling author Walter Stahr on the evening of August 9, 2017. Stahr spoke to a full house in the Langson Library Roger C. Holden Faculty and Graduate Student Reading Room, discussing his new biography Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary. The biography, which Dr. Allen C. Guelzo describes as “the best all-around account of Stanton’s life as Lincoln’s Secretary of War in over half-a-century,” is newly released by Simon & Schuster.
Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary has received strong reviews with its release. Kirkus Reviews declares the work to be “a lively, lucid, and opinionated history… The book should be Stanton's definitive biography for some time to come.” Library Journal praises Stahr for “highlighting Stanton's adroitness in manipulating people, organizational structures, and budgets to accomplish the goal of winning the war… and in demonstrating how Stanton served as a political ally of Lincoln's, using the president's considerable influence to his advantage.” In Wall Street Journal Reviews, reviewer Harold Holzer declares, “This exhaustively researched, well-paced book should take its place as the new, standard biography of the ill-tempered man who helped to save the Union. It is fair, judicious, authoritative, and comprehensive.” In his New York Times book review, Thomas Mallon offered that Stahr’s work “presents a judiciously sympathetic treatment that tries to calm a still-uncalmable subject.”
With such celebrated scholarship on such an interesting character as the focus for the evening, the audience was rewarded with an informative and entertaining talk, Q&A, and book signing reception.
Stahr began his talk by discussing why Stanton remains such an important historical figure. Stanton, as Lincoln’s War Secretary during the American Civil War, was responsible for raising and maintaining the million man Federal Army. He was instrumental in utilizing the railroads and telegraphs for the northern war effort and also led the manhunt and prosecution of the accused conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. Stanton was at the center of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment with Johnson’s effort to fire Stanton as War Secretary being the catalyst for an impeachment vote based on the Tenure in Office Act, a legislative effort to limit the powers of the President to terminate Senate approved appointments.
Stahr described Stanton as “a strange mix of good and evil” and noted that the Romans would have referred to him as “a great man, if not a good man”, prompting audience laughter. He described Stanton as vindictive and tyrannical yet suggested those same traits also drove Stanton to success as War Secretary. Stanton, though a Democrat, became a trusted member of Lincoln’s cabinet despite their very different personal demeanors. Both were lawyers, anti-slavery, and pro-Union.
Stahr acknowledged the UCI Libraries for being instrumental in his research for Stanton. He was able to find unique materials in the Libraries’ rare book collection detailing Stanton’s work with land cases in pre-Civil War California. This and related material are currently on display in the Langson Library Lobby.
A wonderful storyteller, Stahr described Stanton’s arduous month-long journey by ship from New York to San Francisco, including portage across Panama, as well as Stanton’s determined and successful efforts to settle land claims in the new state. Stahr remarked that Stanton “loved California, he just didn’t like the people”--again drawing laughter.
Walter Stahr, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and raised in Southern California, is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School. He has successfully navigated a career in international law and public policy, working in the private sector in the United States and Asia, and with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Stahr and his wife, Dr. Masami Miyauchi Stahr, relocated to Southern California in 2014 where they now reside in Newport Beach. He is the son of John and Elizabeth Stahr, longtime supporters of UC Irvine, the UCI Libraries, recipients of the UCI Medal, and the City of Newport Beach’s Citizens of the Year in 2016.
Stahr has written two previously well-received political biographies. His first, John Jay: Founding Father, was published in 2005. This was followed in 2012 by his critically acclaimed and New York Times bestseller on Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man.
The UCI Libraries has copies of Walter Stahr’s books available for circulation.
John Jay: Founding Father
Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man
Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary
Photos from the event can be found at the UCI Libraries’ Flickr.
A video of the talk can be found at the UCI Libraries’ YouTube channel.