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Ronald C. White

Bestselling author on Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant

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  • About Ronald C. White

    Ronald C. White is the author of two New York Times bestselling presidential biographies: A. Lincoln: A Biography and American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.  White is recognized as a public intellectual commenting on American history, politics, and culture.  He engages audiences about some of the nation’s prominent historical figures in relation to our present tumultuous politics.  He has lectured at the White House and been interviewed on the PBS NewsHour and NPR.  At the invitation of the Library of Congress, he spoke to members of Congress on “Leadership Lessons from Lincoln and Grant.”  He has written op-ed essays for The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.  White has lectured on Lincoln in England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and New Zealand.

    An honors graduate of UCLA and Princeton Theological Seminary; White earned a Ph.D. in Religion and History from Princeton University.

    White’s first book on Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2002.  His second book, The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

    Lincoln: A Biography was published in 2009, the year of the Lincoln bicentennial. USA Today said, “If you read one book about Lincoln, make it A. Lincoln.”  It won a coveted Christopher Award which salutes books “that affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”  Lincoln author Harold Holzer wrote, “Each generation requires its own masterly one-volume Lincoln biography, and Ronald C. White has crowned the bicentennial year with an instant classic for the twenty-first century.” The book was honored as one of the best books of 2009 by the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, History Book Club, and Barnes & Noble.

    A long-awaited second presidential biography, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant was published to universal praise in 2016.  Offering a portrait that reshapes out understanding of an American hero, it won the William Henry Seward Award for “Excellence in Civil War Biography.”  Pulitzer-prize winning author T. J. Stiles wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “White delineates Grant’s virtues better than any author before.”  The   Wall Street Journal wrote, “Ronald White has restored Ulysses S. Grant to his proper place in history with a biography whose breadth and tone suit the man perfectly. Like Grant himself, this book will have staying power.”  The Chicago Tribune called the biography “Superb . . . illuminating, inspiring and deeply moving.”  The Boston Globe called it “Magisterial.”

    White, an authority on Lincoln’s eloquence, is himself an eloquent speaker–  attested by multiple audiences.  Venues that have invited him to speak include: Library of Congress, Society of the Four Arts [Palm Beach], Library Company of Philadelphia, The Carter Center in Atlanta, the Literary and Cultural Society of the Southwest [Arizona], the White House Historical Society, the World Affairs Council of Dallas, as well as keynoting at gatherings of lawyers and physicians.  He has spoken at more than forty American colleges and universities, as well as Oxford University, the Free University of Berlin, and the National University of Mexico.

    His much anticipated new book, Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About Our Greatest President offers a revelatory glimpse into the mind and soul of our sixteenth president through his private notes to himself, explored together for the first time.  These are notes Lincoln never expected anyone to read, put into context by a writer who has spent his life studying Lincoln’s life and words.

    White lives with his wife Cynthia in Pasadena, California.

  • Speaking Topics

    Abraham Lincoln: Wisdom For Today

    In 2021, as the nation faces the multiple crises of the pandemic, the economy, racial justice, and climate change, persons across the political spectrum are quoting Lincoln. Illinois Republican Senator once suggested "The first task of every politician is to get right with Lincoln.” Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White employs Lincoln’s ideas and words to illuminate how our greatest American president can speak to issues in our divided nation today.

    Ulysses S. Grant: A Fresh Look at American Leadership

    Ronald C. White refocuses American hero Ulysses S. Grant for the 21st century. Learn why the evaluation of Grant’s presidency has risen 11 places in the three 21st century C-Span Presidential Historians Surveys. Overcoming multiple trials as a young man, Grant led the North to victory in the Civil War and then offered a magnanimous peace to Robert E. Lee and the defeated South. In the politics of our day, chockfull of cynicism and peopled by big personalities, White suggests how American Ulysses points to a panoply of enduring values.

    Unfinished America

    On the eve of his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln declared, “I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and this, his almost chosen people.” In this electrifying lecture, White explores the contentious contemporary debate over the meaning of America by invoking past leaders who understood the “almost,” the unfinished nature, of the American experiment. Drawing on portraits of Lincoln, Katherine Lee Bates, author of America the Beautiful, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield, a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, White points to these “honest patriots,” willing both to commend and to criticize, as the best path forward to fulfill the American dream.

    Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About our Greatest President

    Ronald C. White shines a bright light on Lincoln’s private notes to himself. Undated, untitled, and unsigned, Lincoln never expected anyone to see these notes [111 have survived.] Engaging them is like entering a world most history buffs do not know exists. While generations of historians and biographers have written about the public Lincoln, this book is the first to gather and examine these highly personal scraps of writing, and, in doing so ask: is there anything new they can tell us about the notoriously private Lincoln?

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  • Praise for Ronald C. White

    Praise for Lincoln in Private

    This engaging volume captures the private thoughts of a man who often still feels like an enigma more than a century-and-a-half after his death. Through insightful analysis, Ronald C. White enables us to better understand Lincoln and to better comprehend how the political and cultural landscape nurtured his thinking. Lincoln in Private is essential reading for both scholars and general audiences alike.

    Edna Greene Medford, Ph.D., author of Lincoln and Emancipation

    Out of long-forgotten memoranda, Ronald C. White has managed to construct a major Lincoln study that truly illuminates the life and philosophy of our greatest president.  This is an exceptional feat of research, reconstruction, and re-analysis. It deserves a place on every bookshelf alongside Lincoln’s collected works and of course, White’s own books.

    Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press and winner of the Lincoln Prize

    Abraham Lincoln rendered the nation's enduring tensions and purposes in unforgettable prose. Yet Lincoln did some of his best writing in small fragments, personal notes and memos that illuminate his thinking anew. By assembling and expertly explicating these gems, Ronald C. White has made a singular and valuable contribution to the literature on our greatest president.

    Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy

    Abraham Lincoln's habit of jotting ideas and reflections on scraps of paper and placing them in a desk drawer to be drawn upon later for speeches, letters, and official documents has enabled Ronald C. White to offer important new insights on Lincoln's thought processes in this fascinating book.

    James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief and Battle Cry for Freedom

    An intimate character portrait and fascinating inquiry into the basis of Lincoln’s energetic, curious mind. . . . We see in Lincoln’s fragments a poised and resolute intellectual. We also see a vulnerable individual humbled by the precariousness of the nation and of its vast, uncertain future. . . . As Mr. White shows so persuasively, Lincoln’s quiet, personal moments laid the foundation for his enduring public legacy.

    Wall Street Journal

    These selected personal notes form chapters that describe Lincoln’s life in private moments. As a whole, they create a unique, intimate, highly readable, and personable biography of Abraham Lincoln.

    New York Journal of Books

    Praise for American Ulysses

    White delineates Grant’s virtues better than any author before. . . . By the end, readers will see how fortunate the nation was that Grant went into the world—to save the Union, to lead it and, on his deathbed, to write one of the finest memoirs in all of American letters.

    T.J. Stiles, The New York Times Book Review

    Superb . . . illuminating, inspiring and deeply moving . . . The Grant we meet in American Ulysses is richly deserving of a fuller understanding and of celebration for the man he was and the legacy he left us.

    Chicago Tribune

    Ronald White has restored Ulysses S. Grant to his proper place in history with a biography whose breadth and tone suit the man perfectly. Like Grant himself, this book will have staying power.

    The Wall Street Journal

    Magisterial . . . Grant’s esteem in the eyes of historians has increased significantly in the last generation. . . . [American Ulysses] is the newest heavyweight champion in this movement.

    The Boston Globe

    In this thorough and engaging new book, Ronald C. White restores U.S. Grant to the pantheon of great Americans. As a soldier and a president, Grant rendered his nation invaluable service, and White’s epic biography is invaluable as well.

    Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author

    ...in the generations after his death in 1885, Grant’s reputation as a general and president spiraled downward until a current generation of biographers and historians has persuasively resurrected it. Ron White’s American Ulysses represents a culmination of that process. In elegant prose he gives us not only the public Grant who won the war and defended equal racial rights as president but also the private person as husband, father, and everyman who met misfortune without self-pity.

    James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

    Praise for The Eloquent President

    Outstanding . . . Lincoln’s eloquence was of such a rare kind. Ronald C. White captures its qualities admirably.

    The Wall Street Journal

    An insightful, highly readable exploration of literary genius.

    The Washington Post Book World

    Praise for A. Lincoln

    The torrent of Lincoln books past and present . . . means that the bar is necessarily set high. A. Lincoln . . . [is] among the most substantial new entrants.

    The Economist

    This thoroughly researched book belongs on the A-list of major biographies of the tall Illinoisian; it’s a worthy companion for all who admire Lincoln’s prose and his ability to see into, and explain, America’s greatest crisis.

    The Washington Post Book World
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