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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Brian McGinty Narrator: Richard Po Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In the early hours of May 6, 1856, the steamboat Effie Afton barreled into a pillar of the Rock Island Bridge—the first railroad bridge ever to span the Mississippi River. Soon after, the newly constructed vessel, crowded with passengers and livestock, erupted into flames and sank in the river below, taking much of the bridge with it.

As lawyer and Lincoln scholar Brian McGinty dramatically reveals in Lincoln’s Greatest Case, no one was killed, but the question of who was at fault cried out for an answer. Backed by powerful steamboat interests in St. Louis, the owners of the Effie Afton quickly pressed suit, hoping that a victory would not only prevent the construction of any future bridges from crossing the Mississippi but also thwart the burgeoning spread of railroads from Chicago. The fate of the long-dreamed-of transcontinental railroad lurked ominously in the background, for if rails could not cross the Mississippi by bridge, how could they span the continent all the way to the Pacific?

Recreating the Effie Afton case from its unlikely inception to its controversial finale, McGinty brilliantly animates this legal cauldron of the late 1850s, which turned out to be the most consequential trial in Lincoln’s nearly quarter century as a lawyer. Along the way, the tall prairie lawyer’s consummate legal skills and instincts are also brought to vivid life, as is the history of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi, the progress of railroads west of the Appalachians, and the epochal clashes of railroads and steamboats at the river’s edge.

Lincoln’s Greatest Case is legal history on a grand scale and an essential first act to a pivotal Lincoln drama we did not know was there.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A lively account of this navigational dispute and its central role in America’s economic and political development… Lincoln’s Greatest Case convincingly shows that 1857 was a watershed year for the moral and political questions surrounding slavery’s expansion to the west…The book is also a case study of discomfort with new technology—and the futility of using a tort suit to prevent the adoption of inevitable innovation.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Sometimes, while the future seems to lie in the establishment of invisible connections, it can be rewarding to look to the past, when it was infrastructure that held the promise of unity. McGinty enlivens this history of pre–Civil War America.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “McGinty makes good on his promise to articulate why a now obscure 1857 trial had much broader significance than one would expect of a legal battle over transportation…A masterful popular history that places its focal point in a richly detailed wider context and will get readers interested in Lincoln’s legal career.”

    Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • “McGinty provides valuable context unavailable anywhere else and a deep understanding of the dynamic and contested legal, commercial, and political world that informed Lincoln’s support for westward expansion and economic development, shaped his ideas on law, and honed his skills as a lawyer. McGinty’s book gives us the best accounting of Lincoln, the lawyer, to date. Highly recommended.”

    Library Journal, starred review)

  • “A fascinating study of the case that capped Lincoln’s career as a lawyer and fostered the creation of the vast railroad network that would bind the nation together.”

    Richard Slotkin, author of The Long Road to Antietam

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About the Author

Brian McGinty is an attorney and writer who specializes in American history and law. His previous books include Lincoln and the Court, The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus, and John Brown’s Trial. He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.