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Makers of History


Authors: Jacob Abbott, John Charles Abbott
Publisher: Harper and Brothers, New York
Dates: 1848—1862

"I want to thank you and your brother for Abbott’s series of Histories. I have not education enough to appreciate the profound works of voluminous historians, and if I had, I have no time to read them. But your series of Histories gives me, in brief compass, just that knowledge of past men and events which I need. I have read them with the greatest interest. To them I am indebted for about all the historical knowledge I have."

—Abraham Lincoln.
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 Jacob Abbott (1803 - 1879)

As the quote from above shows, even Abraham Lincoln was a fan of the Abbott Histories. Their famous series was so well known and widely read that they were staples of virtually every American library from the time they were published, in the mid-nineteenth century, until after the first world war. Both informative and terrifically entertaining, the Abbott brothers had an enormous talent for writing biographies, and selecting those stories and anecdotal episodes from histories that are of most interest to the general reader.

Jacob Abbott (1803-1879) was possibly the most prolific American writer of juvenile literature of the nineteenth century. He was born in Maine, the second of seven children. He and each of his four brothers graduated from Bowdoin College, studied theology, and became teachers or ministers. Three of the five boys became authors, and with his brother John Steven Charles (J.S.C.), Jacob authored the famous and widely read "Makers of History" series of biographies.

It was not until about 1848 that he and his brother embarked on the idea of doing a series of biography aimed at young people. His target audience was age "15 to 25", and the Abbott brothers eventually produced a set of biographies that were critically acclaimed, and widely read. Within a few years of their publication, the Abbott biographies became standard reference works of juvenile history, and were available in libraries throughout America. They were originally published as the 'Illustrated History' series, but were republished many times during the next sixty years in various collections, entitled 'Famous Characters of History', 'Famous Queens of History', and others. They were most recently republished in the early 1900’s as the 'Makers of History' series.

The Abbotts had a terrific gift for narrative, and their books all read as if they were high suspense novels. Although the vocabulary level is relatively high, more appropriate for high school or college than elementary schools, the writing style is not difficult, and the stories move along at a fast pace. The Abbott biographies have a delightful combination of action and adventure, along with truly interesting personality portraits, intriguing subplots, and fascinating secondary characters which should be appealing to both young men and young women.


  
Cyrus the Great   by Jacob Abbott
Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire, and the story of his life gives great insights into the politics of the empires of central Asia in the sixth century B.C. Highlights of Cyrus's history include his romantic childhood, his conquest of Media with the aid of traitors from his grandfather's court, the story of Croesus--wealthy king of Lydia, the sieges of Tyre and Babylon, the restoration of the Jews, and the ill-fated campaign in Scythia.

Darius the Great   by Jacob Abbott
The story of Darius began with Cambyses' ascension to the Persian throne and his subsequent conquest of Egypt. On Cambyses' death, a usurper assumed the throne. Darius dispatched the usurper and was awarded the throne. He then embarked on a series of misadventures including a thwarted excursion to Scythia, crushing a rebellion in Ionia, and two unsuccessful campaigns to conquer Greece, including the famous battle of Marathon.

Xerxes   by Jacob Abbott
On the demise of Darius, the Persian throne descended to his son Xerxes. After putting down a rebellion in Egypt, he formed a plan to invade Greece with an enormous army drawn from every province of the vast Persian Empire. The land battles of Thermopylae and Plataea as well as the naval battles of Artemisium, Salamis, and Mycale are described here, complete with the complicated but heroic stratagems of the Greek hero Themistocles.

Alexander the Great   by Jacob Abbott
Although Alexander ruled only thirteen years, his conquests are among the most significant in world history. Abbott's history covers his childhood influences, his early conquests in Greece, and his major battles in Persia, including Granicus River, Issus, the Siege of Tyre, and Gaugamela. The story concludes with the decline and corruption of Alexander's character, resulting in his early death at age thirty-three.

Pyrrhus   by Jacob Abbott
The decades following the death of Alexander the Great involved a long and complicated series of wars between his generals, which split his empire. Pyrrhus, a prince of Epirus, was a leading historical character during this time, and Abbott uses his life to illuminate the entire era. Other characters including Alexander's villainous mother Olympias and his trusted advisor Antipater figure prominently in this story. Pyrrhus himself is a fascinating character, combining great talent and energy with fatal weaknesses.

Romulus   by Jacob Abbott
This story of early days of Rome, begins with the legendary flight of Aeneas from Troy and his adventures before around the Mediterranean before founding a kingdom in Latium. The story of Romulus, the prince of Latium who founded the city of Rome does not begin until halfway through the book. From that point all the most famous legends of the founding of Rome are recounted, from the strange childhood of Romulus and Remus, to the kidnapping of the Sabine women, to the mysterious death of Rome's first king.

Hannibal   by Jacob Abbott
This account of the life of the famous Carthaginian general who acquired distinction as a warrior by his desperate contests with the Romans was written for mature high school students and young adults. Its lively treatment of the Punic Wars depicts Hannibal's crossing of the Alps with his elephants, the battles he waged in Italy, and his eventual defeat. Although Hannibal is the central character, the book begins with a brief overview of the first Punic War, and ends with the destruction of Carthage following the third Punic war.

Julius Caesar   by Jacob Abbott
This book recounts the life of Caesar, who remains one of the most controversial and fascinating characters in world history. He was a man of action with many battles to his credit, including the Gallic Wars, Pharsalia, and the Alexandrine War. But even more, he was a mastermind. He laid the groundwork for the empire with his brilliant reorganization of the legions and his plan for consolidation of power. He was a master statesman as well as a general and won over as many rivals with diplomacy as he did on the battlefield. All aspects of his life are considered in this biography, written for high schoolers and young adults.

Cleopatra   by Jacob Abbott
This story of Cleopatra starts with a brief history of Egypt and the illustrious Ptolemies. By the time Cleopatra came of age, her life was already full of danger and intrigue, even before her romantic encounter with Julius Caesar. Under the protection of Caesar she enjoyed a few years of security on the throne of Egypt, but the death of Caesar led her to seek protection from his successor, Mark Antony. Their tragic story is one of the most dramatic liaisons in history.

Nero   by Jacob Abbott
The story of Nero is also the story of much of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The bloody legacies of the previous emperors Caligula and Claudius are introduced before delving into Nero's own reign of intrigue, murder, and atrocities. The women of the family, including Nero's mother Agrippina, his wife Poppaea, and the empress Messalina, contribute their share of villainy to the tale. The death of Nero provides a pathetic testimony to the cowardice that often underlies tyranny.

Alfred the Great   by Jacob Abbott
There are many examples of tyranny and depravity among English monarchs, but few examples of courage and virtue that compare to the legacy of Alfred the Great. Alfred was king of England during a time when the Saxons were under assault from Danish sea-pirates who were destroying the fabric of their civilization. But instead of allowing the Saxon civilization to be destroyed, he unified it, strengthened it, and established churches and centers of learning and culture.

William the Conqueror   by Jacob Abbott
Even before invading England to claim the throne, William the Conqueror was recognized throughout Europe as the greatest warrior of his time. His entire life was a series of battles and rebellions in which he was uniformly successful. He was often hated but always respected by his subjects, and his iron-fisted policies were more effective in ruling England than in managing his own family.

Richard I   by Jacob Abbott
This story of Richard I begins with his fascinating parents, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the II, founders of the Plantagenet line of English kings. Once Richard ascends to the throne the story moves to the Holy Land, scene of the second Crusade. When Richard arrived in Acre, he found that vastly more energy was spent in posturing and infighting among the crusaders than in actually fighting the Mohammedans, but through it all, he managed to maintain a glamorous appearance of chivalry and apparent victory.

Richard II   by Jacob Abbott
The first several chapters of Richard II recap the turbulent reigns of the previous Plantagenet kings including John Lackland and the three Edwards. Several chapters are then dedicated to the Black Prince, Richard's father, who achieved great fame at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers. The reign of Richard II was most notable for the Wat Tyler rebellion and the fact of that he was eventually deposed.

Richard III   by Jacob Abbott
The War of the Roses did not end with the death of Henry VI and the exile of Queen Margaret. Although Edward IV eventually gained the throne, the York family's struggles were not over. On Edward's death, Richard III usurped the throne from Edward's sons. The book covers the reign of Edward IV, the usurpation of Richard III, and the eventual triumph of Henry Tudor, which brought the War of the Roses to a close.

Margaret of Anjou   by Jacob Abbott
It is hard to understand why Margaret of Anjou, a central character of the War of the Roses, is not more well-known. She was an intelligent, driven, and fearless woman who essentially ruled England for her husband, Henry VI, during his reign. This book covers the events leading up to the War of the Roses and helps to untangle the confusing threads of that confrontation.

Queen Elizabeth   by Jacob Abbott
The life of Elizabeth encompassed the turbulent reigns of her brother Edward VI and sister Mary as well as her own reign of nearly 45 years. She ascended to the throne amid great controversy between Catholics and Protestants, yet she successfully navigated through these treacherous times and achieved a great deal of stability and prosperity for England. Her reign was populated with very colorful characters including Drake, Raleigh, and the Earl of Leicester. The Spanish Armada, which occurred late in her reign, was one of the most important battles in history.

Mary Queen of Scots   by Jacob Abbott
Mary Queen of Scots was the arch-rival of Queen Elizabeth. As monarch of Scotland, she too reigned over a kingdom that was torn by struggles between Catholics and Protestants. However, while Elizabeth was able to maintain power, Mary lost her throne and ultimately became Elizabeth's prisoner. Mary was celebrated for her beauty and gentleness, yet it was precisely her feminine appeal and unhappy marriages that caused her downfall.

Charles I   by Jacob Abbott
Charles I had the misfortune to reign during a period when Parliament, mainly representing the rising merchant class of England, had the temerity to assert its growing power. His reckless youth was spent carousing with the infamous Duke of Buckingham, and his mid-years were spent quarreling with parliament. His misdeeds were no worse than many of his predecessors, but he paid a much heavier price. After losing a civil war, he spent his last few years in captivity and was the only English king ever executed.

Charles II   by Jacob Abbott
Charles II's youth was spent in exile in France, while his father was kept in captivity by Parliament. Though he nominally became King of England at his father's death, he was prevented from assuming the throne until the death of Cromwell. His story covers some highlights of the Commonwealth, including his dramatic escape from Cromwell's army and complicated power shuffling between Parliament, the army, and various Royalist factions. Some lowlights of his actual reign include the Great Plague, the Fire of London, and the Dutch invasion.

Peter the Great   by Jacob Abbott
By sheer force of will, Peter the Great single-handedly imposed modernization on a highly resistant Russia. He overcame foes from within his country, including his sister Sophia, whom the anti-modernist forces favored for the throne. He overcame Charles XII of Sweden, his great rival for control of the Baltic, in spite of overwhelming defeats. He considered his son Alexis unworthy of the throne and had him killed rather than trust his kingdom to a libertine.

Genghis Khan   by Jacob Abbott
The story of Genghis Khan provides a fascinating picture of the nomadic tribes of Asia. At its height, Khan's empire extended all the way from China to Turkistan and was composed of hundreds of tribes of nomadic warriors. No town, no matter how well fortified, was safe from his seemingly endless horde of followers. No enemy that resisted him escaped his grasp.

Hernando Cortez   by John S. C. Abbott


King Philip   by John S. C. Abbott
King Philip was the leader of the Wampanoag Indians. His father had been friendly to the early American colonists in New England. After a long period of peace, he saw that as the colony thrived, his lands were ever diminished. He realized the Indians were doomed unless they drove the white men from their soil, and so turned against the settlers in what became the most ferocious uprising of Indians in New England history.

Henry IV   by John S. C. Abbott
Henry IV came to the throne of France during a period of terrible religious and political strife. The kingdom was in the throes of civil war between Huguenots and Catholics, but the religious aspects of the conflict masked even greater political divisions. Henry IV fought on the Protestant side, but reconverted to Catholicism when he became king and spent much of his reign helping to heal old wounds and mend relations. Through the life of Henry IV, the story of the Protestant Reformation in France is told with great insight.

Louis XIV   by John S. C. Abbott
Louis the XIV ruled France for over seventy years, during which time both the power of France and the corruption of the aristocracy increased greatly. This biography provides an overview of the wars and political events of his reign as well as insight into the palace politics and personalities during this critical period in French history.

Hortense   by John S. C. Abbott
Hortense de Beauharnais was the daughter of Josephine, the sister-in-law of Napoleon and the mother of Napoleon III. Her life spanned the era from the French Revolution throughout the Napoleonic Wars and the tumultuous years of the first French Republic, and provides insight into both the political developments of the age, and the domestic relationships of the extended Bonaparte family.

Madame Roland   by John S. C. Abbott
Madame Roland was one of the most fascinating characters of the French Revolution. Born into relative poverty, Marie Roland was a brilliant intellectual who married into a noble family. Her husband was a minister of the Revolutionary government during the early years of the French Revolution, and she became secretary and behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Girondist party. Although the Girondists thoroughly supported the revolution, their criticism of the outrages of some of the lawless revolutionaries earned them the enmity of the increasingly radical Jacobin party, and Marie Roland died on the scaffold during the reign of terror.

Joseph Bonaparte   by John S. C. Abbott
Joseph Bonaparte was the oldest brother of Napoleon and one of his closest advisors. He shared all of the best of Napoleon's republican ideals, but lacked his brother's zeal and will to power. He was placed first on the throne of Naples and later on the throne of Spain; in these positions he governed justly but without the commanding resolve necessary to suppress rebellions and dissent from every quarter. Abbott's treatment of the Bonapartes is highly sympathetic and includes much correspondence between the brothers which gives enormous insight into the minds of both men.

Josephine   by John S. C. Abbott
Josephine was a French aristocrat who was widowed by the French Revolution, but her fortunes turned once more when she married an ambitious young officer in the Revolutionary army, Napoleon Bonaparte. The story of the rise of Napoleon from obscurity to the emperor of the French and the master of Europe is told with great insight from the point of view of his closest advisor and confidant.

Maria Antoinette   by John S. C. Abbott


Louis Philippe   by John S. C. Abbott
Louis Philippe was the son of the Duke of Orleans, the wealthy and liberal aristocrat who joined his fortunes with the commoners during the French Revolution only to lose his head during the Reign of Terror. His son spent much of the next twenty years in exile and, after his cousin Charles X was deposed during the Revolution of 1830, was crowned King of France. Louis Philippe ruled as a liberal constitutional monarch and tried to help modernize the country, but even he could not satisfy the republican ambitions of the French radicals. He was deposed in 1848.