Perish from the Earth: A Selected Bibliography

July 13th, 2017

Jonathan Putnam is a nationally renowned trial lawyer and avid amateur Lincoln scholar. He has a degree in history from Harvard College and a law degree from Harvard Law School, from which he graduated first in his class. For many years he was a trial lawyer and partner at one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country. The American Lawyer magazine profiled him as one of the top young trial lawyers in America. He currently lives in London, EnglandJonathan Putnam discusses Perish from the Earth: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery, Wed. 7/19, 6pm at 57th Street Books.


My novel, Perish from the Earth, is the second in the Lincoln & Speed Mystery Series, which imagines the young Abraham Lincoln and his real-life best friend Joshua Speed as a sort of Holmes & Watson on the American frontier of the 1830s.  At the time the books are set, the unmarried Lincoln and Speed shared a room (and, indeed, a bed) in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln was a newly admitted trial lawyer and Speed ran a general store.  The mysteries are inspired by Lincoln & Speed’s actual life and times.  The two men remained close lifelong friends. 

A huge amount of historical research went into Perish from the Earth.  There are, of course, a multitude of non-fiction books about Lincoln, although fewer focus on his early period, when my series is set.  As a general purpose biography I am partial to:

   Lincoln by David Herbert Donald (1995) 

For an invaluable collection of first-person recollections of Lincoln, see:

   Herndon’s Informants edited by Douglas L. Wilson & Rodney O. Davis (1998) 

On Lincoln’s law practice, I consulted, among other sources:

   The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (4 vols.), Univ. of Va. Press (2008)

   The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, Univ. of Illinois Press (ongoing)

   Lawyer Lincoln by Albert A. Woldman (1936)

The only full-length biography of Speed that’s ever been published (actually, a joint biography of Speed and Lincoln) is:

   Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln by Charles B. Strozier (2016)

Perish from the Earth revolves around a real-life murder that was one of the most infamous crimes of the 19th century, generating newspaper headlines from coast to coast, though it is little remembered today.  For a non-fiction telling of the remarkable life of the early abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, the two indispensible accounts are:

   Freedom’s Champion: Elijah Lovejoy by P. Simon (1994)

   Riots at Alton by E. Beecher (1838)

Much of the action in Perish from the Earth is set along the Mississippi River, aboard the great steamboats that plied its waters, and in the plantations fueled by slave labor that bordered its banks. Several penetrating accounts of these matters include:

   River of Dark Dreams by W. Johnson (2013)

   Ecstatic Nation by B. Wineapple (2013)

   Black Life on the Mississippi by T. Buchanan (2004) 

In researching the novel, I also consulted many other books, as well as period newspapers, journals and diaries too numerous to mention.


About Perish from the Earth: Newly minted trial lawyer Abraham Lincoln is riding the circuit, traveling by carriage with other lawyers and a judge to bring justice to the remote parts of Illinois. Meanwhile, Lincoln's close friend Joshua Speed steams up the Mississippi River aboard a steamboat owned by Speed's father when suddenly, his journey is interrupted when a rigged card game aboard the ship turns to violence--and then murder.

When a young traveling artist is accused of the crime, Speed enlists Lincoln to defend him. Together, Lincoln and Speed work to find evidence of the artist's innocence. But soon they come to discover that more than just the card games are crooked aboard the Speed family's ship. As the day of judgment hurtles towards them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln's client but also the merit of Speed's good name.

Meticulously research and deftly plotted, Jonathan F. Putnam's second Lincoln and Speed mystery, Perish from the Earth is the superlative follow-up to These Honored Dead, praised by Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin as "Splendid...one of the most enjoyable works of fiction I have read in a long time."

Posted in: