Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College. He began his scholarly career working on Jonathan Edwards (Edwards on the Will: A Century of Theological Debate  was a revision of his doctoral dissertation). His 1999 biography of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, as did his Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. More recently he has written a new history of the Civil War, and his latest book is on the battle of Gettysburg.
Here are five biographies he believes represent the genre at its best.
1. Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards (1949).
Although lopsided in its effort to place Edwards in the stream of John Locke, Miller’s Edwards is a work of real literary genius.
2. Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980).
A glowingly comprehensive and sympathetic biography of one of the greatest of scientific minds.
3. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (1967).
A stupendously erudite re-creation, not only of Augustine, but of the entire world of late antiquity.
4. Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1962).
A short but wickedly-well-written biography of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, done with surprising sympathy.
5. Henry D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (1989).
No other single work on Wesley and 18th-century England captures the times and the man so well.