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The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Historical fiction

The Lincoln Highway

BOTY FINALIST

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to The Lincoln Highway!

Repeat author

Amor Towles is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and Table for Two.

by Amor Towles

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Quick take

In this 1950s-set novel, shenanigans ensue when Emmett Watson hits the open road with two friends and a brother in tow.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Underdog

    Underdog

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Roadtrip

    Roadtrip

Synopsis

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future, one that will take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction—to the City of New York.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of suicide.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Lincoln Highway.
The Lincoln Highway

Emmett

June 12, 1954—The drive from Salina to Morgen was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn’t said a word. For the first sixty miles or so, Warden Williams had made an effort at friendly conversation. He had told a few stories about his childhood back East and asked a few questions about Emmett’s on the farm. But this was the last they’d be together, and Emmett didn’t see much sense in going into all of that now. So when they crossed the border from Kansas into Nebraska and the warden turned on the radio, Emmett stared out the window at the prairie, keeping his thoughts to himself.

When they were five miles south of town, Emmett pointed through the windshield.

—You take that next right. It’ll be the white house about four miles down the road.

The warden slowed his car and took the turn. They drove past the McKusker place, then the Andersens’ with its matching pair of large red barns. A few minutes later they could see Emmett’s house standing beside a small grove of oak trees about thirty yards from the road.

To Emmett, all the houses in this part of the country looked like they’d been dropped from the sky. The Watson house just looked like it’d had a rougher landing. The roof line sagged on either side of the chimney and the window frames were slanted just enough that half the windows wouldn’t quite open and the other half wouldn’t quite shut. In another moment, they’d be able to see how the paint had been shaken right off the clapboard. But when they got within a hundred feet of the driveway, the warden pulled to the side of the road.

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Why I love it

I’m always game for a quest. Give me a group of underdogs with a sea or continent to cross, the promise of treasure and an arduous road, and I’m all in. The stakes are even higher when the underdogs are kids or teens—adventures like This Tender Land, classics like Huckleberry Finn. When I opened the first pages of Amor Towles’s newest novel, The Lincoln Highway, I had a feeling I was in for just this kind of experience—bighearted and hopeful, perilous and enlightening. The story delivered on all fronts.

I can’t remember the last time I cared more about the heroes of a book so thoroughly and quickly. The Lincoln Highway begins with eighteen-year-old Emmett, recently returned from juvenile detention in 1954, reuniting with his little brother, Billy, on their foreclosed Nebraska farm. The two boys are alone, but have each other. Emmett has big reasons to leave the state, and a plan. Billy has a plan too, a journey mapped by a mysterious series of postcards laid in a line on the kitchen table. When two other characters enter the story—acquaintances from Emmett’s recent past named Woolly and Duchess—a third path opens.

I loved these characters. I loved the landscape, the rich tapestry of mid-century Americana, prairies and cities. And I loved this quest’s opening promise: Four boys with places to be standing in a barn, sliding the tarp off of Emmett’s sole possession, a baby blue Studebaker, the dusty roads calling like a treasure map. I was thrilled to hit the road with this determined crew.

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Member ratings (20,716)

  • Anna S.

    Bellevue, WA

    One of the best written books I have read. Towles does an beautiful job developing characters and creating analogy’s throughout the themes in this story. Definitely going to read his others!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Stephanie W.

    Staunton, IL

    I’m once again in awe of Towles’s masterfully crafted characters and tangible world building. Don’t be deterred by its hefty size. The writing and perfect pacing seemingly turn pages for you. 5/5 ⭐️

  • Alexxa R.

    Wolfforth, TX

    I’ve read Towles’ previous books & loved them both. This one did not disappoint! His writing is very unique in that it’s no huge climax, but consistent pacing throughout. It’s a hefty read but so good

  • Lacy H.

    Lexington, KY

    A great American novel. Beautiful. Poignant. Powerful. Loved the story, the writing, and how full each and every character’s story was. It’s long, but reads faster than you’d think - and so worth it…

  • Heath C.

    Moultrie, GA

    There just aren’t words that can adequately describe how I’m feeling after just having finished this book. I feel somewhat bereft because it’s over. I miss those boys already, but Duchess most of all.

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