With empathy and authority gained from his own experience with depression, Shenk crafts a nuanced, revelatory account of Lincoln and his legacy, and in the process unveils a wholly new perspective on how our greatest president guided America through its greatest turmoil.
Listen to Joshua Wolf Shenk talk about Lincoln's Melancholy on The Bob Edwards Show.
©2005 Joshua Wolf Shenk; (P)2005 HighBridge Company
"This is sensitive history, with important implications for the present." (Publishers Weekly)
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"Don't you find", he said, "judging from his picture, that his eyes are full of tears and that his lips are sad with a secret sorrow?"
- A young Circassian rider to Leo Tolstoy, when presented with a photograph of Abraham Lincoln (originally told by Leo Tolstoy toe the New York World shortly before Tolstoy died
Abraham Lincoln has reached one of those levels of recognition and reverence that is typically reserved for saints and prophets. His character, linked to his words and his dramatic life and death, all contribute to a continued and massive interest. A Wall Street Journal article on the Lincoln publishing industry noted:
16,000: Number of books publishers estimate have been written about Abraham Lincoln.
5,796: Number of Lincoln biographies
249: Number of biographies on Lincoln published in 2009, the bicentennial of his birth
42: Number of books Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian, has written, edited, or co-edited on the 16th president
2,972: Number of biographies of George Washington
I understand the attraction a bit more than most. I own several dozen Lincoln books and biographies, I am six feet six inches tall, walk with an awkward gate, and also suffer from a disease that Abe Lincoln is thought by many to have had (Marfan Syndrome, see page 22 of this book). I share many physical proximities and many intellectual affinities with Lincoln (a love of politics, poetry, humanism, individualism, justice, and an affection for the Godly and a skepticism of the dogma of those who profess to speak for God). Anyway, I have been curious about this book for years.
'Lincoln's Melancholy' attempts to: (1) investigate how "Lincoln's melancholy manifested itself in his early life and young manhood and how it fits--and challenges--the diagnostic categories of modern psychiatry", (2) show "what Lincoln did in response to his melancholy, the strategies he used to heal and help himself", and (3) address "how Lincoln's melancholy became intertwined with his mature character, ideas, and actions". It is a three act play, a hero's journey complete with crisis, struggle, and resolution/spiritual awakening.
Shenk doesn't sketch a perfect picture. There are many gaps and contradictions and mysteries that will always surround a true inquiry into the inner Lincoln. I think, however, the author was humble enough to understand the limits of his efforts. The book was short enough to not waste time and interesting enough to keep me reading. I think his theory of Lincoln's melancholy is fascinating. It further complicates the story of a complicated, beautiful, and sad man who just may have ended up by fortune and misfortune being one of the greatest of all men.
This book pulls back into account the oral history that too many historians discount. As an attorney I know that documented history can be over valued and too many times oral history may be more accurate than recorded history.
This book also brings a psycho-analytical approach to both the oral and documented history of Lincoln.
It is a MUST READ for any Lincoln or Civil War historian.
It is hard to turn off.
The author has handled this subject well. Overall however the book could stand some editing. The topic is covered too well and often redundantly.
I found this book to be very informative--things I never knew about Lincoln and the demons he dealt with all of his life. The author implements current medical knowledge to explain the torture Lincoln's mind endured during a time when not much was known about depression. Well worth the listen!
I learned a lot about Lincoln's personal life and trials. His depression and possible bipolar problems make his achievements even that more remarkable. His use of humor to make himself feel better reminded me of Robin Williams and helped me understand Robin's suicide a little better. Not anything I ever would have thought of. This is a very insightful book and I think would be appreciated by anyone interested in Lincoln.
I read, I write, I paint and enjoy photography. Is there supposed to be more?
This book made me re-think everything I know about Lincoln and melancholy. Perhaps the great become great because of their melancholy, rather than in spite of it. There's a depth of perception that can't help but bring about a dampening of spirits, but that doesn't mean one gives up or lose their determination to make the world a better place. I enjoyed every part of this book--the story, the uncovering of new information, the narration--and wouldn't mind listening to it again. The subject of this biography is one that is loved the more times one reads about his life and experience.
It truly amazed me to learn that Lincoln suffered from acute depression. I could identify with many experiences he had related to depression. It was also beneficial to learn that to be melancholic in Lincoln's day could be perceived as a virtue. It certainly doesn't have the stigma it has today.
I learned that even great men such as Lincoln have suffered from depression. That depression can actually enhance one's life experience.
Absolutely great! Very important read for anybody who thinks they know everything
about our greatest President and anybody who wishes to learn about mental illness.
The book is told in sort of a lecture like presentation but then after a few minutes, you feel as if the writer( Mr. Shenk ) and the narrator (Mr. Davidson) are talking to YOU personally.
I listened to this every day on my way to work and hated when I arrived there. Couldn't wait to head home, to get back into this wonderful book.
Non-fiction, fiction--I read widely. Except bodice rippers. I'd rather pull my own eyelashes out than read romance. Avid, happy reader.
Wow--what an interesting book! This is the first book I've read about Lincoln, and it made me want to read more. If you suffer from depression, or know someone who does, there's something pretty inspiring about this book, as it really shows some of the positive traits associated with depression along with the difficulties. It doesn't seem to overstep what is known about Lincoln, and doesn't come off like psycho-babble at any point.
I love an engaging, nonfiction story that leaves me learning something new, and this definitely fits the bill. Highly recommend!
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