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Publisher's Summary

Drawing on a wealth of his own research and the work of other Lincoln scholars, Shenk reveals how the sixteenth president harnessed his depression to fuel his astonishing success. Lincoln found the solace and tactics he needed to deal with the nation's worst crisis in the "coping strategies" he developed over a lifetime of persevering through depressive episodes and personal tragedies.

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

Critic Reviews

"This is sensitive history, with important implications for the present." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Scott
  • Roseville, CA, United States
  • 06-22-08

Lincoln was depressed - who knew?

We live in an age of ease and comfort and ironically increasing depression by trying to keep that lifestyle growing. I found the documentation of how Lincoln dealt with his depression using humor and plain old dogged determination explained clinically well by a mental health professional very refreshing. How Lincoln handled depression without medication hopefully may give strength to the many people who currently suffer from what is now recognized as an often chronic and very widespread condition. This great listen of a book only added to my respect for Lincoln as a president and as an individual. I think it should be required reading for anyone suffering from what Lincoln himself referred to as The Black Dog - which by recognizing as a condition he could help to try to distance himself from it or at least understand it and thus carry on during one of the most stressful times in our country's history. You see stress can cause depression in some and what could have been more stressful than our own Civil War?

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alex
  • Athens, GA, USA
  • 01-18-06

Great Idea, Good Development

The idea that Lincoln experienced a major mental disorder throughout his life matches my sense of Lincoln as a "man of constant sorrows". The argument that he transformed his mental condition into a source of strength and resilience matches his record of performance. This book provides valuable insights into how this transformation occurred, and into how Lincoln's condition emerged from and was fostered by the culture of his age.

The organization is generally chronological, but with frequent tangents into cultural and psychological theory . . . on occasion, I found it hard to figure out where the author was going, but his tangents are usually well presented. He is also very strong in reviewing how different biographers and historians have viewed Lincoln's personality, and how those views have changed over time.

The reader is good and clear. My only real negative: the producers put disconnected music in at odd points, often not related to major breaks in the discussion, which interferes with an otherwise good listen.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jake
  • Woodland, CA, USA
  • 10-13-05

Absolutely Fascinating

I really enjoyed this book, there were tremendous insights into depression, as well as a great historical account of the times as seen through one of histories greatest presidents.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Minneapolis, MN, USA
  • 07-14-06

Insight and History

Contrary to what you may assume,this is a book of hope. Listening to this book will remind you that depression or 'melancholy' as it was called in the day of Lincoln, is not a ticket to obscurity or wasted life. Lincoln's struggle with this illness was a constant companion, which he was able to turn into a means of learning and personal growth. Shenk is a master at setting up the historical context and how Lincoln's mental health situation interacted. Shenk also helps you understand the nature of depression and its impact on any of us who struggle with this condition. What he does not do is create an image of Lincoln as super-hero who was unimpaired by his condition. Instead, Lincoln is seen as a man who was at times beaten up by his own demons but was able to assist others as they battled their own troubled souls. The consummate student, Lincoln learned from his own experience and used his pain as a means of helping those he loved.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Oh dear

Any additional comments?

Not sure that there is much more depressing out there than a long book about Lincoln's depression. Not suggested for long family car drives, people feeling discouraged or anyone a bit down. Really can't think what came over me to buy this book. Guess I thought that there might be insights of interest and use. I just never reached them. I had just finished reading a pile of books about Lincoln. This one I can't recommend.

33 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ernest
  • BROOKLYN, NY, United States
  • 04-07-09

If you have failed you must read

Who knew the incredible amount of pain one of the world's greatest leaders was in, but this is no story of tragedy, but of triumph. If you are in a rut and need a story of triumph over obstacle, read this.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • chris
  • las vegas, NV, United States
  • 09-09-10

Hands down awesome

I almost didn't buy this because the sample on here sounded a little shoddy. However, I am glad I bought it and would say the actual audio is superb. I enjoyed the narrator and the content of this book stunned me at every turn. It is a great book for anyone who has struggled through depression and asked themselves, 'is the answer to my problems in a pill, or in channeling my pain into something more powerful and meaningful'? It is for anyone who likes Lincoln and to learn about History. One of the best audio's I've ever listened to. I'm buying 5 in print editions for friends this Christmas.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Larry
  • Westlake, LA, United States
  • 01-23-06

A great read

I thoroughly enjoyed this examination of Lincoln's life. I have always been interested in the way Lincoln handled the huge stress and horrible tragedy in his life, and this book shed light on his early years that I had not heard about previously. The only reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 was a result of the gap that was put and attention neglected on the death of Lincoln's sons. It seems that those events were glazed over, and more detail was really expected on these events. The historical examination on the study of Lincoln at the end was an absolute delight as well as the ending interview. This is an absolutely wonderful read about the details of Lincoln's early life and how he dealt with tragedy in his life.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Donna
  • Crownsville, MD, USA
  • 01-03-06

Excellent audio book

I read this with utmost fascination. I enjoyed this extremely. A must listen!! So much in this related to my own mind set and experience.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent Book

This book was well written and addresses a subject which has not been addressed often enough; the positive side of otherwise debilitating conditions. This book deals with Lincoln's melancholia like the book "Churchill's Black Dog and Kafka's Mice" addresses the "positive" impact of the bipolar condition in Churchhill's life.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful