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The Madness of Mary Lincoln

Narrated by: Steven Roy Grimsley
Length: 6 hrs and 44 mins
4 out of 5 stars (71 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In 2005, historian Jason Emerson discovered a steamer trunk formerly owned by Robert Todd Lincoln's lawyer and stowed in an attic for 40 years. The trunk contained a rare find: 25 letters pertaining to Mary Todd Lincoln's life and insanity case, letters assumed long destroyed by the Lincoln family. Mary wrote 20 of the letters herself, more than half from the insane asylum to which her son Robert had her committed, and many in the months and years after.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first examination of Mary Lincoln's mental illness based on the lost letters, and the first new interpretation of the insanity case in 20 years. This compelling story of the purported insanity of one of America's most tragic first ladies provides new and previously unpublished materials, including the psychiatric diagnosis of Mary's mental illness and her lost will.

Emerson charts Mary Lincoln's mental illness throughout her life and describes how a predisposition to psychiatric illness and a life of mental and emotional trauma led to her commitment to the asylum. The first to state unequivocally that Mary Lincoln suffered from bipolar disorder, Emerson offers a psychiatric perspective on the insanity case based on consultations with psychiatrist experts.

This book reveals Abraham Lincoln's understanding of his wife's mental illness and the degree to which he helped keep her stable. It also traces Mary's life after her husband's assassination, including her severe depression and physical ailments, the harsh public criticism she endured, the Old Clothes Scandal, and the death of her son Tad.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the story not only of Mary, but also of Robert. It details how he dealt with his mother's increasing irrationality and why it embarrassed his Victorian sensibilities; it explains the reasons he had his mother committed, his response to her suicide attempt, and her plot to murder him. It also shows why and how he ultimately agreed to her release from the asylum eight months early, and what their relationship was like until Mary's death.

This historical page-turner provides readers for the first time with the lost letters that historians had been in search of for 80 years.

©2007 Board of Trustees, Southern Illinois University (P)2012 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is precise, documented, and detailed. . . . Every word counts and every word adds up to a riveting and until-now neglected chronicle begging to be told.” (Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of First Ladies)
“A judicious, convincing analysis. . . . Emerson's new evidence demonstrates that Mary Todd Lincoln deserves to be pitied more than censured, but also that she behaved very badly indeed.” (Michael Burlingame, author of Lincoln and the Civil War)
“Jason Emerson's heroic efforts to uncover new material on Robert Lincoln have paid off handsomely with this engaging interpretation of Mary Lincoln's later years.” (Catherine Clinton, author of Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

#MyNonFictionAddiction #My3LbOpinion

Being a devoted Lincoln enthusiast, I have consumed many books on the history. This was an especially interesting addition to my own ever expanding "Lincoln-library." Mary, I feel, ( long before it would be properly recognized in Psychology) certainly endured a form of PTSD, post assassination. There are definitely some interestingly bizarre accounts related here that will keep me in research material for a bit! The narrator is clear & pleasantly paced, and I devoured the title quickly. I certainly look forward to more titles from this narrator. My affections for the Lincoln's; & Mrs. Lincoln here particularly; has only been deepened! A broader scope of not only the participants, but also their contextual settings, has been articulated quite thoroughly here throughout the account. I believe this willl be a treat for many simililar-minded Lincoln-History afficienados! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Long overdue vindication...

for Robert Lincoln. Previously suppressed letters concerning the mental illness of the strangest first lady America has seen debunk the too-long-standing feminist attack on Robert Lincoln as a heartless chauvinist pig of a son who shunted his misunderstood mother off to Bedlam to be rid of her so he could seize her property and further his own political career. The discovered letters clearly show that Mary Lincoln was, in fact, not misunderstand, but deeply in the throes of a serious mental illness; they also show very clearly that Robert suffered mightily concerning the difficult decision that had to be made for his mother's own safety and well-being and that when she raged against him in delusional thoughts that told her that he wanted her money, he ENCOURAGED her to write him out of her will to prove that this was not his motive. The letters also reveal how predatory "friends" of Mary Lincoln as well as a sensationalist yellow journalist they enlisted wrongly besmirched Robert's character and just out and out lied concerning the luxury private facility that Robert secured for his mother's institutionalization. A VERY important addition to the Lincoln canon--and long overdue.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Found the book interesting and sad

I wish audible had this author's book on Robert T Lincoln, Giant in the Shadows. I really want to read that. Hope it comes out Audible soon.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!

What made the experience of listening to The Madness of Mary Lincoln the most enjoyable?

The narrator has a nice voice and does not stumble over pronunciations.

What did you like best about this story?

It is very well written. The story is engaging. This is not a dry, textbook account of historical events.

Which scene was your favorite?

I'm not sure.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

There is a lot of information packed into this book - I'm not sure one would *want* to try and listen to it in just one sitting.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Fairly balanced perspective

I have to start out by saying that someone commenting on how crazy and nasty Mary Lincoln was gets my dander up and I climb up on my soapbox to defend her honor. If William Herndon were still alive, I'd want to do him bodily harm for his mean-spirited attacks on Mary after she was widowed. Nothing irritates me more than people taking Herndon's word as fact regarding the relationship between Mary and Abraham.

This book draws from many perspectives and points out the historical context. Life in the mid- to late 1800s was not the same as today. What we now know of mental disorders and their treatment is vastly improved. To adversely judge Mary's level of sanity when she had a mental disorder that did not have the benefit of the medications we now have to keep us on an even keel, is to do her a great disservice. Mr. Emerson does a good job of pointing out that which I've always said. Any one of us in her position, someone with bipolar or depressive disorder who is dealt the blows of losing the ones she loves, especially her children, one by one. Then top it off with the man you love more than life itself being shot while you're sitting next to him. I defy you to bounce back and be a cheerful soul with no bitterness in your heart. (Okay so those last two sentences are part of my soapbox, but the author does give that impression.)

Before listening to this book, I was a little uncharitable in my thoughts about Robert Lincoln, again because of my instinctive defense of his mother. Now I can concede that he most likely believed he was doing what he had to do to protect her from her actions which were driven by her illness. Not a monster nor a saint, but a son with the undesirable situation of caring for a mother with issues and enemies. (As the first lady she was reviled by the North as a Southerner and by the South as a turncoat. She couldn't win no matter what she did.)

Overall, I believe this is a well-researched account and worth repeat listens.

As for the narrator, he has a pleasant voice, but would do well to look up the pronunciations of the big words and the locations in the Midwest. For example, he has to use the word "indefatigable" [ in-di-fat-i-guh-buhl ] many times and never gives the "g" the hard sound it's supposed to have. I've lived in Wisconsin all 57 years of my life and never heard Waukesha pronounced [ wah-KEY-shaw ]. "Wisconsin" and "Illinois" come out as [ Wehs ] consin and [ Ehll ] inois. (The bright side is that he doesn't say the "s" on the end of Illinois.) Without the mispronunciations, I would have given his performance 5 stars.

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Just OK - 'Pretty Good'

I guess I wanted 'more'. Living rather near to Bellvue House (sp?) in Batavia IL I've viewed the premises. I feel the book could've been longer and more detailed about more of the 'found' missing letters.

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required reading

very interesting history of Mary Lincoln and her life, I needed it for a Women and Madness course and the historical artifacts we're a nice touch!

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  • Diane
  • Louisville, KY, United States
  • 05-12-13

And now for the rest of the story...

For those who have a long-standing interest in Lincoln/Civil War history, or for those who saw the film "Lincoln" and wondered what happened to Mary after her husband's assassination, this book provides a fascinating coda to the Lincoln saga.

There are many accounts which attest to Mary's erratic and tempestuous behavior during the course of her marriage. After her husband's assassination in her presence, she managed to more or less hold things together until the adolescent death of her son,Tad, finally sent her over the edge. Anyone familiar with Lincoln lore knows that Mary, though totally devoted to Abraham, was never the most stable of individuals--but during the course of her life she was subjected to a degree of tragic loss that would unbalance many far less fragile than she.

My only complaint about the book is that its thrust seems to be a defense and justification of Todd Lincoln's conduct in having his mother involuntarily committed. I don't necessarily disagree with the author's conclusions, but I do think his interest in exonerating Todd does at time skew his analysis. Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable addition to our understanding of the Lincolns, 19th century women's history and the state of 19th century mental health care.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Disappointed

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Organization of materials. Would have benefited from a more linear timeline. See additional comments.

Which scene was your favorite?

None

Did The Madness of Mary Lincoln inspire you to do anything?

Perhaps to find a better book about Mary Todd Lincoln.

Any additional comments?

Promised 'new' information was limited and not worth the purchase. A short paper describing the finding of the letters and a short overview would have sufficed. Did not support a whole book. The last 15 minutes offered more information than balance of book. Was only stubbornness kept me listening.

Overall very disappointing book on a woman about which I hoped to learn so much more.

Narrator: should not have tried to soften voice for women. All were the same voice and was very distracting.

2 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Read if you want to understand only Robert Lincoln

This book claims that it represents a balance between the opposing sides of (1) Mary Lincoln critics and (2) Robert Lincoln critics. I didn't find that to be true. The book was very slanted in favor of Robert and spends a great deal of time justifying Robert's actions. Conversely, it spends very little time viewing the situation from the alternate viewpoint or considering any facts that would favor Mary. The author ignores a lot of historical facts, and simply starts his book based on the presumption that Mary was crazy. The story is so much more complex, compelling, heartbreaking and interesting when both sides are fairly viewed. But don't be fooled, you won't get that here.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful