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Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression…

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His… (2005)

by Joshua Wolf Shenk

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7292519,559 (4.05)48



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A fascinating book about Lincoln and about depression as well. The research and scholarship is excellent. He included many references from many disciplines and that added great value to the author's credibility and thoughtfulness of the topic. He was very realistic about how history can be so tainted by the teller and that was refreshing and enlightening. Mr. Lincoln was a complex human and this refreshing analysis of him added a great deal to Lincolnography, while still admitting some things cannot truly be "known". This book was a true page turner for me. I have read a bit about Lincoln and this added nicely to it. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
This is a solid read. The book's premise is that Mr. Lincoln suffered from melancholy. Today, many would consider his suffering as clinical chronic depression. I think the book does speculate a lot, as it is impossible to really know how severe it was. However, based on writings of Lincoln himself and his contemporaries, it is highly likely he did suffer from depression at times. At one point early in his career, Lincoln does contemplate suicide, and he may have published a poem anonymously about suicide. Moreover, it's undeniable that Lincoln had a natural gloomy, contemplative countenance and aura about him. Evidence for that is all over the place from numerous published accounts of his peers to portraits of the man.

The author attempts to weave the analysis of Lincoln's mental health with his life story. He uses this linear progression of Mr. Lincoln's life to show how Lincoln learned how to adapt to his illness, and he shows the ways Lincoln used his suffering to see the world in a different way, and strategies he used to deal with depression, like humor. There is a lot to like about this book, and it contains many little stories about Lincoln that I haven't heard elsewhere.

So, I would recommend this one with the understanding that there is a bit of speculation here, and we may never know the whole picture of Lincoln's mental health. Perhaps, that is best. Lincoln is a mysterious man in many ways and I kind of like it that way. ( )
  Mitchell_Bergeson_Jr | Aug 6, 2017 |
This was a truly fabulous book. Well researched and it gave deep insight into how we, as a nation, view mental illness and how it has changed over the course of time. It also gave insight into a man I've long admired and felt a pull toward. This was excellent fuel for my moderate Lincoln obsession. ( )
  Melynn1104 | Jun 28, 2017 |
A great, scholarly work on Lincoln's inner life which was, apparently, very bleak. "I am now the most miserable man living", he said in his early thirties, and I admit, he might have been a contender. Comprised of oral reports, letters and references to other biographies and Lincoln's own writing, this work paints a picture all the way from Lincoln's early years to his assassination as president. Shenk critically assesses the available evidence, and, fortunately is honest when this evidence is not sufficient for bold and sweeping statements about Abe's life. Not only a biography but a study of mental health, this book is both historically important and valuable for those who are as melancholy as Lincoln, and yearn for a meaningful way to combat it, or atleast manage their way through bravely.
  bartt95 | Jan 15, 2017 |
Excellent read. I will be reading more on Lincoln in the future. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
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A year before he died, Leo Tolstoy, told this story to a reporter for the New York World.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618773444, Paperback)

A thoughtful, nuanced portrait of Abraham Lincoln that finds his legendary political strengths rooted in his most personal struggles.


Giving shape to the deep depression that pervaded Lincoln's adult life, Joshua Wolf Shenk's Lincoln's Melancholy reveals how this illness influenced both the president's character and his leadership. Lincoln forged a hard path toward mental health from the time he was a young man. Shenk draws from historical record, interviews with Lincoln scholars, and contemporary research on depression to understand the nature of his unhappiness. In the process, he discovers that the President's coping strategies—among them, a rich sense of humor and a tendency toward quiet reflection—ultimately helped him to lead the nation through its greatest turmoil.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Drawing on seven years of his own research and the work of other esteemed Lincoln scholars, Shenk reveals how the sixteenth president harnessed 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 had 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 revelatory account of Lincoln and his legacy. Based on careful research, this book unveils a wholly new perspective on how our greatest president brought America through its greatest turmoil. By consciously shifting his goal away from personal contentment (which he realized he could not attain) and toward universal justice, Lincoln gained the strength and insight that he, and America, required to transcend profound darkness--From publisher description.… (more)

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HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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