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Lincoln's melancholy : how depression challenged a president and fueled his grea
Joshua Wolf Shenk
Adult Nonfiction E457.2 .S47 2005

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Abe the Emancipator, argues Washington Monthly contributor Shenk, struggled with persistent clinical depression. The first major bout came in his 20s, and the disease dogged him for the rest of his life. That Lincoln suffered from "melancholy" isn't new. Shenk's innovation is in saying, first, that this knowledge can be illuminated by today's understanding of depression and, second, that our understanding of depression can be illuminated by the knowledge that depression was actually a source of Lincoln's greatness. Lincoln's strategies for dealing with it are worth noting today: at least once, he took a popular pill known as the "blue mass"-essentially mercury-and also once purchased cocaine. Further, Lincoln's famed sense of humor, suggests Shenk, may have been compensatory, and he also took refuge in poetry. Unlike Americans today, Shenk notes, 19th-century voters and pundits were more forgiving of psychological and emotional complexity, and a certain prophetic pessimism, he notes, was appropriate to the era of the Civil War. Occasionally, Shenk chases down an odd rabbit trail-an opening meditation on whether Lincoln was gay, for example, is neither conclusive nor apposite. Still, this is sensitive history, with important implications for the present. (Sept. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Lincoln's bouts with melancholy were well known in his day and became legendary after his death, but biographers, psychiatrists, and students of Lincoln have struggled to make sense of them. Was he mad, depressed, physically debilitated, or what? Over the years, historians have amplified or ignored Lincoln's mental state, but recent works of psychobiography and new medical findings on depression have opened the way for a fresh assessment. With uncommon common sense, a rare understanding of historical context, and a close reading of the primary sources, journalist Shenk persuasively argues that Lincoln indeed suffered from chronic depression. More important, he suggests that Lincoln's coping strategies not only helped him to live with his melancholy but prepared him for greatness. Lincoln's failures and his ability to live with countervailing tensions gave him the empathy, humility, and genius to win a terrible war and inspire others. While some readers might balk at Shenk's devotion to oral histories as the principal contemporary evidence on Lincoln's state of mind, they will find his discussions of Lincoln's private self and personal relationships revealing and instructive. Highly recommended for large public and university libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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