Lincoln's Melancholy

  • by Joshua Wolf Shenk
  • Narrated by Richard M. Davidson
  • 11 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.


What the Critics Say

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


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Customer Reviews

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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.

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- Sara "Avid Reader"

Man is born broken. He lives by mending.

"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.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-22-2005
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books