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Lincoln's Melancholy : How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
In this astonishing and illuminating book, Joshua Wolf Shenk reveals the deep melancholy that pervaded Abraham Lincoln's life and its influence on his mature character. Mired in personal suffering as a young man, Lincoln forged a hard path toward mental health. His coping strategies and depressive insight ultimately helped the sixteenth president find the strength that he, and America, needed to overcome the nation’s greatest turmoil. Drawing on seven years of research, Shenk offers a nuanced, revelatory perspective on Lincoln and his legacy.
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
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
October 01, 2006
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