Monday, January 14, 2008

What I'm reading...

Over the Christmas holidays I read an interesting biography of Abraham Lincoln called Lincoln's Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Shenk examines how depression developed and affected Lincoln in often disastrous ways throughout his lifetime. I knew Lincoln was given to melancholy, but was unaware just how much this was so.

What I found especially interesting was reading the comments others made about Lincoln when he was alive. There would be no way Lincoln would be electable today, given that his depression was so well-known and he was quite honest about it. He certainly would need a lot of help from image-makers were he to run for president today!

I also appreciated the way Shenk (not writing as a Christian) shows how Lincoln's spirituality became better defined and more robust over time. If Shenk is right, there were periods when Lincoln questioned the very existence of God. But by the end of his life he had integrated his years of personal suffering with a Biblical and submissive faith.

For those who suffer from depression - and for those who love people who do - this book offers a view of depression that is sympathetic while also hopeful. Like the subtitle says, "How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness."


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

Sounds interesting, Mike. Things were definitely different before depression was considered primarily a medical condition (cf. the Puritan book Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy).

Out of curiosity, did the book mention his relationship with his wife or his alleged homosexuality? A recent biography brought those theories to the forefront, and I wonder what other Lincoln scholars think of the ideas.

Mike said...

Yes. Shenk spends a lot of time on Lincoln's close and life-long friendship with Joshua Fry Speed. For a while, when Lincoln had no home of his own, they shared a bed. But Shenk says Lincoln was probably no different from other men of that day: "Bed-sharing...was about as common as, and indeed was very similar to, the way that people today share apartments" (pg. 35). He doesn't have a lot to say about Mary Todd other than showing how Lincoln's marriage to her was more out of a sense of obligation than love. Again, while sad, that was probably not that uncommon back in the 1800's.