Monday, August 14, 2006

Lincoln's Melancholy

Even though I have had the book for months and have always had great interest in the assumed topics, I was not able find time to get caught up in Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness until this past weekend. Named in the "100 Notable Books of 2005" (New York Times), "The Best Books of 2005" (The Washington Post), and one of the "Dozen Non-fiction Books That Mattered in 2005" (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), the book has been a fascinating read so far (after the Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2) and seems worthy of the praise. Especially intriguing are an anecdote re-told by Tolstoy (the prelude) and direct quotes about Lincoln, his behavior, and intimate interactions recounted by his contemporaries (and preserved through documented interviews).

If you are curious about Lincoln, America in the late 1800s, or the study of depression, I imagine you'll enjoy AND learn a lot from this book. For those who are not impressed with today's theories on psychology, psychiatry, and mental illness, I believe, at the very least, you will be enlightened by how Lincoln's contemporaries - and Lincoln, himself - viewed changes in mood, dealing with life's hardships, overcoming tragedies, etc. As you might expect, there are all sorts of interesting hypotheses about what might cause these "bouts of intense sadness" - even talk of an excess of black bile in an individual's body (the humoral theory). I am very much enjoying the quotes of friends (that have been long-ignored by many historians) that accompany the well-known events of Lincoln's life, and the mentions of nearby New Salem and Springfield, IL are always exciting for this central Illinois gal. However, I have not yet read one bit about how Lincoln's faith carried him through life's trials. I'll be paying close attention to see if that matter is discussed in later chapters.

If you are considering purchasing the book, please first consider reading an
excerpt from the introduction. Or, maybe you'd like to check out the book's entire web site. I have especially enjoyed reading the "Readers Respond" and "Errata" sections of the site.

As a sidenote (but a somewhat related note), if you do not already watch the show History Detectives on PBS, please check your local listings and tune in. I try to watch it every Monday evening, but PBS does air it a few times a week. The team of four (whose experience includes work as professor, sociologist, auctioneer, architect, appraiser and so much more) stop at almost nothing to find the history behind family heirlooms and artifacts that are brought forward by everyday citizens. Join them on their journeys and learn about our history through this entertaining, yet informative, program - suitable for the whole family.

P.S. For those of you who have been watching History Detectives since 2003 and who noticed I am recommending books from the 2005 bestsellers lists.....yes, I am way behind the times lately. I guess I should just be thankful I'm not even further behind.

No comments: