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Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatnessby Joshua Wolf Shenk
Synopses & Reviews
Drawing on seven years of his own research and the work of other esteemed 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 had 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. Based on careful, intrepid research, Lincoln's Melancholy unveils a wholly new perspective on how our greatest president brought America through its greatest turmoil.
Shenk relates Lincoln's symptoms, including mood swings and at least two major breakdowns, and offers compelling evidence of the evolution of his disease, from "major depression" in his twenties and thirties to "chronic depression" later on. Shenk reveals the treatments Lincoln endured and his efforts to come to terms with his melancholy, including a poem he published on suicide and his unpublished writings on the value of personal — and national — suffering. By consciously shifting his goal away from personal contentment (which he realized he could not attain) and toward universal justice, Lincoln gained the strength and insight that he, and America, required to transcend profound darkness.
"A profoundly human and psychologically important examination of the melancholy that so pervaded Lincoln's life. His suffering, and transformation of that suffering into an astonishing grace and strength, are persuasively and beautifully described in this remarkable book." Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind
"This book is full of lessons not just on Lincoln and mental health but on the strange alchemy of great leadership." Newsweek Magazine
"Lincoln's Melancholy is an extraordinary story, for the depth of its scholarship and the lure of its style." Mike Wallace, cohost of CBS's 60 Minutes
"Compelling...An estimable contribution to the Lincoln literature." Booklist
"Lincoln not only coped with his depression, he harnessed it. Joshua Wolf Shenk [explains how] masterfully and memorably." Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
"[Shenk argues] with uncommon common sense, a rare understanding of historical context, and a close reading of the primary sources." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"A significant contribution to the study of Lincoln and his battle with depression that will resonate with contemporary Americans...inspirational." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Thanks to Shenk's own Lincoln-like sensitivity and sagacious commentary, we have a new perspective for understanding not only one of our most important political figures, but also for re-thinking our assumptions about mental health and the full range of appropriate therapies in modern American life." San Francisco Chronicle
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 nations greatest turmoil. Drawing on seven years of research, Shenk offers a nuanced, revelatory perspective on Lincoln and his legacy.
About the Author
Joshua Wolf Shenk is a curator, essayist, and the author of Lincoln's Melancholy, a New York Times Notable Book. A contributor to The Atlantic, Harper's, The New Yorker, and other publications, he directs the Arts in Mind series on creativity and serves on the general council of The Moth. He lives in Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
Prelude xiii Introduction 1
PART ONE 1. The Community Said He Was Crazy 11 2. A Fearful Gift 26 3. I Am Now the Most Miserable Man Living 43
PART TWO 4. A Self-Made Man 69 5. A Misfortune, Not a Fault 81 6. The Reign of Reason 97 7. The Vents of My Moods and Gloom 112
PART THREE 8. Its Precise Shape and Color 126 9. The Fiery Trial Through Which We Pass 159 10. Comes Wisdom to Us 191
Epilogue 211 Afterword: What Everybody Knows” 221 Notes 244 Bibliography 300 Acknowledgments 323 Index 328
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