Abraham Lincoln is the most revered president in American history, but the woman at the center of his life, his wife, Mary, has remained a historical enigma. In this definitive, magisterial biography, Catherine Clinton draws on important new research to illuminate the remarkable life of Mary Lincoln, and at a time when the nation was being tested as never before.
Mary Lincoln’s story is inextricably tied with the story of America and with her husband’s presidency, yet her life is an extraordinary chronicle on its own. Born into an aristocratic Kentucky family, she was an educated, well-connected Southern daughter, and when she married a Springfield lawyer she became a Northern wife-an experience mirrored by thousands of her countrywomen. The Lincolns endured many personal setbacks-including the death of a child and defeats in two U.S. Senate races-along the road to the White House. Mrs. Lincoln herself suffered scorching press attacks, but remained faithful to the Union and her wartime husband. She was also the first presidential wife known as the “First Lady,” and it was in this role that she gained her lasting fame. The assassination of her husband haunted her for the rest of her life. Her disintegrating downward spiral resulted in a brief but traumatizing involuntary incarceration in an asylum and exile in Europe during her later years. One of the most tragic and mysterious of nineteenth-century figures, Mary Lincoln and her story symbolize the pain and loss of Civil War America.
Authoritative and utterly engrossing, Mrs. Lincoln is the long-awaited portrait of the woman who so richly contributed to Lincoln’s life and legacy.
Any biographer of Mary Lincoln has a tough act to follow in Jean H. Baker’s groundbreaking and definitive Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, published two decades ago and reissued in paperback in 2008. Queens University (Belfast) history professor Clinton (Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom) fails to rise to the occasion. For starters, the book seems to have no raison d’être: Clinton offers no revisionist interpretation and has uncovered no new sources. Add to this Clinton’s annoying style, such as a penchant for ESP, narrating Mary Lincoln’s thoughts through various key moments in her life, such as this upon the day in April, 1865, when her husband triumphantly visited the Confederate capital of Richmond: “Mary found a sense of serenity that was distinctly new and uncharacteristic … she imagined that she might be reconciled with those alienated….” The author also too frequently paraphrases the contents of diaries and letters, without quoting them directly. Although Clinton’s book provides an adequate summary of an important life, readers can find a far more than adequate rendition elsewhere. B&w illus.
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Publish Date : 2010-01-19T00:00:01Z