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Poet and biographer Epstein (Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington) never explains the rationale for this reliable but familiar account of the Lincolns' frequently tempestuous marriage. If he had access to previously untapped sources, he does nothing to highlight them, and there's little reason why this book should supersede either Jean H. Baker's magisterial Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biographyor even Ruth Painter Randall's respected Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage. What Epstein brings is a novelistic, almost lyrical touch, as in this passage, from Mary's perspective, as her husband lay dying: "Slowly the room grows larger with the light. The April days are long. Hold back the light. Let the day never dawn that looks upon his death." Well born, Mary was also highly strung, insecure, jealous and, like Abraham, prone to fits of depression. He suffered her rages silently, tolerated her profligate spending even when it became a political embarrassment and twice consoled her in the midst of his own grief upon the successive losses of two of their four sons. Sadly, in the end, their marriage seems to have been largely a pageant of tragedies: a black lily Epstein need not have attempted to gild. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Biographer and poet Epstein (Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington) paints a portrait of a marriage bonded by love, humor, heartache, and political ambition but also haunted by the losses of children and friends and, for the President, of so many soldiers fighting to save the Union. He casts the Lincolns' courtship and early years of marriage as a true love story, with Lincoln a romantic at heart. But the marriage was strained as Lincoln became absorbed by war and as Mary Todd Lincoln engaged in intrigues, overspent on her wardrobe and White House refurbishing, and flew off in fits of jealousy and despair, all working against the couple's happiness and the President's health. Epstein does not so much revise previous assessments of the marriage and its personal and political consequence as he imagines private thoughts, feelings, and behavior that direct evidence cannot show. The result is a drama of love and loss and a recognition that the personal life could not be separated from the public self and service. With cautions on some flights of fancy, recommended for university and large public libraries.
“Daniel Mark Epstein’s brilliantly conceived The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage is marked by meticulous scholarship and a balanced evaluation of the union that, until now, has confounded biographers and readers alike. The author, also a poet, has given us an insightful and lyrical narrative of the relationship between Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln that helped make him President.”
- Frank J. Williams, founding Chair of The Lincoln Forum and a member of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
“Will we ever tire of trying to understand this Man? I doubt it, and in this impressive work, Daniel Mark Epstein approaches Lincoln through his complicated and revealing union with Mary Todd.”
- Ken Burns
“Daniel Epstein in 2004 gave us the best book yet written on Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. Now he has given us the best book yet written on the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln--a comprehensive, sensitive, elegantly wrought masterpiece that puts us up close and personal with one of the most interesting pairings in American history.”
- John C. Waugh, author of One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln's Road to Civil War
“The Lincolns' marriage has always been shrouded in mystery and sadness. But in this fascinating biography by the peerless Epstein, the ties that bound them together are rendered with tender clarity. Beautifully written, impeccably researched, The Lincolns is destined to join the pantheon of indispensable books on the Civil War. “
- Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
"Poet, playwright and biographer Epstein presents a history and analysis of the almost operatic marriage of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln. The vivacious daughter of an aristocratic Kentucky family, Mary let it be known early and not entirely in jest that she intended to marry a man who would become president of the United States. Aggressively wooed by many in her adopted town of Springfield, Ill., she singled out the unlikely Lincoln. Despite a rocky courtship, she married the prairie lawyer with whom she shared a love of poetry, plays, politics and a ferocious ambition. Touching only lightly on their lives before marriage–and not at all on Mary’s decline after her husband’s assassination–Epstein focuses on their turbulent and often unhappy union. Intensely private, secretive and frequently absent, Lincoln was no picnic as a husband; Mary, if anything, was a worse wife. Epstein sensitively charts her descent into what can only be called madness. During the Springfield years her penchant for self-dramatization and self-pity, extreme nervousness, hypersensitivity and bad temper manifested itself in common enough fashion: an unreasoning fear of thunderstorms, grudges held against family and friends, gratuitous insults inflicted and physical assaults on servants and, occasionally, her husband. In the White House her increasingly disordered mind gave way to more serious offenses: lavish, compulsive spending beyond her means, baseless jealousy of other women, tampering with the government payroll and influence peddling. Her inconsolable grief at a second child’s death led to delusions and hallucinations. A seemingly permanent mental instability, perhaps the result of a carriage accident, separated her even further from a husband preoccupied with managing a savage war. She never wavered in her love for or her belief in Lincoln, but Mary appears to have deserved the titles bestowed on her by the president’s aides: the “hellcat” and “Her Satanic Majesty.”
A dynamic picture of a marriage every bit as fractious and as buffeted as the nation the Lincolns served."
– Kirkus Reviews
"[Epstein] is a poet by trade who moonlights in biography, having published lives of Nat King Cole and Aimee Semple McPherson. His account of the Lincolns' marriage combines a poet's sensitivity and imagination with a good historian's rigor and fairness. He has in particular an eye for the shifting tides of status and the tensions they can create: He knows that the wooing of the well-born Mary by the rustic young lawyer Lincoln, no matter how impressive his prospects, entailed a decline in status for her and an advance for him — and a difficult burden for a young marriage to carry.
Mr. Epstein's gift for atmospheric detail cuts deep, too. Death was a constant presence in 19th-century American life, as it seldom is today, and it hovers in the book as it did in the Lincoln's marriage, with the early death of two of their four sons and the slaughter of the Civil War. Yet death could be a link between them. Mr. Epstein describes them visiting a military hospital, moving from cot to cot, "bonded in their compassion, knowing that wounded and dying soldiers lay in hospital beds and on hillsides from here to the horizon, and they could comfort only these few, and for only a little while."… Readers will be grateful for his modesty and for much else. He has written what may be the best Lincoln book in a generation."
-The Wall Street Journal
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Lincolns by Daniel Mark Epstein Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Mark Epstein. Excerpted by permission.
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The Tryst: Springfield, 1842 3
A Year of Waiting 29
A Run for Congress 63
A Home at Last 76
Journeys and Discoveries
The Road to Washington 103
The Shadow of Death 155
At Home in Springfield 167
The Rising Star
Another Run for the Senate 205
The Pleasures of 1859 220
Traveling Together 232
The Nomination 245
"Mary, We Are Elected" 266
Journey Through Ovations 282
The White House
Darkness Descending 351
1863: A New Year 374
The War comes Home 394
Fire and ICE
Fire and ICE 411
One More Election 435
Ghosts in the Mirror 454
City Point 469
No Word of Farewell 491
Sources and Notes 517
Wow! With all the volumes I have read about Abraham Lincoln this one was more personal & so informative about love, life in the spot light & an understanding that has never before been brought to light. I never believed that Mary Todd was evil; I always assumed she had some mental problems & would now being on medication. So many feelings were involved in this that I want to read it again to discover if I missed anything. <BR/><BR/>I'm glad that Mr. Epstein brought out the love between the two and the normal feelings Mary had after losing 2 of her sons & giving her husband to the Union. They actually were a "normal" couple. <BR/><BR/>This book is exceptional.
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Posted March 23, 2009
While there was much consideration given the Lincoln's marriage, the book became very tedious in reading all the details of Lincoln's political rise.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2009
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Posted February 16, 2010
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Posted March 9, 2009
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