How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
By Joshua Wolf Shenk
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618551163, 368pp.)
Publication Date: September 2005
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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Lincoln endured and his efforts to come to terms with his melancholy, including a poem he published on suicide and his unpublished writings on the value of personaland nationalsuffering. 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.
JOSHUA WOLF SHENK is an essayist and independent scholar whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and in the national bestseller Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. He has written for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Mother Jones, and other publications. He has been a correspondent for the New Republic, the Economist, and U.S. News & World Report. A contributing editor to the Washington Monthly and a faculty member at New School University, Shenk serves on the advisory council of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and consulted on the History Channel's film Lincoln. He lives in Brooklyn.
"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"
"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
"A profoundly human and psychologically important examination of the melancholy that so pervaded Lincoln's life....Remarkable." --Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind
"This is sensitive history, with important implications for the present." Publishers Weekly
"A significant contribution to the study of Lincoln and his battle with depression that will resonate with contemporary Americans. . .inspirational." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"Compelling...An estimable contribution to the Lincoln literature." Booklist, ALA
"[Shenk argues] with uncommon common sense, a rare understanding of historical context, and a close reading of the primary sources." Library Journal Starred
"Intellectually energetic. . .By treating Lincoln from this angle, Shenk does gain a dimension that not all Lincoln books achieve." --William Lee Miller The Washington Post
"It contains some extremely beautiful prose and fine political rhetoric and leaves one feeling close to Lincoln, a considerable accomplishment." --Andrew Solomon New York Magazine
"A fresh, fascinating, provocative pschohistory." --Sanford D. Horwitt The San Francisco Chronicle