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Entertaining read? Yes...Reliable information? Sadly no.
on April 27, 2010
Charles Lachman has written an entertaining, titillating book. I will grant him that. However, throughout the "biography" Lachman chose to go the salacious route even with information that has been readily debunked. While this may be suitable for a tabloid show such as "Inside Edition", it is NOT suitable when it comes to history. The facts are fascinating in their own right, but when the truth is not juicy enough, apparently Lachman would rather run with the fiction.
Much of the information cited within this book is available in other published forms. Lachman's research seems to be comprised primarily of cutting and pasting from other books. His entire section regarding Mary Todd Lincoln's institutionalization is cleverly lifted from Jean Baker's "Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography" with a dash of Jason Emerson's "The Madness of Mary Lincoln". The main problem with this approach is that Lachman, ever striving for juicy tabloid fodder, uses the slanted inaccurate perspective of Baker's biography when discussing the trial. Baker's "male chauvinistic society" perspective blinds her to the fact that Mary Lincoln was not well, nor should she be after losing three children at young ages and having her husband murdered before her eyes, she needed help and it was out of concern and love that Robert acted in the manner he did. How do we know this? Because of his letters. Because of letters to Robert from concerned family and friends begging Robert to do something. Because of letters from experts at the time in Mental Health who are warning Robert she could do harm to herself. These are the facts of the time. Not sociological perspectives slanted by personal bias. For a more fair and balanced perspective on this matter I would recommend reading Jason Emerson's "The Madness of Mary Lincoln" which does not take the bait of casting a villain in the matter. The truth is there was no villain. Robert AND Mary were each the victim of the events in their lives that led to her breakdown in 1875. I would also recommend Mark Neely and Gerald McMurtry's book "The Insanity File". This book was written from the letters and documents found hidden in Robert Lincoln's home 'Hildene'. Incidentally, the papers were found in the safe under the staircase on the FIRST floor of the home, not hidden within a cabinet beneath a non-existent third floor staircase. Any visitor to 'Hildene' would be able to enlighten Mr. Lachman to this fact.
The real trouble begins when Lachman delves into the historical "unknown". That being the children and grandchildren of Robert Lincoln. The problem is, some of us DO know about these people and were very surprised at the things written about them within his book. Jessie Lincoln ballooned to over 400 lbs? Really? Having personally seen photos and video of Jessie up to the point of her death, I can state with 100% confidence that Jessie Lincoln never approached two hundred pounds (I'd be surprised if she ever hit one fifty) let alone four hundred. So where did this inaccurate gem get culled from? Well, I can only guess, but I believe he heard debunked rumors of Mary Harlan Lincoln gaining weight in her later years. Why debunked? Well according to people who actually knew the Lincoln family, in her later years when she was too feeble to climb the stairs, she would be carried up. If she were over four hundred pounds, how many people would be carrying her up the stairs? Not the one person every personal recollection of this time cites. Rumors are not facts and while they may pass the test for the scrutiny of a program such as "Inside Edition", the field of history usually prefers the truth. This entire book is littered with too many examples to cite in which sensationalism is chosen over accuracy. The worst example of course being the strained D.B. Cooper connection which seems misplaced and forced to say the least. Just because something can not be disproven to satisfaction does not mean it is proven. The claim is beyond ludicrous and the evidence laughable and the very definition of underwhelming. It is in this strained section that Lachman's "Inside Edition" mentality is most visible.
To apply a cliche, Lachman's book adheres to flash over substance in every instance possible. Not one to let fact cloud his sensationalistic tendencies, Lachman has written an entertaining albeit woefully inaccurate book about the Last Lincolns. It is my hope that one day someone will truly research these last Lincolns, not simply cut and paste the research of others, and tell their genuine stories as opposed to tabloid driven fiction. Until then this book remains a fun read ideal for an extended visit to one's lavatory, but nothing more.