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The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage [Kindle Edition]

Daniel Mark Epstein
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The first full-length portrait of the marriage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln in more than fifty years, The Lincolns is a fascinating new work of American history by Daniel Mark Epstein, an award-winning biographer and poet known for his passionate understanding of the Civil War period.

Although the private lives of political couples have in our era become front-page news, the true story of this extraordinary and tragic first family has never been fully told. The Lincolns eclipses earlier accounts with riveting new information that makes husband and wife, president and first lady, come alive in all their proud accomplishments and earthy humanity.

Epstein gives a fresh close-up view of the couple’s life in Springfield, Illinois (of their twenty-two years of marriage, all but six were spent there). We witness the troubled courtship of an aristocratic and bewitching Southern belle and a struggling young lawyer who concealed his great ambition with self-deprecating humor; the excitement and confusion of the newlyweds as they begin their marriage in a small room above a tavern, and the early signs of Mary’s instability and Lincoln’s moodiness; their joyful creation of a home on the edge of town as Lincoln builds his law practice and makes his first forays into politics. We discover their consuming ambition as Lincoln achieves celebrity status during his famed debates with Stephen A. Douglas, which lead to Lincoln’s election to the presidency.

The Lincolns’ ascent to the White House brought both dazzling power and the slow, secret unraveling of the couple’s unique bond. The Lincolns dramatizes certain well-known events with stunning new immediacy: Mary’s shopping sprees, her defrauding of the public treasury to increase her budget, and her jealousy, which made enemies for her and problems for the president. Yet she was also a brilliant hostess who transformed the shabby White House into a social center crucial to the Union’s success. After the death of their little boy, not a year after Lincoln took office, Mary turned for solace to spirit mediums, but her grief drove her to the edge of madness. In the end, there was little left of the Lincolns’ relationship save their enduring devotion to each other and to their surviving children.

Written with enormous sweep and striking imagery, The Lincolns is an unforgettable epic set at the center of a crucial American administration. It is also a heartbreaking story of how time and adversity can change people, and of how power corrupts not only morals but affections. Daniel Mark Epstein’s The Lincolns makes two immortal American figures seem as real and human as the rest of us.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

From the Author: What's New in The Lincolns, Portrait of a Marriage?

During the years I was researching and writing this book I was asked again and again: Have you found anything new, in facts or perspective?

The answer is yes, and yes again. Everything is new in the sense that when one puts aside the stereotypes associated with the Lincolns, a rich and complex married life emerges. The stereotypes are: Mary was crazy, and Abraham was a saint. The most popular myth is that Lincoln married a madwoman, and suffered patiently and heroically through twenty-two miserable years of marriage.

After my research, I reached two conclusions that shaped my portrait of the marriage. First, these two people loved each other deeply, from the time they met in Springfield in 1839, until his assassination in 1865. The second is that Mary was extremely interested in Abraham's career and speeches; whenever they could, the two of them talked about these things. She was a strong political partner for him.

The rest of my work has been a careful gathering of details. Here again, there is a lot that is new. First, this is the only book about the marriage that recounts the Springfield years (16 years out of 22) in as much detail as the White House years. In Springfield the family achieved a delicate balance that was destabilized in wartime Washington. The story that began as a romance turns to tragedy.

The Lincolns' courtship was stormy; he broke off their engagement in 1840, and they were not reconciled until 1842. New evidence indicates that Lincoln believed he had syphilis, and would not resume the courtship until he believed he was cured.

I discovered letters from Mary's brother-in-law that shed light on the courtship, and the abrupt reconciliation and marriage in 1842.

This is the first book to connect Lincoln’s reading of The Niles Register (a news magazine of the time) with his speeches against the Mexican War during his term of congress in 1847-48. In their Washington boarding house in 1848, the Lincolns witnessed the abduction of a black servant who was buying his freedom. Using newspaper accounts of the time I was able to detail this terrifying incident.

Mary's physical abuse of her husband has mostly been a matter of rumor. In 1857 she is supposed to have hit her husband with a stick of firewood, injuring his nose. I was able to find store receipts for a gelatin plaster that Lincoln purchased on the date witnesses saw him wearing the plaster cast, on his nose, in court.

Much has been written about the plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way through Baltimore for the inauguration. This book is the first to describe the danger to which Mary and her sons were exposed en route to Baltimore while Lincoln passed secretly from Harrisburg to Washington. The Presidential train with Mary aboard served as a decoy, and the journey through "mob city" was a nightmare.

One of the most exciting moments of my research was in discovering a poem of Albert Laighton's that the Lincolns read together. It shaped the last lines of Lincolns' first inaugural address. Another was the discovery of a letter from a Washington physician describing Mrs. Lincoln's handling of a medical crisis in the White House (when her children had measles) that disproves the received opinion she was too unstable to handle such emergencies.

There's a lot more that is new, but I don't want to spoil it here. I felt honored to be entrusted with these materials, and to tell the Lincolns' story.

--Daniel Mark Epstein

From Publishers Weekly

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 Biography or 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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1683 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (May 26, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0018QOYJ8
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,783 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Vivid, fresh and compelling, The Lincolns offers an insightful and revelatory look at what bonded together these two iconic historical figures. The reader comes away with a clear sense of the symbiosis of profound psychological needs and shared experiences that united the Lincolns in ambition and devotion. Meticulous research is put to good use in creating the most richly textured evocation to date of the Lincolns' world, from the folksy streetscapes of Springfield to the glittering parlors of official Washington; from the relentless mobs (both cheering and hostile) to the horrific battlefields of Virginia. By focusing on the dynamics of the marriage, Epstein remains remarkably sympathetic to both partners. The reader senses Lincoln's maddening opacity as a husband, exacerbated by the grim responsibilities of the office of the Presidency, as a force that both empowered and frustrated Mary Lincoln's increasingly desperate need for individual recognition and respect. Epstein's ability to discern the telling detail, and to create unforgettably vivid images remains uniquely powerful among biographers, and grants a captivating immediacy to his storytelling. Nuanced and insightful, The Lincolns is a once-in-a-generation contribution to our understanding of the complex landscape of Lincoln's private world.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Hellcat' In The Whitehouse July 15, 2008
Mr. Epstein writes a very personal portrayal of the marriage of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd. His book is easy reading for a historical book, and the author chooses not to burden the reader with voluminous footnotes in the text, but rather lists each quote and source in the appendix by chapter. The book is perhaps the finest and best researched exposition of the character of the Lincoln's marriage.

Epstein does a wonderful job of illustrating how good the Lincoln's marriage really was, as far as their compatibility and closeness. They both loved poetry and they both loved politics. Almost all the strategy and speeches that Lincoln made prior to his run for the Presidency were at the very least, run by Mary before he made his presentation. Mary gave critical and helpful advice on the substance and tone of his speeches. In addition, the Lincoln's were very affectionate toward each other. Mr. Epstein actually points out that it was the practice of the Lincoln's to make love to each other every night. This active love life continued until the birth of Mary's last child, Tad, whose head which was very large at birth, seriously damaged her birth canal and made sex difficult and painful from that point onward.

In addition, the author does an excellent job of illustrating the serious `mood disorder' that seems to have afflicted Mary throughout her life, and which increased in severity as she grew older. There are numerous stories all through their life together of this erratic behavior which are mentioned in the literature of historians and well presented in this book. By the time Lincoln won the Whitehouse, Mary's moods were so erratic, that it led John Hay, one of two main secretary/assistants that Lincoln had as President, to refer to Mary as "The Hellcat.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Poetic Work of Genius June 26, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Reading this book will be as close to getting to know the Lincolns as it is possible. Mr. Epstein has written a book that never embroiders the facts, but that is filled with penetrating insights into the characters of these two remarkable people. At times, one feels that Mary behaved no better than a common embezzler, at other times one's heart breaks for this poor, brave woman. As for Lincoln, he was a saint and a great president, but was he the right husband for this needy, difficult woman? Was he prescient, during their courtship, in suspecting that he could not make her happy? Possibly, no one could. What I found most startling is the suggestion in the last chapters that Mary, although mad or nearly so, saw the physical dangers to her husband more clearly than he did and that his insouciance exacerbated her erratic behavior. The Lincolns loved Shakespeare, but their evolutions suggest Cervantes' Quixote: there was a core of sanity in her madness that made her see the world as it was and this deepened her mental woes; his acceptance of fate blinded him to the need to prevent, rather than almost court, assassination. Did he somehow want to leave her in the only honorable way he could? Was his barely suppressed depression too much to bear as he mounted the steps to the theater box on that Good Friday? I never thought so until I read this great book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There certainly is no shortage of books on Abraham Lincoln. More than 140 years after his passing, Lincoln still scores as one of the best presidents we've ever had (if not the best), and is still revered as a visionary leader who saved our country from self-exploding. Ever since I was in fifth grade, I've had a peculiar fascination with the first bearded president that is almost unexplained. Even today, after reading millions of Lincoln books, I can't tell you the single reason why Lincoln fascinates me. Certainly, it's grown over the years in learning about his presidency, his successes and failures in freeing the slaves, and his family.

One would think that there couldn't possibly be any new information about Lincoln that would charm the socks of anyone with an Lincoln interest. However, in Daniel Mark Epstein's new book, "Lincoln a Portrait of a Marriage", paints such a complete and stunning picture of the marriage between two unlikely people, I left the book with such a sense of awe and wonderment, a deeper understanding of the life and times of mid 1800's America, and respect for both Mary and Abraham.

It isn't that Epstein presents new information, he takes the available information, places it in its rightful historical context, sprinkles in letters from Lincoln and people in his sphere, which suddenly makes this story pop alive. Normally, when authors include sections of letters, often long and laborious to read, I merely skip over the section and go back to the text. Epstein interlaces these so expertly that I found myself reading and rereading these sections, giving a deeper portrait. His knowledge of how people lived in his time and place in our history is complete, adding little bits of knowledge to my already overcrowded mind.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
We portray the Lincolns and this is interesting but not always accurate. Make sure you have at least three sources to verify if you want historically accrue information. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Barbmom
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction
I've read hundreds of books on the subject of the Lincolns so there wasn't much new here for me. For a causal reader, however, I'd have to recommend this as a good, overall study... Read more
Published 23 days ago by S. O'Toole
5.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln Marriage
Loved reading about my favorite president as a husband and father. A lot of books make your think there was no love there.
Published 29 days ago by billie kurtz
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lincolns
I so enjoyed reading this book, even though the Lincolns' marriage was a true " American Tragedy. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Christine Schulz
5.0 out of 5 stars Abraham Lincoln and his wife had a very strange, bizarre union. Read...
I love Abraham Lincoln. Reading about him and his life transformed you into another world. I was back in the 1800's. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Deborah
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading
More insight into the complex personalities of Abe and Mary Lincoln. Oil and water do not mix. In the days of Abe and Mary's marriage counciling just was not available, so poor... Read more
Published 5 months ago by AZ Gal in NV now
4.0 out of 5 stars Good insight.
Very detailed and tends to track a bit more of the political life than I thought was necessary at first, but yet it all plays into what their marriage went through. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars Most interesting
This book is obviously well researched by Mr. Epstein and a very interesting read if you want the real story.
Published 10 months ago by JLYB
5.0 out of 5 stars Gift for Mom, She loved it
I bought this as a gift for Mom. She loved it and said that there were several things that she had never read before and she has read a lot on this subject. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Douglas A Gilmore
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing account of life in the Lincoln household
This book followed my viewing of LINCOLN. I needed this part of the story
to complete my understanding of the Lincolns.
Published 14 months ago by Judith Kee
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More About the Author

Daniel Mark Epstein has written more than fifteen books of poetry, biography, and history, including Lincoln and Whitman, which received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, named one of the top ten books of 2008 by the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Sun-Times. He lives in Baltimore.

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