Customer Reviews


59 Reviews
5 star:
 (41)
4 star:
 (10)
3 star:
 (6)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended to the general reader as well as to Lincoln buffs!
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...
Published on May 29, 2008 by Sallie T.

versus
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars...
One of the biggest mysteries of all about Abraham Lincoln involves his marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln. Was it a love match? Was she really crazy? Did they have anything in common? What did they see in each other? How much did Mary Todd Lincoln help or hurt Lincoln's presidency? Daniel Mark Epstein attempts to answer these questions in his ambitious book, The...
Published on March 3, 2009 by Cynthia K. Robertson


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended to the general reader as well as to Lincoln buffs!, May 29, 2008
By 
Sallie T. (Alexandria, VA) - See all my reviews
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Hellcat' In The Whitehouse, July 15, 2008
By 
Jon Linden (Warren, N.J. United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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." Her rage could be released at the slightest incident and her jealousy was enormous.

Overall, the book does a wonderful job of explaining and portraying the marriage and how Lincoln interacted with his wife Mary all through his marriage to her. It is a must read book for those readers interested in Lincoln and his administration. In addition, it is a wonderful read for any reader who has interest in a deeply personal rendering of the inner life of perhaps the best remembered American President. It comes highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Poetic Work of Genius, June 26, 2008
By 
J. C Marrero "alithere" (new orleans, la United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This will be the most talked about Lincoln book this season, July 26, 2008
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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.

Epstein's Lincoln in this book starts out gangly, depressed, and ever bit the human that he was. That may be hard for people to believe, but knowing all the facts about the person (or as many as you can get) leads to illumination and humanity. Mary starts off being the coquettish belle, flirtatious, warm, with a cheery laugh (how many times is our Mary described like that?). Their pairing seems impossible, even more so when Lincoln first declares their engagement ending. Lincoln falls into melancholia; Mary, always the charmer, continues to see men without much interest. She wants to marry a president. How she sees Lincoln in that light 20 years before it happening, is beyond me. But I loved reading about both of them, and when they finally unite, and Lincoln's heart is full, I was actually smiling.

Epstein has managed to take a topic that could very well be overwrought and repetitive, and makes this enthralling, illuminating, and a true pleasure to read. For any Lincoln expert, or someone unfamiliar to Abraham or Mary, "Lincoln a Portrait of a Marriage" is the non-fiction book event of the season. Don't pass tis treasure up!

Also, as an aside, Dark Mark Epstein wrote another book that I adore, and I highly suggest you check this out:
Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington. You WON'T regret it!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., March 3, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage (Paperback)
One of the biggest mysteries of all about Abraham Lincoln involves his marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln. Was it a love match? Was she really crazy? Did they have anything in common? What did they see in each other? How much did Mary Todd Lincoln help or hurt Lincoln's presidency? Daniel Mark Epstein attempts to answer these questions in his ambitious book, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage. I believe that The Lincolns gets off to a shaky start, more resembling historic fiction (and romantic fiction at that).
It isn't until the second half of the book that we get a more detailed and well-researched story about Lincoln and his wife.

Most readers know the basics about Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. The short, perky, plump and pretty Mary Todd came from a prominent, slave-holding family from Lexington, Kentucky. Tall, gangly, and self-educated, Abraham came from more humble beginnings and grew up in a log cabin. Many would say that this was a marriage of opposites. Yet, both had a love of poetry, politics and the theatre. Mary was also politically ambitious for her husband. But Mary also had a dark side. Today, she would probably be diagnosed as being Bipolar--maybe even flirting with schizophrenia toward the end of the White House years. Once married, Lincoln "began to see the depths of her emotions, how the intensity of her love was matched by a savage hatred or anger." At times, she even turned her anger against her husband, breaking his nose one time, throwing hot coffee at him another.

In the first half of The Lincolns, there is much about Abraham and Mary that is fabricated. Early in their marriage, "The weekend before the convention, the Lincolns, holding each other for warmth, watched a comet on the western horizon." How does Epstein know this? This fact is not referenced and neither Lincoln nor Mary kept a diary.
Also, while living in Washington, DC while serving as a congressman, Lincoln comes home late one night and sneaks into their hotel room. While Mary and the children slept, "he removed his boots and laid his clothing upon a chair." Again, this may seem small, but who says that Lincoln placed his clothes on a chair? Again, this scene is not referenced. Maybe he hung his clothes on a hook, or draped them on a bedpost. And maybe, he just threw them on the floor. As far as I'm concerned, a book such as this should not assume thoughts, words or actions unless they're fact.

The White House years are much better documented and realistic, based on letters, diary entries and especially, eyewitnesses. Mary proved an accomplished although extravagant White House hostess. But as Lincoln surrounded himself with competent advisors, Mary's role as a confidant came to an end. Her explosive temper was legendary among the White House staff, and Lincoln's secretaries called her "the hell-cat" and "her Satanic majesty." Before she even moved into the White House, she started exhibiting compulsive behavior as she ran up tens of thousands of dollars in bills for clothing and other items. Mary often found herself in the middle of high-drama as she attempted to find ways to pay off her ever-mounting bills in scandalous and sometimes illegal ways.

The Lincolns does contain much information that I never before read. One such gem involved Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon Chase. There was no love lost between Chase and Mary Lincoln. Yet, after the second inaugural, Chase sent to Mary the Bible that was used for the ceremony, along with a gracious note. Chase wrote "The page touched by his lips is marked...I hope the Sacred Book will be to you an acceptable souvenir of a memorable day."

I found it more and more difficult to see how this relationship continued to work as Mary Lincoln became more and more unstable, fit to throw temper tantrums and go into jealous rages. Lincoln seemed to treat the ever self-destructive Mary with kindness and solicitation, even while causing him great embarrassment. In any event, Epstein seems to excuse the first lady, believing that despite Mary's flaws, we would not have had a President Lincoln without her. In any case, we will probably never know the true story as Mary Lincoln burned many of their personal letters before leaving Springfield for the White House. Robert Todd Lincoln also destroyed any that showed his parents in an unfavorable light. So who really knows what goes on behind closed doors? Daniel Mark Epstein has tried, although I'm not sure he truly succeeded.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly Moving!, February 6, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage (Paperback)
Daniel Mark Epstein is a poet as well as a biographer and the sheer beauty of his writing in "The Lincolns" propels you into their world- the tragic world of Mary and Abraham Lincoln. You will witness the Lincolns as you've never seen them before. The result is so compelling you'll feel that Mr. Epstein was there, at their side, sympathetic, non-judgmental. That Mary Lincoln was probably psychotic is viewed with compassion, but Abraham was a man of mercurial moods, given to periods of despondency followed by periods of joy and even playfulness.

Both were highly emotional people, but Abe had his emotions under control, most of the time, except when he went bananas after breaking off his engagement to Mary Todd- while she did not. Given to fits of rage even in their young married life, when Mary hit her husband in the face with a piece of wood when he wasn't paying attention to her, when she chased him with a knife (although he easily disarmed her) she simply was not normal. Her later frenetic spending sprees in the White House and her jealousy of any woman approaching Lincoln and her long prostration after the death of their son Willie reveal a woman very near the brink. But Epstein handles her gently, fairly, emphacizing her warmth, her charm, her courage.

It's quite possible that if he had not married Mary Todd, who supported and goaded him on politically, Lincoln, although he had great confidence in his own ability, might never have gotten involved in politics over his thriving lawyer practice. She was determined, even before she knew Lincoln, to marry a President. So when she met the lanky Kentuckian, she realized he was Presidential timber and when he unceremoniously dumped her, she waited for him to come to his senses and return to her. She knew he was worth waiting for, even though she must have been horribly humiliated.

Incredibly, and I've never read this anywhere else, Lincoln's withdrawal from Mary may have been motivated by the fact he thought he had syphilis. He took three large blue-colored pills containing mercury a day. Mercury had been for centuries a standard treatment for syphilis. It's likely the hypochondriac Lincoln never had the disease, but Epstein relates his misery so feelingly, so intimately, you feel the author was in Springfield at the same time, closely observing the stricken man and rooting for his emotional and physical recovery.

There are so many wonderful descriptions and vignettes in "The Lincolns." Abe flat on the floor of their Springfield parlor talking to his cats tete a tete until they dissolved in rumbling purrs. Lincoln loved cats so much, Mary called them his hobby. Lincoln entering the dark, gloomy room in the White House where his son Willie had died. Every Thursday, the day the child died, the President would slip in there alone, sit in the dark an hour and come out red-eyed. Mary collapsing at the same time and remaining an invalid for months. Lincoln becoming gaunter, thinner, sadder, as the civil war raged on and on.

The pages devoted to Willie, both before and after his death, will tear at your heartstrings. His death on top of the strain of a ghastly war, caused a major disintegration in the family which never completely healed. You'll feel the pain, because Epstein takes you right there. You'll feel all the horror of a war in which brother killed brother in enormous numbers and you'll feel the agony of parents losing a beloved child. An historical chapter from hell for both the country and the Lincolns.

"The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage" is a major achievement. It almost seems that nothing more of any consequence about the Lincolns can be said. This is a beautiful, insightful book: Don't miss it!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lincolns: Biographer Epstein does a splendid job in presenting tumultuous and tragic marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, October 9, 2008
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was a poor Kentuckian who rose to national stature becoming elected our 16th President of the United States in 1861. Most lists of the best presidents place him at the top. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) was the daughter of the socially prominent Todd family of Lexington, Ky. Their marriage was difficult, tragic and worthy of the skills of a great biographer.Epstein succeeds in his portrayal of their troubled life together in nineteenth century frontier America and in the halls of power in Washington DC during the dark days of the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln married Mary in 1842. They were living in Springfield, Illinois where the state capital had recently been relocated from Vadelia.
Abraham had raised himself by the bootstraps., He began life as a poor lad growing up with very little schooling on the Kentucky and Indiana frontier. After migrating to Illinois he tried his hands at many jobs before become a circuit riding lawyer. Mary was a wealthy woman from Lexington who spoke French, was well educated and grew up a few miles from the home of Kentucky's famous Whig Senator Henry Clay. Mutual friends brought the two together drawn by passion, Whig politics and wit.
After a stormy courtship which led to a time of separation the two were wed in 1842. Lincoln was tall while Mary was short. Mary had a vicious temper, tart tongue and was moody. Lincoln and she became the parents of four sons. Robert the eldest was a Harvard graduate and became president of a railroad company. Eddie died in 1850 while Willie died in 1852 as a result of cholera while living in the White House. Tad died in 1871. Mary and Abraham were permissive parents; Mary never got over the tragic loss of her sons and two of her brothers fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The two were often apart for weeks as Lincoln tried cases across Illinois and served a term as a congressmen in Washington during the Polk administration. =Mary and the boys tried life in Washington but grew homesick for Kentucky and Illinois leaving the lonely Lincoln to fulfill his term as a one term congressman who opposed the Mexican War.
Lincoln won the White House as a Republican in the election of 1860 facing the problems of civil war. Northerners falsely accused Mary of being a Southern spy! Mary was much scorned by elite Washington society as being a crude Westerner. She spent lavishly on redecorating the White House earning a good deal of justifiable criticism from the public and her own frugal husband. Mary was jealous of other younger and more beautiful women in wartime Washington.
Abraham Lincoln was a melancholy man who kept his thoughts to himself. He was intellectually miles ahead of the moody Mary. The two kept relatively separate lives during the dark days of the Civil War. They did love one another and neither had extramarital affairs. President Lincoln knew how to handle Mary in her time of mental afflictions even though he sometimes suffered her wrath. She was known as a hellcat and many found it difficult to work with her. Others such as Senator Charles Sumner considered her a friend. Mary had a good heart often visiting wounded soldiers and helping friends. She was not an easy person to know or like.
Tragedy came to the couple when Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre on April 15, 1865. Mary was devasted never really recovering her mental stability following the death of Abraham, her children and the tragedies of the Civil War.
Hundreds of books have been written about both Lincolns but this is the best popular and readable history of their marital life. Epstein has done his homework.Epstein makes his two complex subjects come alive for the reader. The book is over 500 pages of small print which is detailed but never dull. An excellent book by an excellent biographer. Highly recommended!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Lincoln Book in a Generation, July 23, 2008
By 
Don Mayer (Denver, Colorado) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
There is a review in this week's THE WEEK magazine, calling Epstein's book 'maybe the best Lincoln book in a generation.' I know that Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln have had many biographers, but I can't recall a biography (like this one) that felt so compelling. It was literally 'hard to put down.' Epstein has given us a unique perspective on a pivotal portion of the nation's history, and done so with nuance and heart. This is, flat out, one of the best books I've read in the past few years.

Don Mayer
Denver, Colorado
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sensitive, Compelling Work That May Be the Most Accessible Lincoln Biography, June 30, 2008
By 
Ann (Columbia, Maryland) - See all my reviews
Like so many Americans, I am an enormous admirer of Abraham Lincoln. I have dipped into other biographies of this extraordinary man, but found myself at times distracted by the myriad details of political and military events. This biography, on the other hand, I could not put down. Through his exquisite prose, astute insights, and meticulous research, Epstein illuminates the complex relationship between Abe and Mary Lincoln. Epstein brings his sensibilities and intuition as a poet to this marvelous and very readable work. He tenderly recounts the details of the courtship of this fascinating couple, their early married days, and their lives together in Springfield, Illinois and the White House. He tells the story of a marriage that started out with great love and passion, but became crushed under the enormous losses and pressures suffered by both. Epstein helps us to understand the intense bond between the two that endured most of their lives, despite their very different temperaments, values and morals. How fortunate we the readers are to have this intimate glimpse into the real makeup of the Lincolns' marriage.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You keep wishing for a different, better ending...., January 27, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage (Paperback)
This is a truly excellent book. The author writes a poetical account of the courtship and marriage of this most tragic First Couple, yet he presents the facts without bias. Mary was obviously a deeply troubled woman, not easy to love or even like. But my heart still broke for her and I couldn't help imagining how different her life and their marriage might have been if she'd had access to the medication and treatment that are available today for people with mental illness. Lincoln too, for that matter.

This was no match made in Heaven. Mary was needy, volatile, emotional, irrational at times. Abraham was detached, analytical, dreamy, with a maddening tendency to withdraw. Yet in a poignant and inexplicable way they were exactly what the other needed. Lincoln might have led a more peaceful private existence with a different wife, but I am not convinced that he would have attained the Presidency. Mary was the first to spot the greatness within him, and absolutely no one was more ferociously loyal to him than she was.

Their deep love for their children as well as their mutual ambition was the glue that bound them together. There was also a surprisingly strong sexual attraction between them that I'd never realized.

How I wish the ending of their story had been a happier one.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage
The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein (Paperback - January 13, 2009)
$16.00 $13.16
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.