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Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

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Mary Todd, daughter of the founders of Lexington, Kentucky, was raised in a world of frontier violence. First abandoned at the age of six when her mother died, Mary later fled a hostile stepmother for Springfield, where she met and, after a stormy romance, married the raw Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln. Their marriage lasted for twenty five years until his assassinatio Mary Todd, daughter of the founders of Lexington, Kentucky, was raised in a world of frontier violence. First abandoned at the age of six when her mother died, Mary later fled a hostile stepmother for Springfield, where she met and, after a stormy romance, married the raw Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln. Their marriage lasted for twenty five years until his assassination, from which Mary never fully recovered. The desperate measures she took to win the acknowledgement she sought all her life led finally to the shock of a public insanity hearing instigated by her eldest son.


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Mary Todd, daughter of the founders of Lexington, Kentucky, was raised in a world of frontier violence. First abandoned at the age of six when her mother died, Mary later fled a hostile stepmother for Springfield, where she met and, after a stormy romance, married the raw Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln. Their marriage lasted for twenty five years until his assassinatio Mary Todd, daughter of the founders of Lexington, Kentucky, was raised in a world of frontier violence. First abandoned at the age of six when her mother died, Mary later fled a hostile stepmother for Springfield, where she met and, after a stormy romance, married the raw Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln. Their marriage lasted for twenty five years until his assassination, from which Mary never fully recovered. The desperate measures she took to win the acknowledgement she sought all her life led finally to the shock of a public insanity hearing instigated by her eldest son.

30 review for Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Let me preface this by saying I really give this book 3.5 stars. I think the author really worked at trying to make Mrs. Lincoln a likeable personality, and that's just not possible. Having said that, here is my review... Page one and she's already accused of being a shrew and a termagant. I kept waiting for harpy. By the age of seven, she had already suffered the following: the loss of family place to a first born son; the death of a infant brother; the loss of her middle name, Ann, to a new sis Let me preface this by saying I really give this book 3.5 stars. I think the author really worked at trying to make Mrs. Lincoln a likeable personality, and that's just not possible. Having said that, here is my review... Page one and she's already accused of being a shrew and a termagant. I kept waiting for harpy. By the age of seven, she had already suffered the following: the loss of family place to a first born son; the death of a infant brother; the loss of her middle name, Ann, to a new sister; and the acquirement of a stepmother after the death of her biological mother to puerperal fever. This is when my pity starts to set in. Mary Todd, whose father is extremely absent from her childhood, develops a hole, either in her soul or her heart, that she ventures to fill the remainder of her life. She was, however, very well educated for a female in the nineteenth century, studying history, arithmetic, geography, natural science, reading, writing, sewing, religion, and cooking. She also had a firm inclination to politics, which she fed by reading newspapers. Her elder sisters moved to Springfield, IL around 1837 and she visited them, but for some reason never crossed paths with Abraham until about 1839, when they shared their first dance. Imagine it: she is short and round, he is tall and gawky, but he "wanted to dance with her in the worst way possible." Fun fact: she also danced with Stephen Douglas, who almost proposed. He was more her size-5'4" and 90 lbs. Mary and Abraham have an on again off again relationship, culminating in a duel settled by the seconds at the last minute. Six weeks later they get married. Pregnant almost immediately she doesn't actually gain any domestic responsibilities until about a year after marriage. Mary is often criticized for driving away her servants, something she continued to do in the White House. She is a penny pinching spendthrift, using money saved that should have been used around the house on frivolous items and her wardrobe. Lincoln is gone half of the year representing clients and sitting his government post, leaving Mary feeling neglected, lonely, and fearful. However she has high aspirations for the presidency, so she doesn't complain. Instead she becomes temperamental, pushy but persuasive, gaining Lincoln many supporters until he is finally elected in 1860. As First Lady, she rapidly comes under fire for her behavior. She's ambitious, sensitive, and hostile, not to mention jealous if she is not the woman in the limelight. She could not tolerate any such criticism and begins holding grudges. Within her first year she has surpassed her four year budget of $20,000 to redecorate the White House, although, this time in her defense, the mansion is riddled with threadbare carpeting, peeling and moldy wallpaper, and broken furniture, and there is no complete set of china. All of this would not have been a problem had it not coincided with the worst war to hit American soil, which cost $20 billion at its finish. By 1865 she owes over $10,000 for her wardrobe alone. All is not negative, though. She receives a commendation for her visits to Union troops in hospital, offering companionship, and providing oranges to fight scurvy and donating liquor. The gardens have never been more lovely. After Lincoln's assassination she is inconsolable, and has nowhere to go. At this point she also only has two sons remaining. She develops plans to pay her debts, which are quite calculated, but when not one comes to fruition, she refuses to admit her unpopularity. She is a covetous, independent, controlling woman who refuses to stay in the background and continues to make enemies in Washington. She becomes a shopaholic to fill the void left by all the deaths she has suffered. I can't imagine her with credit cards. But this is something to which I can totally relate. While Lincoln was alive he never stopped admiring her looks, and professed his undying love for her to whomever was within earshot. Her need for love and attention returns. She has a irreparable falling out with her eldest son, Robert, who attempts to control her money, which ironically leads her to say, "the love of money, is the root of all evil." I guess just not the love she has. She dies really quite sick and alone in the world, but she brings her circumstances on herself, which by the end of the book, leaves me quite conflicted about me feelings about her. In some ways she is definitely a product of nurturing. I don't think she would have ever truly been happy unless Abraham had lived.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a well-written and absorbing biography of one of America's most controversial first ladies. Baker does an excellent job of putting Mary's story in the context of her place and time, and she has a dry sense of humor that made this particularly readable. The only reason I didn't give this five stars was the author's treatment of two figures: Mary's daughter-in-law, Mary Harlan Lincoln, and Mary's son, Robert Lincoln. Baker suggests that Mary Harlan Lincoln was a closet alcoholic and that th This is a well-written and absorbing biography of one of America's most controversial first ladies. Baker does an excellent job of putting Mary's story in the context of her place and time, and she has a dry sense of humor that made this particularly readable. The only reason I didn't give this five stars was the author's treatment of two figures: Mary's daughter-in-law, Mary Harlan Lincoln, and Mary's son, Robert Lincoln. Baker suggests that Mary Harlan Lincoln was a closet alcoholic and that this was what might have damaged her relationship with her mother-in-law. Unfortunately, although she refers in an end note to circumstantial evidence in letters which supports this theory, she doesn't quote from any of the letters in question or even indicate where they can be found, so the reader has no means of evaluating the evidence for herself. As several other works of nonfiction and at least one novel have picked up on Baker's theory, I wish she would have offered more evidence for it. I also thought that Baker's treatment of Robert Lincoln's institutionalization of his mother was unduly harsh. Given Mary's bizarre behavior at the time, his actions seem understandable, even if someone else might have been more forbearing. Moreover, as Baker herself makes clear, the understanding of mental illness, and especially of mental illness in women, in the 1870's was very imperfect, so it's hardly surprising that Robert should follow the conventional thought of his time. Despite these two reservations, I recommend this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    I read this for one of my reading groups. I was looking forward to reading it but it is written in a scholarly tone, which made it difficult to get through even 40 pages in a day. I did learn more than I knew before about Abraham Lincoln's wife but my attachment to this much maligned First Lady was born when I read the historical novel Love Is Eternal by Irving Stone, the #3 bestseller of 1954. That novel brought her alive. Baker applied psychology as it was understood in the 1980s and attempted I read this for one of my reading groups. I was looking forward to reading it but it is written in a scholarly tone, which made it difficult to get through even 40 pages in a day. I did learn more than I knew before about Abraham Lincoln's wife but my attachment to this much maligned First Lady was born when I read the historical novel Love Is Eternal by Irving Stone, the #3 bestseller of 1954. That novel brought her alive. Baker applied psychology as it was understood in the 1980s and attempted to explain Mary's emotional states and obsessions by calling her a narcissist. I did not totally buy that. Life was violent in early 1860s Kentucky where she was raised. She lost her mother at a young age and later lost three of her four children to illnesses for which there was not workable medicine. Then she lost Abe. That makes a grieving woman, not a narcissist. She single handedly created the role of First Lady as we see it to this day. She was a victim of some dastardly patriarchal males, simply because she was outgoing and got stuff done. So what if she liked to go shopping? She turned the White House into the showplace it needed to be for a President and world leader. She was the original shopaholic and would be showered with acclaim in today's world. Her remaining son had her committed to an insane asylum on the grounds that she could not handle her finances, even though she made do despite being denied the pension she should have had for the widow of the man who preserved the Union. Good God!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    The Lincolns are not even in the White House yet and I am annoyed with this author. She tends to belittles Mary Lincoln often. I realize MTL is not a woman loved by history, but I find the author's assertion that MTL's political interests "displayed a quirky feminism located not in principle but in the psychological necessity to be somebody" o be dismissive. MTL was very well educated -- she had 12 years of formal schooling -- maybe her interest in politics was born of a working mind in need of The Lincolns are not even in the White House yet and I am annoyed with this author. She tends to belittles Mary Lincoln often. I realize MTL is not a woman loved by history, but I find the author's assertion that MTL's political interests "displayed a quirky feminism located not in principle but in the psychological necessity to be somebody" o be dismissive. MTL was very well educated -- she had 12 years of formal schooling -- maybe her interest in politics was born of a working mind in need of stimulation? I think I need to find a better biography of Mrs. Lincoln.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Historian Jean Baker thinks it's just too easy to turn Mary Todd Lincoln into the First Lady we love to hate. She sets out to provide a social, psychological, and feminist context for understanding Mary's childhood, marriage, motherhood, and widowhood, and it is a very powerful story. Mary was one of 14 children in what these days would be called a blended family. Her mother died when she was young and so she was raised by a stepmother, who she was constantly at odds with. Her father, often away Historian Jean Baker thinks it's just too easy to turn Mary Todd Lincoln into the First Lady we love to hate. She sets out to provide a social, psychological, and feminist context for understanding Mary's childhood, marriage, motherhood, and widowhood, and it is a very powerful story. Mary was one of 14 children in what these days would be called a blended family. Her mother died when she was young and so she was raised by a stepmother, who she was constantly at odds with. Her father, often away from home on business (and absent from his children even when he was at home), believed however in education for girls, unusual for the time, and he sent his daughters to a "female academy" in town. It was better than most, with good teachers who taught real academic subjects. Mary was bright, and she went on for an unusual four more years of schooling, boarding at the school even though it was close enough to live at home (an arrangement that suited both Mary and her stepmother). Like all of the women who came from good families in Lexington, Kentucky, Mary was preoccupied with fashion from a very young age. Once they had completed school, young women in this social set had very little to do. They didn't engage in housework (Mary's father had 10 slaves who did all the work, one for each of the Todds still living at home) nor apparently was there a culture of charitable good works among this privileged and pampered set, such as their counterparts in the North had. Instead, dressing well and displaying themselves were among their chief occupations. But Mary was like and not like her contemporaries. Her interest in politics from an early age certainly distinguished her from other women; she was noted throughout her life for her "good conversation," and she was an avid and intelligent reader of newspapers. When she turned 17, she escaped her stepmother's house for the home of her eldest sister, who had married and moved to Springfield, Illinois. At the time, Springfield was small and backward, although it had recently been named capitol of the state. A number of other relatives had moved from Kentucky to Illinois. Besides her two older sisters, Mary had a cousin who had recently taken on a partner in his law practice, the then 30-year-old Abraham Lincoln. And the rest is history, as they say. Baker follows Mary Todd Lincoln's co-campaigning with her husband, her residency in the White House, her role as cultural ambassador and political advisor, things First Ladies do now but hadn't really before Mary, and one of the reasons she was so widely criticized in her lifetime. Baker also provides a context for mourning in this period (women were expected to be stoical, and "excessive grief" was considered unhinged and even immoral) as well as for the rampant spiritualism of the age. Such tragedy Mary Todd Lincoln suffered. Not only the death of her husband by violence, but also the tragic deaths of three of her four sons and her enforced incarceration in an insane asylum by her one surviving son. This book sticks with you for a long, long time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Noelle M

    I thought the book was a real tour de force in the biography writing genre. Baker's thesis is that in childhood, the maternally orphaned Mary Lincoln developed a narcissistic personality in response to being rejected by her stepmother who wanted the husband's first family to just go away. Mary needed and didn't get normal attention so she found other means to get what she needed. Admittedly narcissism is a "broken" strategy for solving emotional problems, a childish strategy. The original proble I thought the book was a real tour de force in the biography writing genre. Baker's thesis is that in childhood, the maternally orphaned Mary Lincoln developed a narcissistic personality in response to being rejected by her stepmother who wanted the husband's first family to just go away. Mary needed and didn't get normal attention so she found other means to get what she needed. Admittedly narcissism is a "broken" strategy for solving emotional problems, a childish strategy. The original problem, according to Baker, was compounded by the repeated blows of grief over the deaths of 3 of Mary's children, her husband, and multiple brothers. As a woman who lost one child, I can't even grasp how Mary functioned at all in that circumstance. At the time my son died I thought I couldn't get through the grief. It took me 14 years to come to terms with the death though I thought during most of that time that I'd "forgotten" it. I had 5 more children, but fear of another death always lurked in the back of my mind. Each time my oldest living son has been overseas in combat zones I have been spooked about having to make the trip to Delaware to receive a coffin. I kept thinking the conclusion, "I can't do this again." A death of someone that close is haunting. There's a piece of the experience that never goes away. If you haven't lost a child there are no words to describe the horrific impact, no possible way. Anyway, it's slow reading while Baker builds her case. The White House years are fascinating; the assassination and onset of widowhood is total chaos. The insanity trial is riveting and, dare I say it, insane. I have to label that's century's legal uses of insanity as Victorian shari'a. The book is thought provoking, especially if you live among people who are wistful about the traditional Victorian mother-angel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan Jacobs

    One of the finest biographies I've ever read. Totally changed my perception of Mary Todd Lincoln. The author is not an apologist for Mrs. Lincoln: she lays out the details of all her notorious extravagances, and recounts every one of her public outbursts. However, the author always puts Mrs. Lincoln's utterances extravagances in the context of how Mary became an educated woman at a time when most women only had a rudimentary education, and then how she never received the respect, or even the cor One of the finest biographies I've ever read. Totally changed my perception of Mary Todd Lincoln. The author is not an apologist for Mrs. Lincoln: she lays out the details of all her notorious extravagances, and recounts every one of her public outbursts. However, the author always puts Mrs. Lincoln's utterances extravagances in the context of how Mary became an educated woman at a time when most women only had a rudimentary education, and then how she never received the respect, or even the cordiality, to which she felt she was entitled. While reading this, I was empathizing with Mary all the time. After Lincoln's death, she never ceased to play the widow card, practically demanding a pension at a time when government pensions were rare. But she never curtailed the behaviors that made her so unpopular, and would make her more deserving of a pension: her spending was always out of control, even when she had no money. She would, for example, buy several sets of identical curtains (even when she had no windows); she would buy two sets of dishes when one would do. She would often have things custom made, with her initials in gold. Somehow, she managed to pay all the personal debts she ran up while in the White House. Lincoln's estate was substantial for the time, largely because of Mary's efforts in preserving it. Yet, she was barred for years from partaking in the estate because her son objected to her spending; the son later had her locked up in a mental hospital, but Mary found a way to get out and to prove her sanity.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    We have all been told that Mary Todd Lincoln was a crazy first lady. Reading 'Mary Todd Lincoln', you see a side of Mary Todd that is rarely told. She had a higher education than most women and some men of her day. She was very interested in politics and in the book many people describe her as lively and intelligent. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and her children. I found reading about how the Lincoln's raised their children to be endearing. They did not have a heavy hand and treasured t We have all been told that Mary Todd Lincoln was a crazy first lady. Reading 'Mary Todd Lincoln', you see a side of Mary Todd that is rarely told. She had a higher education than most women and some men of her day. She was very interested in politics and in the book many people describe her as lively and intelligent. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and her children. I found reading about how the Lincoln's raised their children to be endearing. They did not have a heavy hand and treasured them. President Lincoln was not worried about his boys learning to read at a measurable time. He was assured they would learn when they were ready. One very interesting fact was that when Mary Todd was young she always said she was going to marry the President of the United States. Reading the book I got the impression that President Lincoln may not have been ambitious enough to run for President without his wife. Mary Todd was definitely high strung and eccentric. She suffered great tragedy in her life that would break the strongest of us. She has been vilified over the years, unfairly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    This is the first book I've ever read about Mary Todd. I found the history fascinating and I now realize what a difficult life Mary really had.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karyl

    Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex woman, too often dismissed as "insane" because she was institutionalized by her one surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, though she only spent three months at a sanitarium. Her son's reasons for institutionalizing her included her belief in mediums who could contact her dead husband and children, and her incessant buying of needless items. Of course, in modern times, this would not be nearly enough to institutionalize anyone, yet it was a fairly common thing in the Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex woman, too often dismissed as "insane" because she was institutionalized by her one surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, though she only spent three months at a sanitarium. Her son's reasons for institutionalizing her included her belief in mediums who could contact her dead husband and children, and her incessant buying of needless items. Of course, in modern times, this would not be nearly enough to institutionalize anyone, yet it was a fairly common thing in the late 1800s, all because the female mind and nervous system were thought at the time not to be able to handle the stresses of even everyday life. Jean H. Baker sums up the life of Mary Todd Lincoln in a very telling sentence: "Throughout her life she had been instructed in her worthlessness by family disappearances." First her mother had died when she was a child, then her father's attention taken from her and his first set of children by a stepmother and a passel of stepsiblings. Later in life, a son died at a young age (and another died just as he reached adulthood) -- and of course, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, occurring right next to her. Over and over and over again, she was abandoned, in her eyes, which made her more eager to connect with her beloved dead. It was a common enough practice in the late 19th century, but those who believed in spiritualism were always suspected of madness. Mary Todd Lincoln was never an easy woman with whom to get along. But being taught over and over again of her worthlessness by being abandoned made her that much more insistent in making something of her husband. As a woman, she couldn't be in the public spotlight (in fact, she felt women who put themselves out there were less than ladylike), but she most certainly could help her husband, a man with relatively little experience holding public office, achieve the highest office in the US. Though I have always been sympathetic to Mary Todd Lincoln and believing her to be misunderstood by her contemporaries, this biography gave an excellent account of her life and times, and helped me see the whole woman for who she was. I highly recommend this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    My problems with this book are legion, but I'll highlight just a few. First, Baker's perspective is limited, as she clearly is writing a "feminist" history of Mary Todd Lincoln, and her diatribes become both tiresome and tortured. Her "logic" goes like this: 19th century society treated women badly because they were women. Mary Todd Lincoln lived in the 19th century. She was treated badly. Therefore, she was treated badly because she was a woman. That thinking is far too simplistic, but it is at My problems with this book are legion, but I'll highlight just a few. First, Baker's perspective is limited, as she clearly is writing a "feminist" history of Mary Todd Lincoln, and her diatribes become both tiresome and tortured. Her "logic" goes like this: 19th century society treated women badly because they were women. Mary Todd Lincoln lived in the 19th century. She was treated badly. Therefore, she was treated badly because she was a woman. That thinking is far too simplistic, but it is at the foundation of all of Baker's analysis. Second, Baker's analysis of facts and records is simplistic and, sometimes, just silly. She reads a lot into small comments in letters or statements, and without any other support. At times, frankly, it seems like she is just making stuff up. For example, she really wants to portray Mary Todd Lincoln as a modern, "sensual" woman, but in order to do so, she resorts to a Beavis and Butthead approach of trying to find something sexual in otherwise tame letters. The worst of it is when she writes about what Mary Todd Lincoln "would have said" in her insanity trial, had she been given the opportunity. Baker's defenses of Lincoln's eccentric behavior is so simplistic as to be laughable. For example, her defense of Lincoln buying multiple sets of curtains for a window she didn't have is essentially this: It was her money, she can do what she wants. I get more insight talking to my teenagers. Third, the book is just boring. The only thing that makes Mary Todd Lincoln interesting is that she allegedly went nuts after the murder of her husband. But that subject actually receives very brief treatment in this book, which instead bores us to tears with details about her childhood and young adulthood. There is a reason this book got relegated to the bathroom pretty eardly on in my reading of it: More than 5 minutes reading it was torture.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Finch

    A superb and thorough biography of a fundamentally misunderstood woman. Though the movie "Lincoln" did a good deal to humanize Mary Todd Lincoln after generations of traditional history painted her as a hysterical shrew who made her husband miserable, Baker clearly delineates between the poisoned pens of early historiographers and the documentary evidence that shows a woman in full -- imperfect, neurotic, narcissistic, overbearing but also intelligent, beloved by her husband, and a woman whose a A superb and thorough biography of a fundamentally misunderstood woman. Though the movie "Lincoln" did a good deal to humanize Mary Todd Lincoln after generations of traditional history painted her as a hysterical shrew who made her husband miserable, Baker clearly delineates between the poisoned pens of early historiographers and the documentary evidence that shows a woman in full -- imperfect, neurotic, narcissistic, overbearing but also intelligent, beloved by her husband, and a woman whose ambitions and emotions were disdained by the patriarchal culture in which she lived. Most astonishing are the detailed chapters that deal with her life as a widow and how she was involuntarily committed to an asylum by son Robert Todd Lincoln. Baker makes the point that the way Mary Lincoln was treated was misogynistic, that a woman's emotions and independence were things seen as a threat by not only vengeful associates but by trained medical professionals. The book makes no apologies for its subject long list of faults, but it also leaves the reader with a healthy respect for a woman who endured repeated traumas, including the death of three children and witnessing her husband's murder, and was left to live in a world that had no patience for a woman who did not grieve those traumas 'properly.'

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Everyone who grows up in central Illinois, 100 miles from Springfield, more or less accepts Abe Lincoln as almost a distant relative. Lincoln is EVERYWHERE -- places he stayed, court houses where he tried cases, locations where he gave a speech, and on and on. But Mary Todd? She is always pegged as the hugh strung wife, somebody who could not get along with anybody. Never seems like a proper match for Mr Lincoln. After reading this biography, which felt to be very well researched and factual, it Everyone who grows up in central Illinois, 100 miles from Springfield, more or less accepts Abe Lincoln as almost a distant relative. Lincoln is EVERYWHERE -- places he stayed, court houses where he tried cases, locations where he gave a speech, and on and on. But Mary Todd? She is always pegged as the hugh strung wife, somebody who could not get along with anybody. Never seems like a proper match for Mr Lincoln. After reading this biography, which felt to be very well researched and factual, it appears that the popular view of Mary Todd is totally wrong. High strung? Yes, no doubt. But so what? She was very smart, quite savvy, and she knew how to develop her husband's potential. Without Mary Todd, chances are the world would never have heard of Abe Lincoln. I left this book with a feeling that I would have liked Mary Todd, had I ever met her. She deserves far more respect than she has ever received. Glad I read this.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    I was inspired to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln after watching the new Spielberg movie "Lincoln" (I also want to learn more about Thaddeus Stevens). This biography is extremely readable (more readable imho than the acclaimed book the movie was based on). I LOVE non-fiction that reads like fiction and this almost qualifies. Baker provides a balanced portrait of Mary. She's neither heroine nor villain. She is portrayed as intelligent, emotional, ambitious and insecure. Baker believes that Mar I was inspired to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln after watching the new Spielberg movie "Lincoln" (I also want to learn more about Thaddeus Stevens). This biography is extremely readable (more readable imho than the acclaimed book the movie was based on). I LOVE non-fiction that reads like fiction and this almost qualifies. Baker provides a balanced portrait of Mary. She's neither heroine nor villain. She is portrayed as intelligent, emotional, ambitious and insecure. Baker believes that Mary had narcissistic personality disorder. Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex person and Baker's book doesn't neatly wrap up a packaged version of who she was. I still don't know if I would have liked to know her. But, I'm glad I know more about her. Recommended

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kela

    I wanted to read a book on Mary Todd Lincoln after visiting the Lincoln home and presidential museum this summer. This book is considered the definitive biography on the former first lady, but I found it a bit dry at times. The first few chapters were hard to get through. I get it that she came from a very prominent family that played a major role in the founding of Lexington. I don't need several chapters completely bogged down in details to get that point across. Adding to the confusion was th I wanted to read a book on Mary Todd Lincoln after visiting the Lincoln home and presidential museum this summer. This book is considered the definitive biography on the former first lady, but I found it a bit dry at times. The first few chapters were hard to get through. I get it that she came from a very prominent family that played a major role in the founding of Lexington. I don't need several chapters completely bogged down in details to get that point across. Adding to the confusion was the fact that almost every male in her family seemed to be named Robert. Overall, I think MTL has gotten a bad rap in history. As a highly educated, outspoken female interested in politics during the Victorian era, she was certainly a woman before her time. She suffered more than most of us could ever imagine, burying 3 sons, witnessing her husband's murder, and being left with one remaining son who's sole desire was to have her institutionalized so he could control her comings and goings, and her assets. This book left me with a much more sympathetic view of MTL, but I think there are others out there that could do the same while being a bit more interesting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Doug Nagel

    This was an excellent biography. Jean Baker provides a thorough psycho-social profile of Mary Todd Lincoln, highlighting the early family influences and abandonments that shaped her character, ambition and well-documented idiosyncracies. Tracing her life from her Lexington, Kentucky roots, Baker emphasizes her unusual interest in politics, Mary Todd's academic achievements at a time when education for women was denigrated and her desire to marry someone who would elevate her social standing in t This was an excellent biography. Jean Baker provides a thorough psycho-social profile of Mary Todd Lincoln, highlighting the early family influences and abandonments that shaped her character, ambition and well-documented idiosyncracies. Tracing her life from her Lexington, Kentucky roots, Baker emphasizes her unusual interest in politics, Mary Todd's academic achievements at a time when education for women was denigrated and her desire to marry someone who would elevate her social standing in the world. At the same time, the biography deals with the multiple tragedies and familial losses that shaped her personality and her world-view, resulting in her ardent spiritualist views and practices. I enjoyed this book. It is my first book from the required readings of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Reading List for 1988-1989. I joined the CLSC this summer and would encourage all my friends to join, as well. It is only $10.00 per year for a membership.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is an interesting examination of a very misunderstood former first lady. Jean Baker provides a sympathetic look at Mary Todd Lincoln as a bright, educated upper-class young woman from Lexington, Kentucky who struggles with much loss over the years and finally must defend her sanity and deal with the strained relationship with her only surviving son. Politics were a significant part of the Lincoln marriage and Mary Todd Lincoln's challenges with her role as first lady is a particularly fasci This is an interesting examination of a very misunderstood former first lady. Jean Baker provides a sympathetic look at Mary Todd Lincoln as a bright, educated upper-class young woman from Lexington, Kentucky who struggles with much loss over the years and finally must defend her sanity and deal with the strained relationship with her only surviving son. Politics were a significant part of the Lincoln marriage and Mary Todd Lincoln's challenges with her role as first lady is a particularly fascinating part of her story.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Mary Todd Lincoln has always been an enigma to me. I've vacillate between thinking that she was down right crazy (as her son Robert apparently thought) and that she was simply a woman with a major personality disorder - manifested throughout her life by her bizarre and eratic behavior. Whichever the case, she was most definitely a tragic figure - one who also played a key role in the life of one of our most admired presidents. If you have an interest in her, it's definitely worth the read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    A great look into a complicated life of a woman who had very delicate emotions. A lady who had so much loss in her life and who tried to bear with it as best as she knew how, while trying to convince people she was not insane but just very emotional. There is nothing so sad as to see her own son dislike his own parents and want to hide his mother away for fear of embarassment to himself. Touching story of love, loss and redemption of oneself.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cornmaven

    Pair this with the novel, Mary, by Janice Newman, for a really thought-provoking study of Mrs. Lincoln, as well as what society was like in the 19th century. I found it heart-breaking that her son never accepted her. Mary Lincoln's story is a tragic one, and fascinating.

  21. 5 out of 5

    ☯Emily

    This is a very readable book about Abe Lincoln's wife and her tortured life. Today we have drugs that would help her with her fears and depression, but in the 1800's, there was no sympathy for her and the many issues she faced. This book was written with sympathy and understanding.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    An honest look at a woman who is often portrayed unsymphathetically but we learn there are 2 sides to every story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Pat Roberts

    Thoroughly researched and beautifully written; kudos to Author Jean H. Baker for a fine piece of literature. My heart went out to Mary, her tragic life, and her eccentricities that were certainly magnified by her feelings of abandonment. Her mother died when she was so young, leaving nine children. Dad remarried very soon after, only to have six more children with a wife who really didn’t care for the original nine, and there were the terrible losses of not only three of her children, but her be Thoroughly researched and beautifully written; kudos to Author Jean H. Baker for a fine piece of literature. My heart went out to Mary, her tragic life, and her eccentricities that were certainly magnified by her feelings of abandonment. Her mother died when she was so young, leaving nine children. Dad remarried very soon after, only to have six more children with a wife who really didn’t care for the original nine, and there were the terrible losses of not only three of her children, but her beloved husband. Not too many of us could withstand that, even in this day and age of help from professional therapists. To fill the huge hole in her life, Mary shopped. Mary spent a whole of money. Did that make her certifiably insane? Her surviving son Robert thought so. And to make things more difficult for her was that her life was played out in the media. Glad that never happens to First Ladies today....

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Covidian book diaries number 20 - The traditional view of Mary Todd Lincoln has always been rather negative. I’ve heard she physically abused Lincoln, she was crazy, she was a vindictive shrew, or that she never even loved him. This book is a revisionist corrective and fascinating look at a complicated woman. In her day women had no rights and were supposed to stoically accept their fate with “grace.” No wonder a strong woman who dared to show her emotions, live and travel alone, and handled her o Covidian book diaries number 20 - The traditional view of Mary Todd Lincoln has always been rather negative. I’ve heard she physically abused Lincoln, she was crazy, she was a vindictive shrew, or that she never even loved him. This book is a revisionist corrective and fascinating look at a complicated woman. In her day women had no rights and were supposed to stoically accept their fate with “grace.” No wonder a strong woman who dared to show her emotions, live and travel alone, and handled her own finances was considered insane to many, and acutely embarrassing to her upwardly mobile son Robert. Honestly a really engrossing book, I only docked it a star because the first hundred pages or so detailing her family and youth felt a little padded, like we don’t really know a lot about her early days so there was just a smidge too much (for my tastes) about say, the founding of Lexington Kentucky.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    The author in her preface stated that she "wanted to view her life from her own perspective, not one that developed from the unfavorable comments of her critics". This book led to very intense discussions in my 1st Ladies book club. All of us knew about Mary Todd Lincoln's "madness" but our opinion of her definitely changed after reading Jean Baker's carefully presented facts for her behavior. We discussed at length her relationships with her children, her husband and her surrounding man/womanki The author in her preface stated that she "wanted to view her life from her own perspective, not one that developed from the unfavorable comments of her critics". This book led to very intense discussions in my 1st Ladies book club. All of us knew about Mary Todd Lincoln's "madness" but our opinion of her definitely changed after reading Jean Baker's carefully presented facts for her behavior. We discussed at length her relationships with her children, her husband and her surrounding man/womankind, her compulsion for shopping and her obbession with fighting Congress for money .My favorite part was chapter 6 The Politics of Marriage. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history- in particular women who helped shape our country.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I put this on my 'to read' list after "Lincoln" by Spielberg and this is a very well written bio of someone who everyone has heard of but not really much is known. But my god this woman had a hard life. Mother died at 6, dad remarried to a step-monster when she was 8...when she got married she went from living in mansion to a boarding house and spoiler alert...her husband gets killed. After that 3 of her 4 sons die and her last remaining son has her....committed....oh, and she wears 'widows weed I put this on my 'to read' list after "Lincoln" by Spielberg and this is a very well written bio of someone who everyone has heard of but not really much is known. But my god this woman had a hard life. Mother died at 6, dad remarried to a step-monster when she was 8...when she got married she went from living in mansion to a boarding house and spoiler alert...her husband gets killed. After that 3 of her 4 sons die and her last remaining son has her....committed....oh, and she wears 'widows weeds' from Abe's death to her own. I mean, you can't buy widows weeds at the Gap right now but I'm guessing they're not comfortable attire for 20 years. Poor woman.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rita Bernabei

    On a cold winter day in February I visited Hildene in Manchester, Vermont, home of Robert Lincoln. Maybe the fact that Robert put his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, in an insane asylum "went over my head" in the film or on the tour. I left the beautiful estate unaware of the acrimonious relationship Mary Todd Lincoln had with her "stiff" oldest son until I read MARY TODD LINCOLN BY Jean H. Baker a riveting, readable, researched biography. You cannot get more dramatic than calling your only living ch On a cold winter day in February I visited Hildene in Manchester, Vermont, home of Robert Lincoln. Maybe the fact that Robert put his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, in an insane asylum "went over my head" in the film or on the tour. I left the beautiful estate unaware of the acrimonious relationship Mary Todd Lincoln had with her "stiff" oldest son until I read MARY TODD LINCOLN BY Jean H. Baker a riveting, readable, researched biography. You cannot get more dramatic than calling your only living child -a "monster of mankind son." If you enjoy history, biography and the ups and downs of family drama you will love this book. I couldn't put it down.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Monkey

    Very interesting read. A little choppy in trying to put together the information available to write the book, but overall it was good to read about a woman from our past, written from a female perspective and reiterates how many wrongs were dished out against women for so many years and we are still fighting to correct those wrongs and many more.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rita Mercs

    A good book about the living/social conditions in the 1800s and an informative book about the first lady during the Civil War. Mary Todd Lincoln was a very strange first lady (either bipolar or borderline personality disorder).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan J. Shirley

    Get a Dictionary A pretty good read. My only problem with the author was the huge and unheard of words that she used in every other sentence. I got tired of using the dictionary! I learned a lot of things about the First Lady that I 'd never read about before.

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