And on to #11

11. Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

The subtitle of this one is “How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.” And nobody will get Shenk for false advertising. This really is a book about depression and greatness, which seem at first to go together about as well as peanut butter and ladies (two points to anybody who caught that Talladega Nights reference).

Shenk’s essential premise is that Lincoln, prone to depression and occasionally suicidal as a young man, learned how to harness his depression into a passion for involvement in the civic world, and eventually transcended depression by making it an important part of his incredible leadership style. Shenk is a very careful historian, checking and re-checking sources and including a very lengthy notes section documenting his book.

The writing is occasionally a bit uneven, trying, as it does to simultaneously sift through historical narrative, psychological analysis, and histrocial discussion of understanding and perception of depression and mental illness. Still, when it works, Shenk has done some heavy lifting here. I enjoyed this book, and felt that in particular, the last third was very well written and concise.

If you like history and/or if you’ve battled depression, well, you’d probably like this book. At the very least, it is interesting. At most, it seems to read almost instructionally. Either way, it’s a very nice book.



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