Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln (Author: Catherine Clinton).

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln. Three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I just finished Catherine Clinton‘s tome on Mrs. Mary Lincoln, (titled simply Mrs. Lincoln: A Life) First Lady and wife of President Abraham Lincoln. The text clocks in at 336 pages, followed by around sixty pages of footnotes. The work is readable, though a bit plodding at times. Its strengths are focused in a few key areas:

  • The work talks about Abraham Lincoln as well as Mary, providing a good overview of the lives of both.
  • The work brings in interesting topics about the era as they relate to Mary Lincoln, providing insights into the 19th century in addition to its portrait of Mary Lincoln.
  • The work attempts to be balanced in its portrayal of Mary – showing both her strengths and weaknesses.

My biggest complaint with the work is the rare occurrence (two or three times) of French in the text (without a translation). This seems unnecessary for a work which appears popular rather than academic (though it is certainly scholarly).

Also, at times Catherine makes statements about Mary Lincoln which seem like conjecture. She posits what Mary was thinking or feeling in certain situations. I expect this comes from Catherine’s thorough knowledge of Mary Lincoln – but still, it feels a bit tentative at times.

Overall, a worthwhile read. Provides fascinating insights into spiritualism and mental illness in the 19th century.

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