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The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  389 ratings  ·  62 reviews
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 new
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published May 20th 2008 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinLincoln by David Herbert DonaldManhunt by James L. SwansonLincoln by Gore VidalAbraham Lincoln by Seth Grahame-Smith
Best Books About Abraham Lincoln
14th out of 52 books — 64 voters
French Illusions by Linda Kovic-SkowThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteThe Professor and the Madman by Simon WinchesterMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Non-Fiction that reads like fiction
126th out of 171 books — 169 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 799)
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I came into this book with a certain point of view: that Mary Lincoln had been unfairly maligned by History. When people say, "Mary Lincoln was crazy," I'd rebut: try having three of your four children perish before adulthood; suffer a debilitating carriage accident that changes your brain chemistry; attempt living with a melancholic husband (who is trying to save the Union, by the way); and then sit next to your husband when he's shot in the head by a fanatic. Then test your sanity.

Upon readin
I haven't read many books on Lincoln, but the more I learn beyond my high school social studies class, the more he emerges as a sympathethic and fascinating man. He obviously had a singular intelligence and the unique ability to attract capable men and women to his side.

Although this book deals mainly with the relationship between Mary and Lincoln, it also does a fair bit of analysis of Lincoln's political aspirations and achievements (whetting my appetite to tackle the enormous tome Team of Ri
Bookmarks Magazine

This book may not be the final word on the Lincolns' marriage, but it is hardly doomed for the discount bin. Overall, critics were divided. The historically minded disliked Epstein's endless hypothesizing, particularly in his speculative narration of the goings-on in the Lincolns' bedroom. But then Epstein is not the typical Lincoln scholar; his other publications include several books of poetry and a biography of Nat King Cole. The less-fastidious critics enjoyed Epstein's eccentric tale of an

Sarah E. Morin

“Enduring marriages do not follow a simple trajectory to success or ruin. They proceed in a jagged arc, as husband and wife agree, disagree, compromise, and experience estrangement and reconciliation in the adventure of their life together.”

This quote, snatched from the middle of the book, could be its thesis. The Lincoln marriage is no fairy tale. Nor is it the gothic horror story some deriders of Mary Todd would have it be, even given its tragic ending. It is something in the middle of a funct
Kathleen Hagen
The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, by Daniel Mark Epstein, Narrated by Adam Grupper, Produced by BBC America Audio Books, downloaded from

This is the long and pathetic, for the most part, story of the marriage of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd taking us through their courtship, marriage, births and deaths of children, and election to the presidency, years in the White House, and Lincoln’s assassination. The book ends there as the author pointed to the fact that other books exist ab
This book has been criticized for not offering any particularly new knowledge or insight, but I loved how deftly Epstein weaves together the couple's political and domestic lives, particularly through the use of letters they sent and received. The book reads like a very sad novel, and even though I knew the ending, I had trouble putting it down. I also appreciate that the author is so attentive to Mary's mental illness and tries to rationalize her behavior, to the extent that it's possible.
Detailed and engrossing narrative about the relationship of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. However, I do wish their personal sagas had been more strongly juxtaposed against the events of the war (for example, we hear almost nothing about personal or familial influence upon the declaration of civil war, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, etc.) Also, there is almost nothing about Lincoln's family and background while there is a surfeit of material about the Todds.
Jeni Enjaian
Word of advice. If you've ever read Team of Rivals, avoid this book like the plague. If you haven't I recommend Team of Rivals not this book. To start, the narrator (I listened to the audiobook) was incredibly boring. He seemed to lack the ability to lend the text proper inflection. The book itself reads like historical fiction. That is not a positive. The author also makes a mountain out of a molehill of evidence Asia necessary for someone wanting to write a narrative like this when the histori ...more
Just finished. A fascinating, informative read. The ending was powerful and emotional.
Fascinating and quite eye-opening. A very good read.
I have read many books about Lincoln and the Civil War, so I did not run into a great deal of new information here. But what made this book stand out is that the Civil War was a secondary story to the story of a marriage of two intelligent, passionate, extraordinary people. This story was about how these two people made their mark on history and the price they paid for it--individually and in their marriage. Like all marriages, the Lincoln's had its good times and bad. They weathered many hard t ...more
J.M. Cornwell
An intimate look at Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd.

A great deal is known and has been written about Abraham Lincoln’s humble beginnings, his business failures, his presidency and his death. Until now, no one has put together the history of Lincoln and Mary Todd’s courtship and marriage or peered behind the historical mystique into the heart of this famous couple’s devotion. Daniel Mark Epstein bares the hearts and minds of the Lincolns.

Using a novelist’s sensibilities and tools, Epstein gives col
Scott Archer
A GREAT BOOK. Much better than the mediocre reader reviews. Both the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Sun Times had this book in their Top 10 for 2008. Some of the reader reviews are quick to point out that Epstein has not revealed any new material about Lincoln. That might be true. I do not have enough knowledge to differ. But what makes Epstein great is his analysis of the "old" material and the way he synthesizes all of this material and lays it out in such an organized, coherent and chronolog ...more
This was a moving, compassionate look at the complexity of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln and their rocky marriage. The book does not seem one sided in its examination of either and does not automatically label her as crazy as some books do. It does show the decline in her mental stability always accompanied by her intense love of Lincoln, even though he was gone for almost half of their married life. The book also reveals his distraction and solitariness (which must have been so frustrating to h ...more
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Abraham Lincoln is one of the most revered individuals of the modern age. And not just in America, but around the world. I heard once that more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other American. I don't know if it's true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were. Lincoln's accomplishments in the midst of national and personal tragedy are inspiring.

On the other hand, while Illinoisan's are eager to claim Lincoln, his wife who also grew up in Kentucky and immigrated to Springfiel
I've read a fair few books about Abraham Lincoln - most, more focused on his role as President then as a man, mention his wife very little, and few of them had much good to say about her. History on the whole has not been kind to Mary Todd Lincoln.

So this book was a real breath of fresh air - the politics and Civil War by and large takes a back seat and the Lincolns' marriage is the real focus. Right from the early days of their courtship in Springfield to the day of Lincoln's assassination, Eps
I liked this book. It really is a close examination of the Lincoln's marriage relationship based on the historical record, set in the context of the extraordinary times in which they lived. It would be really easy to point to the flaws of both marriage partners and their failures in the tragedy that was their lives, but to the end they loved and cared deeply for each other. Both carried difficult burdens. Lincoln endured his wife's mental illness. She struggled through long periods without him w ...more
This is a biography of both Abraham and Mary Lincoln from their courtship to Lincoln's death. It shows the highs and lows of their life together. Although it appears that they truly did love each other, their lives were affected by the challenges of swings in mood similar to manic depression on the part of both of them. I was aware of Mary's mental instability yet I didn't realize that Lincoln, also could be morose. It is apparent that Lincoln was an honest, kind and gentle man and had a large b ...more
Non-fiction is always a little droll for me, but I did learn a lot by reading this, and that was its purpose. If you like biographies, I would recommend this one.

For the full review, check out
Mrs. Lincoln was just as fascinating as President Lincoln, in my opinion. I truly enjoyed this account of our famous president and his wife.
Beverly Hollandbeck
A lot more understanding of Mary Todd.
Gin Tadvick
Well written and through view into the lives of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln.
This readable book focuses on the marriage of the Lincolns, ending with the assassination. It painted a well-rounded portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was not just the shopaholic, grief-stricken figure we think of. Instead, we see someone who was well-educated, politically astute and more ambitious than her husband. Neither of them come across as very good parents and the sections on the relationship with their sons were rather heartbreaking.
The book is poorly written history with unneccesary filler added. I almost feel it should be listed as historical fiction because the author treats as fact infomation that would only be known to Abraham and Mary Lincoln and could in no way be documented. Discussing a marriage is difficult because only the two people involved know the true story. There are many good books on the Lincolns but I will not recommend this book.
Nancy L.
At many points this came dangerously close to historical fiction as the author makes repeated assertions about thoughts or emotions the Lincolns had. That said, I think it is well-written and insightful.

I found myself depressed by the constant emotional trauma, illness and death both Lincolns faced. If poor Mary Lincoln could just have had some psychotropic drugs, stat.
This book was a little hard to stick with, I got bogged down a couple of times. I did learn that the Lincolns had their issues and weren't by any means perfect and "well put together!"
elizabeth george
This was an extraordinary look at the Lincolns and their lives together which included loss, struggle and mental illness. Mary Todd Lincoln was by far the most interesting. The book ends with Lincoln's death and the author's note that Mary's last 17 years without Abe deserved a book of it's own. I would highly recommend this book.
Good book and well written. I love reading about Lincoln. But a lot of it seemed like the author's supposition and extrapolation, particularly with respect to the early years. Since I listened to the audiobook, I couldn't check out the references, if any, and had to take a lot of the book with a grain of salt. Very good writing though.
This would be a good book if you were well-versed in Lincoln's political career at the start. I know that the subject was Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln's marriage, not the entire story of AL. But I found myself wanting to hear more about the political context than Epstein was giving. Otherwise, well-written and very engaging.
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“He was a secretive man, who kept his own counsel. He was an ambitious man of humble origins, with colossal designs on the future. And it would always be advantageous not to be closely known, never to be transparent. Passing a farmer on a day, he would tip his hat and grin. Everybody knew him. Nobody knew him. He would play the fool, the clown, the melancholy poet dying for love, the bumpkin. He would take the world by stealth and not by storm. He would disarm enemies by his apparent naiveté, by seeming pleasantly harmless. He would go to such lengths in making fun of his own appearance that others felt obliged to defend it. -Daniel Mark Epstein.” 4 likes
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