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Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  748 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
Abraham Lincoln is the most revered president in American history, but the woman at the center of his life, his wife, Mary, has remained a historical enigma. In this definitive, magisterial biography, Catherine Clinton draws on important new research to illuminate the remarkable life of Mary Lincoln, and at a time when the nation was being tested as never before.

Mary Linco
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Harper (first published 2009)
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May 23, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I bought this book at the Lincoln museum in Springfield Ill. during my "summer of Lincoln" in 2010. I became obsessed with Lincoln. The museum is fantastic. You walk though exhibits in chronological order of Lincoln's life so by the time I got to his assassination I was in tears. I couldn't believe it - crying over a museum exhibit when I already knew he was assassinated! That's how good the museum is.

There were several books about Mary Lincoln to choose from in the museum book store. This one
May 27, 2009 Jen rated it liked it
I did learn a great deal from this book, but overall the writing is less then compelling. The author constantly explains and excuses Mary Lincoln's every action, so much so that the tone comes off as preemptively defensive. After a while I got the impression the author was so biased in her favor that I was getting a skewed perspective on Mary Lincoln. I understand the author did this to combat all the other, more negative biographies out there, but having never read any of those I felt like I ...more
Feb 21, 2012 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd always been interested in Mary Todd Lincoln but had never taken the time to read any biographies about her. Just so happened, Catherine Clinton's version showed up in my book club choices. I'm glad this version is now on my bookshelf, and it's a keeper.

Clinton covered the good, the bad and the ugly of the woman who was basically the first, First Lady due to how she ran the White House and was deeply involved in her husband's affairs. My overall thoughts on Mary's life,tragic.

You're compell
H. P. Reed
Oct 14, 2013 H. P. Reed rated it liked it
This biography is not as much concerned with the day-to-day life of Mary Lincoln Todd as with her infamous spending habits, meltdowns and quarrels. When deciding how to best frame the comments and criticisms of her contemporaries, Clinton reminds us frequently just how much tragedy this educated and high strung woman endured. No Presidential spouse has had the bile and scandal heaped onto her in such quantities as Mary Todd Lincoln. Not even Hillary Clinton or Eleanor Roosevelt were attacked ...more
Nov 29, 2010 Dick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one of the best books on Mrs. Lincoln that I have read. It does a pretty good job of "seeing her life from her side" and explaining a lot of the mysteries of this lady. Yes, there are insights on the president which I enjoyed. But I really got the book to better understand Mrs. Lincoln and try to see why and how she handled herself. It is in the final analysis a bit sad. I truly believe she loved Mr. Lincoln and that he loved her as well.

There were two questions that I am in the process of
Rebecca Huston
I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. While the author doesn't really go into any depth into her subject, it does make a good introduction to the life and times of Mary Lincoln, and I was both intrigued and appalled by the treatment that she received after her husband's death at the hands of her eldest son. Also gives a glimpse into the treatment of the mentally disabled in nineteenth century America. Recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
Jul 05, 2013 Kathy rated it it was amazing
I am so darn glad I read this book and I have the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore in Chicago to thank for telling me about it. My husband and I went to this wonderful store where they know EVERYTHING about A. Lincoln. I was speaking with a man there and remarked how much compassion I had for Mary Lincoln and wished there was a book with a view that expressed some compassion for all she went through. He said, Oh you will have to read the Catherine Clinton and found a copy there. It was a First Edition. ...more
Sep 14, 2012 Pam rated it it was ok
It is what the title suggests - the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. I went to Springfield and went to everything there was to see on President Lincoln and Mary and there is a lot. Between the museums, the free printed material given out, other books I've read and what I learned in school, I'm not sure I needed to read another book about Abe but was curious as to whether there was some additional information on Mary. I talked to numerous people and read reviews and got suggestions from the people at ...more
Jeanne Julian
Aug 19, 2011 Jeanne Julian rated it really liked it
Highly readable and informative. The author works hard, through research and understanding of context, to demonstrate how assumptions, the tabloid journalism of the day, and powerful people with grudges skewed (and skewered) the image of this intelligent, complex, and determined woman, who's been therefore treated unsympathetically by history. "Wasn't she crazy?" people say about her, 140 years later. But, Clinton shows, "She was a woman of intense intellect and passion who stepped outside the ...more
I just couldn't get enough of the Lincoln family, so after reading Team of Rivals and Killing Lincoln, I jumped right into this biography of Mary Todd Lincoln.

While it didn't rise to the excellence of the aforementioned books, it did provide a good perspective on Lincoln's widow. Biographies of Abraham Lincoln tend to give a one-dimensional view of Mrs. Lincoln, portraying her as frivolous and high strung, but Mrs. Lincoln took the time to place those instances in context, and in doing so made h
Jan 22, 2009 Joseph rated it really liked it
This book was truly a study in contrasts...but what I got from it was a refreshing, new perspective on a woman who has been much maligned in history. True, Mary Lincoln had many faults and brought a lot of her issues upon herself. However, she was also a woman who believed in her famous husband and encouraged him to reach his true potential. She was loyal to Lincoln and doted on her sons. The latter one-third of the book is very gloomy and depressing considering the bad press she got in addition ...more
Mar 08, 2016 Mitchell rated it liked it
This was a very easy and entertaining read. However, prose aside, I felt it lacked significant depth and detail. Perhaps, many details of Mrs. Lincoln's life are missing? I found myself wanting to know more. That aside, there are many interesting stories of the former President here, and many well known events of the former President are covered. All in all, a quick read, but it may leave a shallow impression on the reader.
Aug 31, 2012 Dorothy rated it really liked it
Sad lady living in a remarkable time!!!
Educational, but it had too much conjecture. I would have liked more evidence/first hand sources for the author's claims.

Poor Mary Todd. She was a hoarder before people had a name for it.
Oct 02, 2011 Orsolya rated it really liked it
A lot of pressure comes to those who play the role of a President’s wife. Pressures the “average” person can’t always fathom. One can only imagine the immense life of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of our beloved Emancipator. It is debated whether Mrs. Lincoln was “crazy” or just caved into the pressures of the role and the mother of a devious son. What do I think? We’re all a little crazy…

Mrs. Lincoln: A Life is an immediate page turner with smooth and easy-to-read text. I found myself instantly p
Had I read this book years ago I'd have been more satisfied. The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth has spawned a raft of new publications which raise the bar for any historian. This book covers the same turf as the other Mary Todd Lincoln biographies that I've read, but the prose reads well and it kept my attention.

Earlier this year I read two of the new books: House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, A Family Divided by War and The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great Americ
The Thousander Club
Jul 14, 2013 The Thousander Club rated it really liked it
Adam C. Zern sounds off on Catherine Clinton's Mrs. Lincoln: A Life:

"After watching Steven Spielberg's Lincoln I felt that all too common feeling of ignorance regarding historical events and historical personalities. I wanted to learn more about Civil War years and the influential people who lived through it. Looking over my in-laws bookshelf I came across Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton. It seemed to fit what I was looking for at the time so I thought I would give it a try.

Mrs. Lincol
Feb 26, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Knowing nothing about Mary Lincoln, this was an interesting read. The book covers the life of Mary Lincoln from youth through her death. She was alternately an intelligent, determined, progressive mate to Abraham, and erratic, manic, grieving mother and widow prone to mood swings and outbursts. I admire her for her fortitude during Abraham's rise from middle America lawyer to President. She had her work cut out refining Abraham's country style into manners and dress fit for the Commander in ...more
Barbara Mitchell
Jun 21, 2010 Barbara Mitchell rated it really liked it
I recommend this biography of Mary Lincoln. It is a balanced telling of her life as opposed to what we normally hear about her. Catherine Clinton did resort to a little too much speculation about her exposure to the evils of slavery in her childhood, and frequently you read something that she has said earlier in the book. Other than that, this is easy reading and fascinating.

There are questions about Mary that will never be answered to our satisfaction, mainly what type of mental illness did sh
Ann Marie
Feb 26, 2010 Ann Marie rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I finished this book and can just say Mary Lincoln, even though she did have a difficult personality, was much maligned. I rated it so high though because it got me to thinking. The book ended by saying that no other first ladies had been treated this badly except Eleanor Roosevelt and Hilary Clinton. I actually believe every bad thing I read about Hilary Clinton. In light of this book however, I must reconsider. Judgment is not for us nor should we be repeating gossip. Somehow with Hilary ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Cayla rated it it was amazing
Catherine Clinton's "Mrs. Lincoln: A Life" does a great and mostly un-bias view of Mary Todd. While other historians out there argue that Mary was a product of narcissism, insanity, or another mental disorder that either was or was not genetic, Clinton does a wonderful job of presenting her evidence without making such outlandish remarks.

At several points throughout the book, I found myself disagreeing with Clinton and the issues or questions she brought up. For example, (view spoiler)
Jul 07, 2015 Christy rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton, starts out with the author stating she will not be writing another book about Mr. Lincoln, when in fact, she writes a ton about him. The writing reads like a dry history book. The author focuses on Mrs. Lincoln's spending habits and what society 'might' have thought or what she 'might' have thought about society.

There are better books which cover Mrs. Lincoln, and are more enjoyable to read. If you are into dry, cardboard history books this would be th
Jul 19, 2012 Ed rated it liked it
This is a solid biography of a difficult person. Much of Clinton's effort goes to evaluating rumors and lies about Mrs. Lincoln. This isn't made easier by the fact that there was often a kernel of truth to the unflattering things that were said about her. The most difficult of these tasks is in trying to make sense of Mary Lincoln's commitment to an asylum. The author blessedly indulges in relatively little post hoc diagnostics, though her repeated use of the coloquial "unhinged" to refer to her ...more
Mar 13, 2012 Rrshively rated it liked it
This book is somewhat scholarly and detailed. I learned many new things about Mrs. Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and other historical characters. I felt the author was careful not to say anything about Mrs. Lincoln that could not be proven as, at the same time, she shared various speculations about some of the events. One comes away from this book convinced that gossip and false rumors are truly harmful. As a reader I felt a great deal of sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln. At the same time I was frustrated ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Terry rated it liked it
I wanted to give this book a higher rating, but realized it wasn’t the book as much as its subject that made me want to do so. I’ve had this on my shelf for a couple of years and was inspired to pick it up after seeing the movie “Lincoln” (Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln – what’s not to love about that?) Parts of this book are really well done, but others not so, thus the 3. The author repeats herself so many times, I began to wonder if this was a new trend in biography writing. I do think the ...more
Aug 08, 2010 Carolann rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a good book.

I had previously read the insanity file of Mrs. Lincoln.

While I enjoyed that one as well.

This seems goes into much more detail.
Which makes sense, now that I think about it.

Not only about the life of Mrs. Lincoln, but those around her as well.

I also enjoyed reading about the civil war.
Normally I don't enjoy reading about that type of thing.
But this book held my attention, and didn't let go.

The end of the book deal with her being put into a institution
The effects from that pe
Sep 22, 2012 Sharlene rated it really liked it
This is the first book Ive read on Mary Lincoln. She is probably best remembered for her unbalanced mental status versus the highly educated, politically savy woman she was. She was the Hillary Clinton of her time. Clearly disliked as First Lady, but its clear she took care of her husband to insure he ate, and took time away from the worries of the civil war. She buried 3 young sons, saw the death of her husband, and had to morn the deaths of her brothers and brother-in-law in private because ...more
Theresa Malouf
Jan 05, 2015 Theresa Malouf rated it liked it
This was my first book I have read about Mary Lincoln and although it provided a lot of details about her life, I found the text a bit dry and boring. The book is 300+ pages and I have to say that after Lincoln was shot, (page 248) the book read much quicker and became more interesting to me. I feel like the author was harsh on Mary in terms of her mental state. As much as the author discusses Mary's mental illness and her visits to psychiatrists, very little is mentioned about the horrible ...more
Sep 06, 2009 Jennifer rated it liked it
Mary Todd Lincoln has been much Florence Nightengale, she came from a well-off, well-connected political family, was smart, attractive and much better educated then most women in her day, or even men (indeed, she was far better educationed than her husband). But she was more traditional in directing her energies to marriage and children. Part of her tragedy is that she lost three of her four sons before they were adults and, of course her husband was shot in front of her. She ...more
Aug 18, 2016 Judy rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Very informative book on Mary Todd Lincoln. I found it to be sympathetic to her, yet honest about her difficulties and flaws. I learned things I did not know before, such as how much time she lived in Europe, and that she had several grandchildren (the only grandson died at age 16, and apparently the granddaughters did not have descendants that continue to this day).

From page 51, a quote by Abraham Lincoln circa 1841 (after a possible break-up with Mary): "I am now the most miserable man living.
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Professor of history at Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Specializes in American history, African-American history, the Civil War, and women's history. Previously taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities. Born in 1952, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. Studied sociology and history at Harvard, earned a master's degree from Sussex and a doctorate from Princeton.
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