This was a fascinating book about a couple whose marriage began as one of the grand social events of Civil War-era Washington, D.C., and which ended jThis was a fascinating book about a couple whose marriage began as one of the grand social events of Civil War-era Washington, D.C., and which ended just as spectacularly when William Sprague, himself a serial adulterer, came after his wife's lover, Senator Roscoe Conkling, with a shotgun. (The senator escaped unharmed.) As well as delving into the lives of this ill-starred couple, this book puts their marriage in the context of gender roles in the 19th century....more
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 storThis 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....more
Interesting book, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I thought from some of the excerpts that this would be an extended anti-Philippa-GregorInteresting book, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I thought from some of the excerpts that this would be an extended anti-Philippa-Gregory rant, but Bordo was more restrained and balanced than I expected. I thought the discussion about how Anne Boleyn has been portrayed in fiction over the years was particularly interesting. On the other hand, I thought the author was far too dismissive of G. W. Bernard, whose work (whether or not one agrees with it) hardly deserves to be lumped in with Carolly Erickson's "historical entertainment" The Favored Queen. I would have liked to have seen a more extended discussion of recent books on Anne Boleyn, such as Joanna Denny's biography--especially if it meant sacrificing the author's afterword, which I found more than a bit self-indulgent. On the whole, though, this was a thought-provoking book....more
This is an account of the love story, and the tragedy, of the ill-fated Nicholas and Alexandra. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, it's more of aThis is an account of the love story, and the tragedy, of the ill-fated Nicholas and Alexandra. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, it's more of a psychological study of the pair than a straight biography--and if you don't have at least a basic knowledge of this period, you may find yourself lost at times. The author relies heavily on the couple's letters, which (especially in Alix's case) are variously heartbreaking, mushy, appalling, and poignant. Rounding is sympathetic toward her subjects but takes a clear-eyed view of their faults.
I'm not knowledgeable about this period, but the book seems to have met with favor from those who are. I recommend it....more