Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography” as Want to Read:
Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,244 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
This definitive biography of Mary Todd Lincoln beautifully conveys her tumultuous life and times. A privileged daughter of the proud clan that founded Lexington, Kentucky, Mary fell into a stormy romance with the raw Illinois attorney Abraham Lincoln. For twenty-five years the Lincolns forged opposing temperaments into a tolerant, loving marriage. Even as the nation suffer ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1987)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Mary Todd Lincoln, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Mary Todd Lincoln

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Let me preface this by saying I really give this book 3.5 stars. I think the author really worked at trying to make Mrs. Lincoln a likeable personality, and that's just not possible. Having said that, here is my review...

Page one and she's already accused of being a shrew and a termagant. I kept waiting for harpy.
By the age of seven, she had already suffered the following: the loss of family place to a first born son; the death of a infant brother; the loss of her middle name, Ann, to a new sis
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 th
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Historian Jean Baker thinks it's just too easy to turn Mary Todd Lincoln into the First Lady we love to hate. She sets out to provide a social, psychological, and feminist context for understanding Mary's childhood, marriage, motherhood, and widowhood, and it is a very powerful story.

Mary was one of 14 children in what these days would be called a blended family. Her mother died when she was young and so she was raised by a stepmother, who she was constantly at odds with. Her father, often away
I read this for one of my reading groups. I was looking forward to reading it but it is written in a scholarly tone, which made it difficult to get through even 40 pages in a day.

I did learn more than I knew before about Abraham Lincoln's wife but my attachment to this much maligned First Lady was born when I read the historical novel Love Is Eternal by Irving Stone, the #3 bestseller of 1954. That novel brought her alive.

Baker applied psychology as it was understood in the 1980s and attempted
Jul 16, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The Lincolns are not even in the White House yet and I am annoyed with this author. She tends to belittles Mary Lincoln often. I realize MTL is not a woman loved by history, but I find the author's assertion that MTL's political interests "displayed a quirky feminism located not in principle but in the psychological necessity to be somebody" o be dismissive. MTL was very well educated -- she had 12 years of formal schooling -- maybe her interest in politics was born of a working mind in need of ...more
Feb 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've ever read about Mary Todd. I found the history fascinating and I now realize what a difficult life Mary really had.
May 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Mary Todd Lincoln was a complex woman, too often dismissed as "insane" because she was institutionalized by her one surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, though she only spent three months at a sanitarium. Her son's reasons for institutionalizing her included her belief in mediums who could contact her dead husband and children, and her incessant buying of needless items. Of course, in modern times, this would not be nearly enough to institutionalize anyone, yet it was a fairly common thing in the ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My problems with this book are legion, but I'll highlight just a few.

First, Baker's perspective is limited, as she clearly is writing a "feminist" history of Mary Todd Lincoln, and her diatribes become both tiresome and tortured. Her "logic" goes like this: 19th century society treated women badly because they were women. Mary Todd Lincoln lived in the 19th century. She was treated badly. Therefore, she was treated badly because she was a woman. That thinking is far too simplistic, but it is at
Noelle M
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought the book was a real tour de force in the biography writing genre. Baker's thesis is that in childhood, the maternally orphaned Mary Lincoln developed a narcissistic personality in response to being rejected by her stepmother who wanted the husband's first family to just go away. Mary needed and didn't get normal attention so she found other means to get what she needed. Admittedly narcissism is a "broken" strategy for solving emotional problems, a childish strategy. The original proble ...more
Alan Jacobs
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: hisotyr buffs; those interested in the role of women in mid-19th cetury America
One of the finest biographies I've ever read. Totally changed my perception of Mary Todd Lincoln. The author is not an apologist for Mrs. Lincoln: she lays out the details of all her notorious extravagances, and recounts every one of her public outbursts. However, the author always puts Mrs. Lincoln's utterances extravagances in the context of how Mary became an educated woman at a time when most women only had a rudimentary education, and then how she never received the respect, or even the cor ...more
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
We have all been told that Mary Todd Lincoln was a crazy first lady. Reading 'Mary Todd Lincoln', you see a side of Mary Todd that is rarely told. She had a higher education than most women and some men of her day. She was very interested in politics and in the book many people describe her as lively and intelligent. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and her children. I found reading about how the Lincoln's raised their children to be endearing. They did not have a heavy hand and treasured t ...more
Sarah Finch
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A superb and thorough biography of a fundamentally misunderstood woman. Though the movie "Lincoln" did a good deal to humanize Mary Todd Lincoln after generations of traditional history painted her as a hysterical shrew who made her husband miserable, Baker clearly delineates between the poisoned pens of early historiographers and the documentary evidence that shows a woman in full -- imperfect, neurotic, narcissistic, overbearing but also intelligent, beloved by her husband, and a woman whose a ...more
Jul 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read a book on Mary Todd Lincoln after visiting the Lincoln home and presidential museum this summer. This book is considered the definitive biography on the former first lady, but I found it a bit dry at times. The first few chapters were hard to get through. I get it that she came from a very prominent family that played a major role in the founding of Lexington. I don't need several chapters completely bogged down in details to get that point across. Adding to the confusion was th ...more
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Everyone who grows up in central Illinois, 100 miles from Springfield, more or less accepts Abe Lincoln as almost a distant relative. Lincoln is EVERYWHERE -- places he stayed, court houses where he tried cases, locations where he gave a speech, and on and on. But Mary Todd? She is always pegged as the hugh strung wife, somebody who could not get along with anybody. Never seems like a proper match for Mr Lincoln.

After reading this biography, which felt to be very well researched and factual, it
Doug Nagel
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys a good biography and American history
This was an excellent biography. Jean Baker provides a thorough psycho-social profile of Mary Todd Lincoln, highlighting the early family influences and abandonments that shaped her character, ambition and well-documented idiosyncracies. Tracing her life from her Lexington, Kentucky roots, Baker emphasizes her unusual interest in politics, Mary Todd's academic achievements at a time when education for women was denigrated and her desire to marry someone who would elevate her social standing in t ...more
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was inspired to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln after watching the new Spielberg movie "Lincoln" (I also want to learn more about Thaddeus Stevens).

This biography is extremely readable (more readable imho than the acclaimed book the movie was based on). I LOVE non-fiction that reads like fiction and this almost qualifies.

Baker provides a balanced portrait of Mary. She's neither heroine nor villain. She is portrayed as intelligent, emotional, ambitious and insecure. Baker believes that Mar
Jan 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting examination of a very misunderstood former first lady. Jean Baker provides a sympathetic look at Mary Todd Lincoln as a bright, educated upper-class young woman from Lexington, Kentucky who struggles with much loss over the years and finally must defend her sanity and deal with the strained relationship with her only surviving son. Politics were a significant part of the Lincoln marriage and Mary Todd Lincoln's challenges with her role as first lady is a particularly fasci ...more
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great look into a complicated life of a woman who had very delicate emotions. A lady who had so much loss in her life and who tried to bear with it as best as she knew how, while trying to convince people she was not insane but just very emotional. There is nothing so sad as to see her own son dislike his own parents and want to hide his mother away for fear of embarassment to himself.
Touching story of love, loss and redemption of oneself.
Jun 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary Todd Lincoln has always been an enigma to me. I've vacillate between thinking that she was down right crazy (as her son Robert apparently thought) and that she was simply a woman with a major personality disorder - manifested throughout her life by her bizarre and eratic behavior. Whichever the case, she was most definitely a tragic figure - one who also played a key role in the life of one of our most admired presidents. If you have an interest in her, it's definitely worth the read.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ik probeer biografieën te lezen van Amerikaanse presidentsvrouwen. Ik zocht naar aanleiding van de recente films rond Lincoln naar een goede biografie. Dit was het beste dat ik kon vinden en eigenlijk niet de moeite van het lezen waard. Wel goed gedocumenteerd maar zeer matig geschreven. Geen aanrader.
Jul 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Pair this with the novel, Mary, by Janice Newman, for a really thought-provoking study of Mrs. Lincoln, as well as what society was like in the 19th century.

I found it heart-breaking that her son never accepted her. Mary Lincoln's story is a tragic one, and fascinating.
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a very readable book about Abe Lincoln's wife and her tortured life. Today we have drugs that would help her with her fears and depression, but in the 1800's, there was no sympathy for her and the many issues she faced. This book was written with sympathy and understanding.
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An honest look at a woman who is often portrayed unsymphathetically but we learn there are 2 sides to every story.
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author in her preface stated that she "wanted to view her life from her own perspective, not one that developed from the unfavorable comments of her critics". This book led to very intense discussions in my 1st Ladies book club. All of us knew about Mary Todd Lincoln's "madness" but our opinion of her definitely changed after reading Jean Baker's carefully presented facts for her behavior. We discussed at length her relationships with her children, her husband and her surrounding man/womanki ...more
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I put this on my 'to read' list after "Lincoln" by Spielberg and this is a very well written bio of someone who everyone has heard of but not really much is known. But my god this woman had a hard life. Mother died at 6, dad remarried to a step-monster when she was 8...when she got married she went from living in mansion to a boarding house and spoiler alert...her husband gets killed. After that 3 of her 4 sons die and her last remaining son has her....committed....oh, and she wears 'widows weed ...more
Rita Mercs
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book about the living/social conditions in the 1800s and an informative book about the first lady during the Civil War.

Mary Todd Lincoln was a very strange first lady (either bipolar or borderline personality disorder).
Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln

A visit to unknown and forgotten history. A very extensive experience in the Lady and family of the Lincolns. Must read
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting read. Mary Lincoln certainly had a very difficult and traumatic life, with far more losses than any one person should have to bear.
Lynette Lark
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I felt sorry for Mary Todd but I felt worse for her husband.
Emily Little
Jun 05, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sympathetic view of Mary Todd Lincoln but it was too long.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Last Lincolns: The Rise  Fall of a Great American Family
  • Mrs. Lincoln: A Life
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon
  • Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave
  • "We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends
  • The Madness of Mary Lincoln
  • Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President
  • Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History
  • The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln
  • Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams
  • Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
  • Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln
  • House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds: A Family Divided by War
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America
  • The Assassin's Accomplice
  • Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington
Jean H. Baker is a professor of history at Goucher College. A graduate of Goucher College, she earned her doctorate at Johns Hopkins University.
More about Jean H. Baker...

Nonfiction Deals

  • Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent
    $4.99 $1.99
  • Sometimes You Win--Sometimes You Learn: Life's Greatest Lessons Are Gained from Our Losses
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
    $14.99 $2.99
  • The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
    $5.99 $1.99
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future Is Selling Less of More
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Merlin's Tour of the Universe
    $10.99 $2.99
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
    $11.99 $2.99
  • Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing
    $11.99 $2.99
  • All That Is Bitter And Sweet: A Memoir
    $11.99 $1.99
  • The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II
    $15.99 $1.99
  • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life
    $13.99 $2.99
  • Funny In Farsi: A Memoir Of Growing Up Iranian In America
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Effortless Healing: 9 Simple Ways to Sidestep Illness, Shed Excess Weight, and Help Your Body Fix Itself
    $11.99 $1.99