March 14, 2008

Book: Lincoln's Melancholy

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
by Joshua Wolf Shenk, read by Richard Davidson, Audio CD version.

lincolnI enjoyed the audiobook version of Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. I found it entertaining and thought-provoking.

Shenk provided a detailed biography of Lincoln interspersed with musings on psychology and related topics. He points out that modern culture has unfairly criticized depressives as negative people, with only a minority of scientists pointing out that depressed people may actually be more realistic than optimists. Some researchers have postulated that "happiness itself could be considered a mental disorder." In light of the threats facing mid-19th century America, Lincoln was more in touch with what was likely to happen than his happier peers. Shenk also shows that Lincoln's long-standing depression contributed to some of his outstanding character traits, such as his desire to be of service to his country and an unwavering determination to complete necessary tasks, no matter how unpleasant. This made him strong enough to lead his country through an incredibly bloody war.

Shenk finishes the book with a discussion on Lincoln's biographers and how historians inject their own prejudices into published research. The final CD concludes with an interesting interview with the author.

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