Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book learning #57

Lincoln's melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk

This is a Presidential biography, not a textbook on depression. I picked it up (almost three years ago) as a presidential biography, enjoyed that part and also enjoyed the mental health part.

As mentioned, it's taken me almost three years to finish this. A transatlantic move can do that. A transatlantic move and a missing book, a missing book that is then picked up again in between some others.

Despite the logistical struggle to read and finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this account of Lincoln's life, work and mental health. The contrasts between the fabulously gothic nineteenth century approach to the mind and the more clinical twentieth/twenty first century treatment of depression was illuminating. The accounts of Lincoln's own depression and struggles centered the work in a way that a more straightforward narrative about depression would probably not. In short, I learned a bit about depression that I would not have done otherwise. I also learned a bit about Lincoln.

I absolutely loved the gothic tone, found the overview of Lincoln's career fascinating and was completely absorbed by the Civil War chapters ( LIke so many, this was the Lincoln I first learned about). This book (or at least the final couple of chapters that I've just polished off prior to a few new arrivals on the 25th) perfectly fitted my present mood, the dark winter nights, the bitter cold, the American gothic Victoriana. Wonderful stuff.

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