The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage

Daniel Mark Epstein, Author . Ballantine $28 (559p) ISBN 978-0-345-47799-6

Poet and biographer Epstein (Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington ) never explains the rationale for this reliable but familiar account of the Lincolns’ frequently tempestuous marriage. If he had access to previously untapped sources, he does nothing to highlight them, and there’s little reason why this book should supersede either Jean H. Baker’s magisterial Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography or even Ruth Painter Randall’s respected Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage . What Epstein brings is a novelistic, almost lyrical touch, as in this passage, from Mary’s perspective, as her husband lay dying: “Slowly the room grows larger with the light. The April days are long. Hold back the light. Let the day never dawn that looks upon his death.” Well born, Mary was also highly strung, insecure, jealous and, like Abraham, prone to fits of depression. He suffered her rages silently, tolerated her profligate spending even when it became a political embarrassment and twice consoled her in the midst of his own grief upon the successive losses of two of their four sons. Sadly, in the end, their marriage seems to have been largely a pageant of tragedies: a black lily Epstein need not have attempted to gild. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/17/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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Paperback - 559 pages - 978-0-345-47800-9
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