cover image Lincoln at Home: Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincolns Family Life

Lincoln at Home: Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincolns Family Life

David Herbert Donald. Simon & Schuster, $30 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-0199-5

Harvard's Donald, two-time Pulitzer winner and author of the standard biography Lincoln, delivers a frustratingly brief discussion of a complex subject. The mere 32 pages of large-type prose that Donald dedicates to his theme are nowhere near adequate to the task of portraying the bittersweet intensities, banal intrigues and madness that so often defined life within the Lincoln family circle. Donald's essay (previously published in The White House: The First Two Hundred Years) is based on his inaugural lecture in the Presidential Lecture Series at the White House. As such it focuses on the well-known and not always interesting details of the Lincolns' domestic life in the executive mansion: Mary overspending, young Willie and Tad cavorting and Lincoln always tolerating. The second part of this volume is a scant collection of all known letters exchanged between members of the immediate Lincoln family, written by Abraham, Mary and eldest son, Robert. The letters between Abraham and Mary have all been previously published. Like those written by Robert, they do not tell us much. They tend to be brief and are invariably businesslike, and deal with mundane matters (the purchase of clothing, schedules for arrivals and departures, etc.). The price is steep for such slim content; readers seeking more than a glimpse of the Lincoln family should consult the excellent books dedicated more fully to this theme, the most conspicuous being Jean Baker's Mary Todd Lincoln. Agent, Ike Williams, Palmer and Dodge. 4-city author tour. (Nov.)