The Lincolns
Candace Fleming
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Buy *The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary* by Candace Fleming online

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade
200 pages
October 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This is a book for younger readers, but I suggest that older folks will also enjoy it. The format adapts nicely to modern "sound-byte" consciousness, arrayed as a scrapbook with no article or blurb longer than two pages, all liberally peppered with photographs, contemporary handbills and insets (such as one entitled "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder," with excerpts from the letters of Abe and Mary at times when they were separated). She: How much I wished instead of writing, we were together this evening. He: In this troublesome world we are never quite satisfied. When you were here, I thought you hindered me some in attending to business; but now, having nothing but business – no variety – it has grown exceedingly tasteless to me…I hate to stay in this old room by myself.

The life stories of both people are famously known, though Mary is certainly a more enigmatic figure in many ways. She was a wealthy woman who aided Lincoln in his rise to prominence, and he lost a childhood sweetheart whose memory seemed to have haunted him ever, prompting him at one point to write a little known (and for good reason; it veers toward doggerel) "suicide poem":

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it;
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell shall rue it!"
He was a miserable 31 when he penned those lines but had just recently met Mary Todd, who saw her future spouse "across a crowded room" and declared him "the plainest man in Springfield." Mary married the plain man and they became strong partners, with both having to suffer many privations. In the end he was gunned down, dying a painful death watched over by a grieving nation, while she was legally declared mad by her only son, who clearly sought to take the inheritance that his father's assassination had put in question. She died little mourned, lonely, and shut in a dark room in her last years.

The book gives highlights of the lot of slaves, the battles of the Civil War, and many personal vignettes not found in the usual run of history texts, such as the Lincolns' invitation to Mary's half-sister, the widow of a Rebel officer. Her fighting spirit caused an altercation with two dinner guests, a Union General and a U.S. Senator. But Lincoln defended his choice of company, telling the warrior and the senator, "My wife and I are in the habit of choosing our own guests." This gives a picture of the informality of the White House in those times and the relative freedom that the nation's leader had in mingling with family and friends away from the prying eyes of the press. Mary would later write to her estranged relative, "Will we ever awaken from this hideous nightmare?"

The poignant, seemingly inconsolable sorrow expressed by Mary after her husband's murder is underscored with dark photographs of the deathwatch and Lincoln's funeral. And young readers may identify with little Tad Lincoln's lament, "I am not a President's son now."

This is a large coffee table book that your older children can dip into and mine for facts to use at school. But take warning, children: your parents may take the book to their room. I would rate this as top notch Christmas gift material: patriotic, honest, atmospheric and informative – a stunning production.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

buy *The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary* online
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