Archive for February, 2009

Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
Lincoln artifacts on display @ WDFPL

Lincoln artifacts on display @ WDFPL

The author humanizes Abraham Lincoln making the work flow.

“If Lincoln were alive today, his depression would be considered a “character issue” – that is, a political liability.  But in his time, it may have helped more than it hurt.  While many found his moods odd and curious, the most common reaction was positive interest.  Even as he rose to great heights, people tended to feel sympathy for him.” This statement concisely explores a main theme of this work.  Biographer David Herbert Donald has observed, “Many of Lincoln’s advisors viewed him as a man who needed to be encouraged and protected.

Lincoln watched others attempt to pacify states threatening to leave the Union.  Watching these negotiations, Lincoln said plainly that he wouldn’t budge on the bottom line.  “Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery,” he wrote.  “Stand firm.  The tug has to come, and better now, than any time hereafter.”  This passage confirms the authors premise that Lincoln’s personal trials with depression steeled him in his conviction on the direction of United States growth.  Lincoln believed compromise on the issue of slavery would set a fatal example.

The book begins with brief analysis on Lincoln’s perceived intimate relationships.  The section needs more development as the text cannot include interview material from Mr. Lincoln himself.  Documentation is light and I suggest readers may want to consult work of additional authors as emotional relationships both male and female were permissible and sexual identity may have reflected societal norms of the time.  The author’s perspective appears rooted in polarizing views prevalent in today’s society.

I recommend this book as a means to expand one’s understanding and insights into the life of Abraham Lincoln.  The text is well-written and the topic well-researched.

The Conjurer

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

The Conjurer, the first of the Martha Beale’s mysteries by Cordelia Frances Biddle, starts with a vivid description of the murder scene. The two hunting dogs are so realistically portrayed as is the time and geography of the Philadelphia area. The tragic loss of her father propels Martha Beale from a shy, protected and unsure female to a confident, loved, mature woman who reaches out to the poor and finds it in herself to adopt as wards two impoverished children. She finds true love in Thomas Kelman, a friend of the mayor of Philadelphia, who is a great detetive and human being. She gives freely of her enormous wealth. She shines as a true friend to other hapless characters in the story.
Tying the ends of the story lines is the Conjurer, a psychic of the time who actually goes into trances and speaks out on murders of the day.
Martha finds herself in great danger in most unusual circumstances. She then is instrumental in bringing about justice in all the horrific crimes and clearing the Conjurer of implication in the murder of Durand, the husband of his loved one.

This was a mystery well-written and researched. It is a great read and gives one a real insight into Philadelphia in the 1840’s.

Joan Badie