Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shedding light on Lincoln’s darkness

Currently I consider myself an Abraham Lincoln enthusiast, thus the blog name “Lincoln Buff 2.” I hope someday to earn the title “Lincoln scholar.” To do so will take lots of hard work, years of reading and researching, and the mentoring and respect of Lincoln scholars who have come before me.

I’ve had the blessing of hearing a number of Lincoln scholars speak, and have even had a chance to meet a few. One of my hopes in this blog is that I can introduce you to some authors and scholars in the Lincoln community who inspire me - and tell you about their work.

Meet Joshua Wolf Shenk
I’ve already told you about Rodney Davis and Douglas Wilson of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College and Harold Holzer of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in earlier postings. Today I’d like to introduce you to Joshua Wolf Shenk and his book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

Lincoln as most know him

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans know the legendary Lincoln – the young boy born in a log cabin in Kentucky, who later lived in some little village somewhere in the middle of Illinois, had little schooling, read by the light of a fireplace, ascended to the presidency, led our nation at its most difficult time and delivered a battlefield address which is probably studied in school more than any other oratorical work.

What the more astute students of Lincoln know, though, as it is covered again and again in varying degrees in his biographies, is that Lincoln had dark moments – very sad and solemn times. In his day, it was known as melancholy or melancholia. Today, we call it depression and we understand it’s a mental health issue faced by many.

A dual discipline approach to Lincoln
Joshua Wolf Shenk had the honor of serving as a Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Mental Health Journalism at the Carter Center in Atlanta. While there, he began his studies on Lincoln’s depression. Lincoln’s Melancholy is unique in the approach it takes to Lincoln’s life. Shenk takes a multi-discipline approach, combining his knowledge of and interest in mental illness with his expertise in the life of Lincoln.

As you read Shenk’s book, you’ll not only learn about Lincoln and how his depression affected his life and presidency, but you’ll also learn about mental illness, a condition which impacts one in five families in America.

I had the opportunity to hear Shenk speak this summer at two appearances in Peoria, Ill. He held us spellbound as he spoke with sincerity and depth about our 16th president and the depression which darkened his life. His book is comprehensive and educational without overwhelming the reader with medical jargon. If I had a chance, I’d see go hear Shenk yet again, and I’d recommend his book to any Lincoln buff.
© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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