I really appreciated this thoughtful and well-researched book. Lincoln's achievements seem even more astounding when set against the backdrop of the sometimes-crippling depression he suffered. The author specifically points out the coping skills that Lincoln developed, which is inspiring for a reader who may suffer from similar "melancholy."
Ironically, I started reading this book around Lincolns birthday and finished around the date of his death. Lincolns melancholy: how depression challenged a president and fueled his greatness is a thoughtful, well-researched book examining Abraham Lincoln though the lens of mental illness as well as melancholy in light of Lincolns experience. As explained in the Afterward, Joshua Wolf Shenk became interested in Lincolns mental life at a time when he can delve into primary sources to explore this topic. This is not a cradle-to-grave biography or psychological autopsy of Abe, but rather organizes sections of his life into phases defined by his relationship to his suffering and was placed into the spiritual, medical, and social context of nineteenth-century America. Shenk argues that Lincoln, with two mental breakdowns in his youth, did not cease to suffer, but eventually turned his anguish into a sense of purpose and order in the world. That can be considered a depressing lesson, but a profound and potentially more realistic one, insightfully and articulately delivered by Shenk after seven years of research. Highly recommended, although probably not for someone in the throes of an acute depressive episode.
If you have experience with depression or know someone who struggles with the illness, you can appreciate how difficult this illness was on President Lincoln at times. The book also covers the development of mental health study and care during this era.