An excellent biography of President Lincoln's First Lady by Baker (History/Goucher College), author of several books on the Civil War era (Affairs of Party, The Politics of Continuity). Baker's underlying theme is not so much that Mary Todd Lincoln has been a victim of bad press down through the years, but that just about everybody who came in con. tact with her contributed to her misery by virtue of fate, intolerance, ignorance, greed, or mean-spiritedness. The widow Lincoln's was a classic tale of spoiled daughter of the aristocracy (Kentuckian) meeting and marrying the country bumpkin of little manners and less savoir-faire--except that in her case. the country bumpkin managed to elevate himself to his own eminence. Baker displays Mary's insecurities, born of an unfortunate blend of childhood loss (her mother's early death) and a diminished psyche, the result of a stepmother's use of disgrace, embarrassment, and shame as tools of education. These insecurities led Mary to waste her life on frivolities, such as spendthrift shopping to prove her worth, and overt politicking as First Lady as a means of ensuring her own sense of self-importance. On top of this, her lifelong penchant for tragedies--mother's death, husband's murder, and the loss of three sons, not to mention a public insanity trial brought at the instigation of her last surviving son--led her into the false security of spiritualism (a means of keeping in touch with all those who had deserted her). As she herself wrote: ""Ill luck presided at my birth and has been a faithful attendant ever since."" Baker handles Mrs. Lincoln with substantial sympathy, demonstrating, for example, the sham nature of her insanity trial (where Mrs. Lincoln was given no advance warning, time, or lawyer to defend herself; and where the charges--trumped up by a cadre of spies--only demonstrated the veracity of her allegations, evinced as proof of her insanity, that she was, indeed, being followed). A passionate biography of our first activist First Lady.