A rare psychobiography that does not strain the bounds of credulity.

“WE ARE LINCOLN MEN”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND HIS FRIENDS

“How could a man who had no friends be also a man who had nothing but friends?” asks Lincoln scholar Donald as he ponders the Great Emancipator’s essential loneliness.

After Lincoln was assassinated, writes Donald (American History & American Civilization/Harvard; Lincoln, 1995, etc.), plenty of people stepped forward to claim that they had been among his closest friends, and indeed Lincoln had a gift for making just about anyone who did not really know him feel right at home. Yet just about everyone who truly did know him sensed that Lincoln drew from a deep well of reserve and apartness; as his former law partner William Herndon, who shared an office with Lincoln for 16 years, remarked, “He was the most reticent and mostly secretive man that ever existed; he never opened his whole soul to any man; he never touched the history or quality of his own nature in the presence of his friends.” Several events formed and reinforced Lincoln’s solitude. Growing up on the frontier, with few agemates or playmates, Lincoln lacked intimate friends in his childhood; Donald writes that “boys who do not have chums often have difficulty in establishing close, warm friendships, and there is some evidence that such boys are more likely to suffer from depression in later years”—as Lincoln surely did. Add to this the loss of his mother at an early age and what the evidence suggests was an essentially loveless marriage to Mary Todd (whom Donald treats with some sympathy, but who nevertheless emerges as a basically disagreeable person), and Lincoln’s melancholic loneliness seemed all but foreordained. Yet he did have friends of a fashion, and he relied on six in particular—Joshua F. Speed, Herndon, Orville H. Browning, William H. Seward, John Hay, and John G. Nicolay—for advice, solace, and even love. (Of a kind: Donald disputes current theories that Lincoln was gay.) His interactions with those six, revealed through a blend of anecdote and hard-won documentary evidence, form the heart of Donald’s well-paced narrative.

A rare psychobiography that does not strain the bounds of credulity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-5468-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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