Brisk writing drives this sympathetic portrait of a vivacious woman who was probably unfairly criticized in her own day. Young readers will be struck by how ""modern"" the hectic family life of the Lincolns seems, despite the hardships wrought by slow transportation and primitive medicine, and some may even find similarities between the lives of Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Collins feels compassion for Mary Ann Todd, who fled a crowded Lexington, Ky., household dominated by a strict stepmother to live a gayer life with her sisters in the frontier capital of Springfield, Ill., where she met and married Abraham Lincoln. What a contrast they made -- the stylish 5'3"" plump brunette from an eminent family who was outspoken and eager for attention and the 6'4"" lanky lawyer who was self-educated, gentle, clumsy, absentminded, and melancholy. Bound by love and ambition tempered with humor, they indulgently raised four sons (three of whom died during Mary's lifetime) and launched political campaigns that eventually landed the family in the White House. Then came the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination. Is it any wonder that the woman who embarked so exuberantly on her adult life and then endured so much pain behaved irrationally, perhaps madly, toward the end of her life? The author never fails to provide readers with a gauge of what was expected of women in ""those days,"" or to mention Mary's staunch opposition to slavery and war, or to present her side of the malicious gossip about her extravagances. The informative text is marred only by some grammatical slips. Photos; chronology (with one date mismatched with a text date); bibliography; index.