Book Review: Lincoln the Unknown by Dale Carnegie

TL;DR – it is often said that behind every great man there is a great woman… and then there’s Abraham Lincoln.


A biography of Abraham Lincoln written by Dale Carnegie, who pulls back the curtains on a man who experienced almost unending darkness to achieve change during a time when blood, sweat and tears soaked American soil.


Clementine Churchill was married to Winston Churchill for 56 years. Coretta Scott King was married to Martin Luther King Jr for 15 years before her husband’s assassination in 1968. Both women created lives that were filled with numerous accomplishments while being steadfast, supportive wives to their husbands. They are a couple of examples that fit the “behind every great man there is a great woman”.

Then came Mary Todd Lincoln who broke the mold. At least, that is how Carnegie portrays her and what you will walk away with if you read this biography.

I don’t normally read non-fiction, but when a friend of mine recommended me Lincoln the Unknown, I thought I would give it a go. While there have been many books written about arguably the greatest president in American history, I discovered that Carnegie’s biography of the man captures far more than Lincoln’s political accomplishments and chronicles a life that was profound with suffering and an almost unheard of strength of will to strive for what he believed in.

Though debated by historians, Carnegie states in no uncertain terms that Abraham’s first and true love was Ann Rutledge, who died of typhoid at the age of 22. The many events that follow leading up to his marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln will leave you gobsmacked.

By all indications, she was a manipulative, power-hungry, jealous, angry, and mentally unstable woman who made Abraham’s life a living hell. Carnegie does not mince his words and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she was considered a devil woman with many of Abraham’s closest friends urging him not to marry her. The fact that he did through Todd’s manipulation and his own honour as a man demonstrates he operated in a time that no longer exists today.

How Abraham Lincoln went on to achieve everything he did is beyond me. From his first inaugural address to the Emancipation Proclamation to the Gettysburg Address and reunifying a nation torn by civil war, Lincoln lived a life that any other person would have looked at and said, “Yeah, that’s not for me.” Imagine the stress, anxiety, pressure, worry and insomnia he experienced as a result of being president during a civil war with an economy going down the tube and then throw in a marriage that left nothing but heartache and pain.

One could argue whether Lincoln would have achieved such immortal greatness if he was happily married. That being driven out of his home by a vindictive, jealous wife forced him to focus on his life’s work rather than the idea of life’s love.

We will never know.

4 out of 5.

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