The best Mary Todd Lincoln books 📚

Browse the best books on Mary Todd Lincoln as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

By Catherine Clinton

Why this book?

While Mary Lincoln (although we often call her "Mary Todd Lincoln," she preferred "Mary Lincoln," "Mrs. Abraham Lincoln," or the unassuming "Mrs. A. Lincoln") has been the subject of several biographies, this is my favorite, and one which I always used as my first resource when checking a fact or looking for a reference about Mary Lincoln. It's readable, well-sourced, and sympathetic toward its subject without veering into hagiography or being overly indulgent of Mary's foibles.
From the list:

The best nonfiction about First Lady Mary Lincoln

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Book cover of Courting Mr. Lincoln

Courting Mr. Lincoln

By Louis Bayard

Why this book?

The other books in this list are all retellings of well-known fairy tales and myths, and though Courting Mr. Lincoln is a fictionalized version of a real man’s life, I would argue that Abraham Lincoln has achieved a sort of mythic status. Louis Bayard has created a gorgeous story about Lincoln told from the perspectives of two people who loved him: his wife, Mary—rendered here with tightly-drawn nuance—and his roommate, Joshua Speed.

Previously, I’d mostly seen Mary Todd Lincoln portrayed as a mother consumed by her grief. Bayard’s Mary is sharply intelligent, independent, and imperfect—she can be as cruel as…

From the list:

The best books for all ages that retell well-known stories and feature complex female characters

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Book cover of House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War

House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War

By Stephen Berry

Why this book?

When Abraham Lincoln came to Washington to assume the presidency, he was surrounded not by members of his own family, but by his wife's. Some of the Todds would remain loyal to the Union; others would fight for (and die for) the Confederacy; a few would find themselves hopelessly pulled between the two sides. I found this to be an absorbing story of the sprawling, quarrelsome Kentucky clan who helped shape Mary and whose division mirrored that of the nation.
From the list:

The best nonfiction about First Lady Mary Lincoln

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Book cover of Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters

Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters

By Justin G. Turner, Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln

Why this book?

Without talking to someone in person, the next best thing we can do is to read his or her letters. This volume collects over 600 written by Mary Lincoln, spanning the time from her days as a marriageable young belle in the raw frontier capital of Springfield, Illinois, to her lonely final years, when she was plagued by grief and ill-health. We see Mary at her most imperious, her most vulnerable, her most charming—and always, at her most human. To me, one letter epitomizes Mary: that to a milliner in which Mary, all but prostrate from the recent death of…
From the list:

The best nonfiction about First Lady Mary Lincoln

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Book cover of Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

By Elizabeth Keckley

Why this book?

The stars had to align perfectly for this autobiography to have been written. Born into slavery in the American South, Elizabeth Keckley learned to read and write at a time when laws forbade it. Her skills as a seamstress allowed her to buy her freedom and later become Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker. She also became a close confidant of the First Lady, gaining an unfiltered view of life in the White House during one of the most crucial times in our nation’s history. After Lincoln’s assassination, Keckley published this autobiography and was widely criticized for relaying intimate conversations and private…

From the list:

The best biographies of bold women

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Book cover of The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady

The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady

By Frank J. Williams, Michael Burkhimer

Why this book?

This collection of essays focuses on a variety of topics, including Mary's relationships, her siblings, her life at the only home she and her husband owned together, her travels, her fashion sense, her psyche, her depiction in photographs and illustrations, and her portrayal in fiction. Although these essays are relatively short, they're crammed full of interesting details. You can read the book straight through or (as I prefer) dip in and out of it at your leisure.
From the list:

The best nonfiction about First Lady Mary Lincoln

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