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The role of humor in Lincoln's life

Lincoln’s Sense of Humor - Richard Carwardine

Richard Carwardine’s book is an entertaining and perceptive look at the role that humor played in the life of the 16th president. That Lincoln enjoyed telling jokes and stories is hardly new, as it was part of his appeal to his contemporaries. What Carwardine does is analyze the various ways in which he used humor and the insights it provides into his personality. Thanks to an extraordinarily retentive memory, Lincoln had a seemingly inexhaustible fund of anecdotes, tall tales, and jokes which he used throughout his career. Telling jokes drew people to Lincoln, making him a popular figure on the legal circuit and on the stump. How Lincoln used humor evolved over time, as he toned down the sometimes harsh satirical attacks of his youth to develop a broader and less insulting form by the time he reached the presidency. Carwardine sees Lincoln’s love of humor as a tool for coping with depression, though his frequent resort to it became a point of criticism during the Civil War as many – including members of his own administration – often interpreted it as a lack of seriousness about his responsibilities. Readers of Carwardine’s book have a more sophisticated understanding of the subject thanks to this discerning study, which with its frequent recounting of the jokes Lincoln employed is a pleasure to read.