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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – Illustrated, 26 September 2006
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|Paperback, Illustrated, 26 September 2006|| |
Endlessly absorbing....[A] lovingly rendered and masterfully fashioned book. --Jay Winik, The Wall Street Journal
Goodwin's narrative abilities...are on full display here, and she does an enthralling job of dramatizing...crucial moments in Lincoln's life....A portrait of Lincoln as a virtuosic politician and managerial genius. --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Splendid, beautifully written....Goodwin has brilliantly woven scores of contemporary accounts...into a fluid narrative....This is the most richly detailed account of the Civil War presidency to appear in many years. --John Rhodehamel, Los Angeles Times
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (26 September 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 944 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743270754
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743270755
- Dimensions : 15.56 x 4.32 x 23.5 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 259,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Her book’s concept is simple enough. Four men (excluding also-rans) contested the Republican nomination in 1860: William Seward, Salmon Chase, Abraham Lincoln and Edward Bates. Unusually, after Lincoln won his party’s endorsement and, subsequently, the presidential election, he invited his former competitors to take seats in the cabinet – hence the book’s title. Goodwin’s is the story of how the four came to be the principle Republican candidates and how they interacted once on the same team after the election.
That’s a lot of weight for a book to carry and one of its remarkable features is how lightly it does so. Despite measuring in at a little over 750 pages (or well over 900 if notes and index are included), it never plods. Partly, that’s because Goodwin doesn’t stick rigidly to her mission. The first part, leading up to 1860, is essentially four parallel biographies. The temptation, which she rightly resists, is to over-write their early lives. Instead, she focusses on the key experiences that made them who they became, on what they shared in common and where they differed: the essential building blocks of the post-1860 story. What she does write though is comprehensively researched and packed with relevant anecdote and reference. She not only brings the people to life but also the times they lived in.
She also lightens the load by ensuring that it is not a Civil War book, as such. The conflict does, of course, dominate Lincoln’s presidency but she’s interested in how it was managed from DC, not the details of the campaigns themselves, unless they link into the main narrative.
The four men also do not get equal billing. Lincoln, of course, is pre-eminent but the index is revealing: against Lincoln’s near-six columns of entries, Seward has three, Chase, a little over two and Bates, just one and a quarter. This, again, is as it should be. Bates’ life, for example, was not as dramatic as the other men’s, nor was he as central to the administration as Seward or Chase. Similarly, the cast extends far beyond these central characters, particularly once Lincoln becomes president and the Civil War breaks out.
There is, however, a second narrative theme, revealed in the book’s sub-title. I knew (as surely does virtually everyone) that Lincoln was a great man. I hadn’t realised until I read this just how profoundly good a man he was, nor how great a politician either: two surprisingly interrelated attributes. His skill at man-management was extraordinary, helped in no small part by his exceptional patience and magnanimity.
That said, it’s in Goodwin’s description of Lincoln’s political ability that I have my one reservation about her book. She doesn’t criticise him for any decision or action he took and his is implicitly described as a career virtually without error. No-one is that perfect and while I’m not a Lincoln expert, the evidence from her own book suggests to me that he was too indulgent at times towards underperforming or disloyal colleagues and commanders – Chase and McClellan being two obvious examples.
I’m not particularly religious but it’s hard not to see something providential about Lincoln’s presidency. No one could have led the Union more effectively given the options available (though that was far from clear beforehand); Lincoln was a remarkable choice for candidate given his almost complete lack of experience in office; and considering his upbringing, he’d overcome tremendous obstacles simply to be in the running. How he did it is fascinating and inspiring.
What I found very interesting is that although as an American my impression has always been that Lincoln was the greatest of all abolitionists, he was not an abolitionist at all. And his policy regarding slavery gradually evolved into what it eventually became, freedom from slavery in the whole United States. Had Lincoln not been assassinated, it is interesting to think whether reconstruction may have been far more successful and the whole history of race relations in America changed.
This book is beautifully written. It made me laugh (Lincoln had quite a sense of humor) and it made me cry. I was really moved at the end. This book focuses on the political history of the civil war, and it is moving, inspiring, and reaffirms why I love to read history so much. If you are going to read one book this year, read this one. You will not be disappointed.
I was keen to learn more and discovered that the movie was based on this book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book is a 700-odd page bulk but is consistently absorbing and entertaining. There isn't a dry soulless page or passage to be found. From Lincoln's early years through to his untimely death and legacy, the story (for it is told as a narrative rather than a plain historical text) is insightful and and interesting. This is the ultimate retelling of Lincoln's life, which draws from many of the biographies and historical texts which have come before it, and blends them into a cohesive whole.
The book clearly comes from an author who admires Lincoln as it is an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of his role as President of the United States. Still, that isn't to be unexpected when the man is often ranked amongst the top 3 Presidents - the top 1 in some cases - by scholars. As you read you can't help but appreciate the bigger picture drawn by the author, which shows just how much Lincoln pulled the strings and anticipated sentiments and events well in advance. You end up wondering whether it really was divine providence which led to him becoming President. Still, space is still given over to the more critical accounts of Lincoln and Doris Goodwin ably sets out events and issues on which people have differing opinions.
I do have a few gripes. First, there is very little focus on the events portrayed in the Lincoln movie. Only 3 or 4 pages is given to the passing of the amendment to abolish slavery. Second, it would have been nice to learn more about what happened to the reconstruction process as a result of Lincoln's death. I have had to rely on Wikipedia for that and come to the conclusion that, of all the men in the administration, it is a travesty that Andrew Johnson was the one in line to become President as he reversed all of Lincoln's good groundwork. Third, the chronology does become a little muddled and confused at times as the book jumps to different individuals and events. It would have been useful to have the rather long chapters divided a little more clearly by dates.
Still, those are very minor and do not detract from what is a great read about an absolutely incredible man.
Doris Kearns Godwin’s page-turner is not the place to look for criticisms of Lincoln’s approach. Was there no way that at least a portion of the Southern electorate could have been wooed during the Presidential campaign? Could the disastrous secession of Virginia from the Union have been avoided? Was it really wise to have tolerated the disastrous General Maclellan quite so long? Or the duplicitous Salmon Chase?
But such quibbles rather miss the point. Team of Rivals has an uncommon and remarkable structure for a modern book. It is a hagiography in the true sense. It not only chronicles the life of America’s secular saint but also serves as an inspirational text. If you want an insight into what intelligent, empathetic leadership can achieve, forget about those rows of management books you find at every airport bookshop and just pick up this one.