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August 11, 2006

Team of Rivals

(The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln)
Doris Kearns Goodwin – ISBN-13 – 978-0684824091

The book begins with the campaign of 1856 and ends with Lincoln’s assassination, with a brief epilogue explaining what happened to the principals following the war. It is brilliant, and should go a long way toward redeeming Goodwin’s reputation, recently sullied by allegations of plagiarism. Indeed, it deserves to win another Pulitzer! She demonstrates intense scholarship as she spins out this engaging narrative, as close to a page turner as any history book you will ever read . . . and read it you should.

To say that it is well written is akin to saying that Ruth was a pretty good ball player, Jordan a decent hoopster or Armstrong a respectable biker.

Author in the past of books on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (Pulitzer in History,) the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson, she here takes on the demanding task of multiple biographies: Lincoln and his Civil War cabinet, many of whom were rivals for the nomination of 1860, and others from the opposition. She amply demonstrates the incredible talents of Lincoln in forging this “team of rivals” into a cohesive band of advisors, all chosen because they were talented, wise, committed, reliable, trustworthy and potentially loyal. Bitter enemies became fast friends.

Especially his adversaries learned to love and respect his incredible talent, and well into the war acknowledged that they would not have performed as well, let alone better. He was the consummate political sage of the era. The average reader will come away with a still more exalted interpretation of Lincoln than he held before.

The book is full of factoids, vignettes and flashes of wit and humor which further flavor the stew (and she nicely puts the allegation of Lincoln’s homosexuality to bed.) One comes away with the understanding that Lincoln believed, and believed he was exemplary of the fact, that anyone could be successful in, even president of this nation. One is treated to numerous examples of his humor and stories used to ease tension and make points, not at all unlike Ronald Reagan. Also included are Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and portions of his second inaugural.

Over the oft debated cause of the war she leaves no doubt that it was, ultimately, about slavery. However, “Lincoln pointedly denied fundamental differences between Northerners and Southerners. He argued that ‘they are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. . . . I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.’” He encouraged others to comprehend the position of Southerners thru empathy.

His uncanny political ability, repeatedly referenced, is best summarized by a quote from the Washington Daily Chronicle: “the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.”

General William Tecumseh Sherman noted, years after Lincoln’s death: “Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other.”

While Tolstoy observed: “The name of Lincoln is worshipped thruout the world and [his personality has become legendary.] Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

And, so it remains today.

Posted by respeto at August 11, 2006 11:48 AM