374 of 396 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lincoln Cabinet: A Character Study
Ms. Goodwin has created a gem of a masterpiece with her most recent book on Lincoln. In the millions of pages already written on the subject, there are no books that I know of that do in essence, a character study on Lincoln and his cabinet members. The 754 page text is one of the best ever written regarding the true and underlying nature of those men who served with...
Published on December 1, 2005 by Jon Linden
326 of 389 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great research, tough to finish
If your wardrobe includes a significant amount of tweed (denoting a serious student of history) or a scratchy wool suit, either blue or gray, circa 1864 (denoting the true Civil War buff), then Doris Kearns Goodwin has published just the book for you. Team of Rivals tells the political story of the Civil War; its thesis, which is well argued throughout the tome, states...
Published on August 4, 2006 by Jason LS Raia
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There's still something interesting to say about Lincoln,
A wonderful account of the Lincoln presidency and the man himself. Probably because there has been so much written about Lincoln and it would be almost impossible to come up with anything new, the author chose as her primary context the team that Lincoln assembled to help him steer the country through its darkest hours. As a fresh and interesting perspective on his administration it works. If I have a complaint - and it's relatively minor - it is that the book veers into hagiography: it's hard to find any criticism of Lincoln anywhere. Can he really have been that perfect? I doubt it. But what unexpectedly shines through is the man's humanity. The account of his tragic end and the profound sorrow of his colleagues and his country also left this reader with a sense of loss. No mean feat for an author telling such an old and well-knowm story.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad . . . for a hagiography,
Lincoln is probably the most written-about President in American history. There are massive comprehensive volumes written about his life and presidency. Goodwin tries to go a different route here -- telling a political history with an emphasis on the dirty dealing and coalition-building that is the real business of politics.
For the most part, the book is succesful. Lincoln was brilliant in his ability to hold together the shaky Republican coalition. He worked extremely hard early in his career to build up his credentials and did a good job of holding together his "Team of Rivals" through the Civil War. The first part of the book is my favorite as it really gives an impression of what life was really like in the mid-19th century. All of these men lost loved ones to war, disease, childbirth and misfortune. The 1850's and 60's were one of the most fascinating eras in American history, when the country went from almost universal support of slavery to almost universal opposition, with border states voting away slavery of their own accord by 1865. Lincoln had to ride that sea change in politics and, for the most part, did it well. He himself was part of the change, gradually shedding the racist ideals he supported in the Lincoln-Douglas era.
The only reason I'm not completely sold on the book is that it is a hagiography. To listen to Goodwin, Lincoln never made a mistake, never screwed up and never did anything wrong. Even sticking with McClellan after he betrayed Pope at Second Bull Run was just good politics! And anything bad that was done -- such as closing down opposition newspapers -- was somebody else's fault.
She ignores or glosses over anything controversial. I, for one, think the allegation that Lincoln tried to have Justice Tanney arrested is false (it's based on a single witness). But she never even addresses it. Of Bates' defense of the Merryman case, she claims "the logic was unanswerable" -- despite people answering it for the last 150 years. She glosses over the brutal supression of the draft riots, only mentions arrests of opposition figures and shutting down of newspapers when Lincoln came out looking good. Does not even address the tyrannical means he used to keep Maryland in the union. Makes only a token gesture to the devastation the war inflicted upon the south.
It is possible to justify these things -- many historians have. It is not possible to simply ignore them.
Other figures get equally bright halos. In fact, the only people who come off badly are Mary Lincoln, McClellan and Salmon Chase.
To be honest, I don't understand the hype. It's a good history book, but not a great one. The writing style is plain. But there aren't any new amazing insights. Like I said, it's a good book if you have an interest in American history and/or the oily machinery of politics. But there are far better biographies of Lincoln out there.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but hardly objective,
The book's premise is that Abraham Lincoln was not just a great President but one who also had the motivational ability to create a highly effective team comprised of many of his rivals. These were men who had hoped to become President. Instead, they took a subservient role to a President whom Goodwin writes about in hagiographic terms.
The team of rivals consisted of one time Republican presidential candidates William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, and Edward Bates Attorney General. The other major player in this detailed work is Edwin M. Stanton, War Secretary.
This is a good read although the author is stretched at times to continually bring the overall premise together. The opening section of the book paints individual pictures of the major players, which I did not find particularly interesting. This I think is partly because some of the characters - Chase and Bates, at least to this reader are just not compelling in their own right. Thus it takes quite some time for the book to grasp this reader's attention.
Although peripheral to the main story, the hardships of life during the first half of the 19th century become very obvious. Chase lost three wives and two daughters before he was forty four, while Stanton between 1841 and 1846 lost his wife, a daughter and his only brother.
Another fascinating and heart rending aspect portrayed is how the Civil War tore families apart. Four of Mary Lincoln's siblings and three brothers-in-law fought on behalf of the Confederacy, while Bate's son also took up arms for the seceding states.
Team of Rivals is basically a biography of Lincoln with a different twist. It is not as detailed as other works - especially in relation to some Civil War episodes, because the author tries to paint pictures of so many characters. Her portrait of Lincoln to some extent lacks objectivity. Every Lincoln weakness or vacillation has a logic or rationale.
Lincoln undoubtedly was underestimated by rivals and media. One Democratic newspaper referred to him as "a third rate Western lawyer ... a fourth rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar." As a lawyer and in his early presidential years, the term "inspirational" does not come to mind. To some extent, his behavior did warrant this lack of respect.
His lack of authority over his generals in the early stages of the war must have been disturbing for his cabinet. General McClellan treated him with a disdain and discourtesy that was mind boggling. Had Lincoln been more forceful with Generals Meade and McClellan, it is entirely conceivable the war would have ended much earlier. Kearns (and other writers) has tried to paint Lincoln as an accommodating, understanding head of state. It is probably more accurate to suggest as Martin Luther King did that he was at some stages a "vacillating" president. Much has been written about Lincoln's leadership, but I think, the student of leadership can learn as much from what Lincoln did poorly as he did well.
Lincoln "grew" into the Presidency, winning over doubters and opponents slowly but surely with his down to earth, homely style. He most definitely has won over the author who paints Lincoln in very favorable terms no matter what the occasion. There is a tendency for the reader to become seduced by the portrait. Lincoln becomes more and more likeable, more and more presidential as the book develops. Ultimately, the reader does appreciate what a dreadful tragedy the death of this president was for the nation and almost certainly for what had been the confederate states. Although, no one can say for certain, it does seem likely that the assassinated president would have been able to salve much of the bitterness and hatred that followed the cessation of violence.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Brilliant!,
Doris Kearns Goodwin has the unique ability to get inside her subjects and make her subjects come alive. I thought she could never top her work on No Ordinary Time but with Team of Rivals I believe she has.
I've read quite a number of biographies on Lincoln. Some of them quite excellent. But I've never read any that showed the entire landscape of Lincoln's life more vividly and with more understanding then what she has done. Sometimes biographies seem like a bunch of facts strung together. By letting us get to know Seward, Chase, and Bates as she has allows for the reader to have a much greater understanding of the times and challenges Lincoln faced. It also allows for a greater understanding of how truly amazing a human being he was.
His life saw many dark times. He wasn't perfect. The forces that he had to deal with would have compromised most men or women. The pressures were that intense. But he was a brilliant man who had the unique ability to understand other human beings. He also had the unique ability to understand the political forces he was dealing with. But most of all he was a caring human being and it was his understanding of and compassion for people that made him the great person that he was. No book better brings this out then this one.
This book is unique. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln or just in the complexities that make human beings what they are. Thank you Doris Kearns Goodwin for writing it.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Look at a Presidential Administration,
This review is from: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Kindle Edition)
Abraham Lincoln's political life has been the subject of many books. Yet with Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin provides a unique and provactive look.
Much of what she covers is familiar. Yet this book is more than another Lincoln biography. It is a multi-faceted reviewof the entire team of personal and political competitors that he assembled to lead the country through its greatest crisis - The American Civil War. She profiles five of the key players in her book, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and all of whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet - Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, William H. Seward and Edward Bates.
The author provides insight into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin presents a case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with cabinet selections, three of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: Seward, Chase, and Bates. These nationally known, accomplished men, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience Each was shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer.
Yet Lincoln convinced them to join his administration. He gained their admiration and respect. The tale of his soothing egos, turning rivals into allies, and dealing with challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, defines the book. Without the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, the author argues, Lincoln would have failed to lead the nation through one of its darkest chapters.
Well-written and throughly researched, this book was a joy to read. Its only negative is when the reader compares Lincoln leadership style to that we have experienced in this country during the past two decades. It leaves the reader to ponder why gifted individuals no longer aspire to public service.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended Reading for the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009,
If you have time to read only one book in all of 2009, make that book Doris Kearns Goodwin's masterly biography of Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet, TEAM OF RIVALS. This book is simultaneously one of the best books about President Lincoln and one of the best books about the Civil War. One can even disagree with Goodwin's main thesis and yet applaud her portrayal of a President and Cabinet at work and sometimes at odds in the midst of a fateful national crisis.
As prologue, Goodwin recounts the early lives, education, marriages and ambitions of not only Lincoln but of William Seward, Salmon Chase amd Edward Bates, all of whom were more likely nominees than Lincoln. By doing so, she shows a portrait not only of Lincoln but of his times. With telling detail and well-told anecdote, she paints, not just a solitary canvas but an entire gallery that is wide in scope. Each portrait is in depth and the effect of her artistry is that the reader is given a new perspective. I finished this history with a renewed appreciation for Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward who survived an assassination attempt on the night Lincoln was murdered to purchase "Seward's Folly"--now the great state of Alaska. The reader is struck by the logistical accomplishment of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in moving 23,000 men from the Army of the Potomac to the "western front" at Chattanooga--done in seven days by use of the "new technology" of the train. Chase's talent in raising money to finance the war is balanced by his ingenuous and continual intrigues...by having these men serve him as his principle ministers, Lincoln was truly following the adage to "Keep one's friends close and one's enemies closer."
Goodwin argues that by appointing his political rivals to his Cabinet, Lincoln showed his political genius. However, a careful reading of her book will find as much support for a thesis that Lincoln's political genius lay in his ability to stay in touch with the mainstream of opinion and to put things in terms that would engage the support of the common man. Lincoln took office as a minority President--by enlisting his political rivals to work for him, Lincoln broadened the support for his administration and matched the most able men of the day with the most daunting tasks to hand. He also had to deal with intrigues, personnel clashes and bitter feuds. His first Secretary of War was incompetent--many of his generals inactive, timid or useless. Lincoln was greatly vilified in the popular press. And yet he prevailed over all to become one of America's most revered and beloved figures.
Goodwin's history is to be cherished because she describes with clarity the events of 1860-1865, showing the interweaving of the personal with the political. This is a fine history and makes for absorbing reading. I could hardly put it down and resented any interruption to my reading until I had finished with it. I heartily recommend this to Lincoln fans, Civil War buffs and lifelong students of American history. There are hints here about managing people that business leaders will delight in. Finally, to any who are concerned about troubled times, this book will give solace and comfort. We the people have weathered greater storms than those of the present day. Our joint past is always prologue to the future.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Lincoln Biography and More,
This review is from: Team of Rivals, the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Unabridged audiobook on 34 CDs) (Audio CD)
Let me tell you .... Listening to these 36 (not 34 as stated above) CD's over a regular commute was a challenge, but a worthwhile one! Narrator Suzanne Toren is very effective and accents that fact that this was written by a woman, who, in researching and writing this excellent concurrent biography does a great job of capturing the nuances of relationship that are often missed in the drier more traditional forms.
Aside from an initial glimpse of Lincoln at the beginning of the book, it very much focuses at the beginning on the major players of the Republican Party and their ascent to power and influence. Steward, Chase Stanton and Bates are thoroughly examined and dissected before Lincoln himself assumes the central role much later into the book. While I found this a little frustrating at first, when Lincoln began to ease into the forefront of the book, it almost mirrors what must have been the feeling of the other protagonists as this "upstart" from Illinois assumed center stage much to their, and the nation's surprise.
In the more military examinations of the Civil War years, it is sometimes easy to forget that this war took place in real time over 4 years and in the midst of it, there were great rises and falls in emotion and political fortunes throughout. While this book does necessarily work within the military happenings, there is not a strong effort to reference every battle and rather it moves from major offensives and battles with much the broader overview that must have been true of Lincoln and his Cabinet as well as the rest of the North.
The only criticism I have, and it is mild and perhaps understandible in the context of the days and the importance of the Vice-Presidency, is the conspicuous absence of the Vice President from any of the daily interactions and Cabinet meetings. Surely there must have been some minimal involvement worth noting or parlance within the President's working. That would seem to be on par with the Cabinet in general and so despite the length of the overall work, which unabridged is almost 1,000 pages, a few could have been spared for the humble VP?
Beyond that, this is a definitive work that anyone who takes the time to read (or listen) should come away with an appreciation of Lincoln's genius in surrounding himself with the leading talent of his era. Further, an appreciation for the subtle machinations behind the scenes driving the proclamations and political moves of the times is there to be had with careful attention.
One of the best Lincoln works I have ever read. Worthy of your time and attention!
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Team of Rivals: Could It Happen Today?,
I like to think of myself as a student of history (one who devours the sprawling tomes about our founding fathers), but before reading Ms. Kearns' book, I knew precious little about President Lincoln and the Civil War period (other than the one dimensional narratives taught to us in high school). Having immensely enjoyed Ms. Kearns' "No Ordinary Time," and having long wanted to fill in my historical blank spot, I instantly purchased "Team of Rivals" after seeing it on display at the local Barnes and Noble. And, since then, I have not experienced one moment of disappointment. This elegant, yet daunting, book has been a wonderful companion, always beckoning me, luring me away from the attention of my three kids. "Where's Daddy?" was a familiar refrain that I heard, as I huddled somewhere out of eyeshot, sneaking in a few pages at the most inappropriate times. The book transported me to another time, yet the actors and institutions portrayed by Ms. Kearns appeared to me as strikingly contemporary. The machinations of those seeking the 1860 Republican nominations reminded me of the strategizing depicted in Theordore White's reporting. Just as modern day leaders must contend with competing political factions and the cachophony of the press, so did President Lincoln. The ambitions, pettiness, and social demands of the 1860s play out daily in the Post's Style section. The nuggets of political wisdom that are dispensed throughout "Team of Rivals" (including President Lincoln's observation that, in the United States, opposing a war is always tantamount to electoral suicide) apply with full force today. How incongruous, how jarring, then, was it for me, the uninitiated reader, for what in many respects is a modern drama that unfolds against the anachronistic backdrop of slavery. Ms. Kearns' book underscores the fallability of my presumption that, at some point, history becomes nothing but a stimulating curiosity, as opposed to a force that defines us, that still acts upon us and teaches us. In reading "Team of Rivals," my mind often wandered to 2005, filled with longing regret. No reader of this book, however much he or she may be sympathetic to President Bush, can draw anything other than troubling inferences about today's administration. The themes running throughout "Time of Rivals" are that a president's greatness, and his or her ability to successfully confront the challenges of his day, depend on not just steadfastness but also on a voracious intellectual appetite, a willingness to listen to and honor dissenting points of view, a confidence that allows voice to be given to political opponents, and decision-making that runs with, not against, the currents of popular sentiment. These are all attributes that President Bush and his administration are said to sorely lack. Given that we are now in a war, one that poses unique threats to our security, the thought that repeatedly crossed my mind as I read "Team of Rivals" was this: We sorely lack a Lincoln for our times. And I worry about the possible consequences of this singular deficiency.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A leader of grit and generosity,
He was a hick country lawyer with all the down-home quirks of a frontiersman: His clothes were rumpled and he walked as if his legs needed oiling. His political experience was almost as unimpressive. While he'd made a slight mark as a freshman congressman, it was for all the wrong reasons: He'd brashly accused a sitting president of ginning up evidence to push the country into a needless war.
No wonder hardly anyone thought much of Abraham Lincoln's chances for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. Essentially, he was the fourth man in a three-man race, up against a trio of politicians with loads of experience as governors and senators.
But Mr. Lincoln carefully carved out a moderate position on slavery and transformed himself from an also-ran to Republican party nominee. He won again in November. Then, in a remarkable display of equanimity, he immediately asked his three convention foes join his cabinet.
They agreed, with visions of President Pushover dancing in their heads. But they soon learned better, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explains in her captivating 916-page book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
In this immense and immensely readable work, Ms. Goodwin uncovers how Lincoln's unusual combination of forgiving human spirit and savvy political instincts converted his enemies into (mostly) loyal friends and advisers.
Without their expertise and guidance, Lincoln could have lost the Civil War; without his careful steering, the bipartisan cabinet would have dissolved into endless angling for power.
Thanks to voluminous letters and diaries, William Seward and Salmon Chase - Lincoln's Secretary of State and the Treasury - are the most vividly portrayed cabinet members in "Team of Rivals."
Mr. Seward comes across as one of the forgotten heroes of American history. He emerges as an energetic and inspiring abolitionist who provides the basic wording that Lincoln - in one of history's great feats of editing - turned into the powerful poetry of his second inaugural address.
Mr. Chase - the man whose grim face stares out from defunct $10,000 bills - is nearly a comic villain, constantly plotting to gain power and endlessly threatening to resign. But even he, often unwittingly, serves Lincoln's ends.
Goodwin isn't a prose stylist, and she could have included less play-by-play and more color commentary. But this veteran of books on the presidencies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy is still a master storyteller, and she includes dozens of memorable anecdotes.
Some of the tales resonate today, including those portraying Lincoln's masterly use of press leaks and his obsession with campaign battleground states. She also includes tales of some of Lincoln's political missteps, including the young Abe's ill-advised attacks on President Polk over the Mexican War.
Other stories liven "Team of Rivals" with delicious comedy.
They include Lincoln's favorite ribald jokes, Vice President Andrew Johnson's gloriously addled 1865 inaugural address (during which he actually stopped mid-speech to boom, "What's the name of the secretary of the Navy?"), and the story of the young Army captain who yelled "Get down, you fool!" as Lincoln - in a moment of foolhardy curiosity - craned his neck to get a closer view of the action in a Civil War battle.
The captain is Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of many 19th-century luminaries who appear in "Team of Rivals." But as intriguing as the supporting characters in this book may be, they can't hold a candle to three vibrant and influential women who appear here.
Frances Seward is even more of a fiery abolitionist than her husband, and her perceptive and forceful letters seem to strengthen the deep love the two have for one another.
Mary Todd Lincoln, maligned by history, here shows glimpses of the warmth and wit that must have won over the future president.
And Chase's captivating daughter Kate becomes the reigning queen of the nation's capital - no thanks to a jealous First Lady - even as she works to juggle a drunken suitor and a father with overpowering ambition.
He's no saint, as revealed by his truth-stretching political maneuvering and lapses in his vaunted tolerance for criticism.
No matter. His self-confidence grows during his presidency, blending with his natural charm to win over skeptics. He conquers grief and melancholy.
And his "astoundingly magnanimous soul" allows him to accept blame - and deflect it from others - with almost unfathomable ease.
Goodwin herself, deflated by a recent plagiarism scandal, could learn a lesson here. Some critics feel that she still hasn't demonstrated a Lincolnesque willingness to accept full responsibility for her errors.
Ultimately, though, any past missteps Goodwin may have made do not detract from the powerful story she tells in "Team of Rivals."
Bolstered by faith in a higher power, Lincoln instinctively understood the value of both grit and generosity. Taken as a whole, his all-too-brief presidency has more to teach us about real leadership than any seminar or self-help book ever could.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln comes ALIVE....,
This review is from: Team of Rivals (Hardcover)
I read practically everything I can get my hands on about Lincoln, and Kearns-Goodwin has contributed the best book on him yet. Today, when Abe appears on everything from our most cherished monuments to our money, the perception of him has reached mythical proportions. We might continue to view our 16th President as so much granite on Mr Rushmore if not for the rendering of him by Doris Kearns-Goodwin. As she did for the Roosevelt's earlier in No Ordinary Time, she does for Lincoln (and those around him)in Team of Rivals. She brings Lincoln and his world alive, chips away the granite to show us the flesh and bones Lincoln struggling to gain a consensus for his efforts to save the Union by placing all his rivals in his cabinet. The sentiment, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" has never been put into play more skillfully than it was by Lincoln. William Seaward, Solomon P. Chase and the others made no secret of their desire for his job; yet, President Lincoln convinced them to lend their considerable skills toward winning the war. It was a goal that Lincoln never lost sight of. Together he, and his "rivals" took the Union to total victory in the war in which EVERY casualty was an American casualty. While they worked to achieve the victorious end, the cabinet bickered, connived, and tried to advance their own "just" cause: Themselves. All of this makes for great reading, but it is Lincoln, with his tormented determination to WIN at all costs which helps explain why he is considered the Greatest of our presidents; granted, he had help from an extraordinary team of rivals. Kearns-Goodwin relates it all in a way that lets us see the man and his men behind the myth. The reader, in fact, becomes part of the political, military, and human struggle in an unprecedented way. I loved this book.
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Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Hardcover - October 25, 2005)
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