Customer Reviews: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
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VINE VOICEon December 1, 2005
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 Lincoln in his cabinet.

While events and persons such as Antietam, Jefferson Davis, Fort Sumter, Maryland's secession attempt and many other events receive short shrift from Ms. Goodwin, this treatment is as it should be for her book concentrates on the personality and character of Lincoln and his cabinet.

While Lincoln never committed himself during the convention to any of his rivals in terms of cabinet positions, to gain votes for his eventual nomination; he voluntarily chose most of his cabinet from men who were his greatest rivals for the Presidency. He did this with clear and present knowledge that they were the best men for the jobs and the country at the time. The incredibly impressive exposition of the character of these men and especially that of Abraham Lincoln and his political and personal acumen in holding them together is given new life in this book.

Through careful reading and perusal of literally thousands of personal letters from cabinet members and from President Lincoln, Goodwin is able to put together a wonderfully clear and unique picture of the character of these men. In addition, she is able to paint a picture of each in words, and point out how their true character differed often from the public perception that abounded.

Ms. Goodwin should be noted for her fine and excruciating work in creating this book which will remain as a must read classic for Lincoln scholars of the present and the future. All of us who track the Lincoln Presidency, 140 years after its termination are grateful for her assiduous work in creating this wonderful book.
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on November 28, 2005
Doris Kearns Goodwin delivers and delivers well with "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln". The scope of her work is Lincoln's inner circle of Seward, Stanton, Chase and Bates but, more broadly, his ability to handle people and politics. Goodwin vividedly demonstrates Lincoln's uncanny timing regarding the implementation of emancipation and gives a fair assessment of his views regarding the "peculiar institution". This book is about Lincoln as a leader, a manager and a politician. It is also about his evolving vision about certain topics (i.e, how to handle slaves once freed) and his steadfast desire to hold the Union together, literally at all costs. His belief in the precepts of the Founding Fathers is at all times present.

For those wishing an expansive biography on Lincoln, try Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. For those wishing a broader view on the period and the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. For those who would like a good but accurate piece of historical fiction, Lincoln by Gore Vidal or Freedom by William Safire.

This book is for those who want to see how Abe Lincoln led, managed, formulated stategy, handled very conflicting opinions, this is the book. A great read, if a bit choppy (perhaps a given with the nature of the subject matter).
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Pulitzer winner Goodwin has long demonstrated a feel for biography as a gateway into the past. In Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, she has found an ideal subject for her attention. He is the more interesting to study because, unlike most presidents, who have sought to surround themselves in their cabinets with safe men who think like they do on important matters, Lincoln chose to build a cabinet out of men whose relationship to the president was problematic, if not downright risky. In 1861, Lincoln persuaded three of his rivals for the Republican nomination -Seward, Chase and Banks-to sit in his cabinet. They owed Lincoln nothing. As a rule, they saw Lincoln as a man of low ability and little promise, president by the accident of geography. Furthermore, some were enemies who would barely talk to each other. Yet, the cabinet did not dissolve in warfare and Lincoln established firm control over executive decisions, much to the surprise of Seward in particular, who had assumed that he, and not the president, would lead this group and be the true decisionmaker in Washington. In short while, Seward and Banks became firm allies of Lincoln; indeed, Seward became Lincoln's fastest friend in the Washington power ranks. When Stanton joined the cabinet as secretary of war, he too was converted to allegiance to Lincoln although he had publicly slighted him years before. The only cabinet member whose loyalty remained suspect was Chase, whose lust for the presidency in 1864 blinded him to his own duplicity as he sought to undermine Lincoln and gain support for his own candidacy. Chase was not above political blackmail: three times, he submitted his resignation to Lincoln and three times Lincoln, who valued Chase's substantial ability to get things done in a key office and who would rather have Chase inside his tent than outside, persuaded him to remain. Chase proffered his resignation for the fourth time in 1864. This time, he had overplayed his hand: Lincoln, who by then had secured renomination by the Republican party, no longer needed Chase and didn't need to fear him, so he accepted his resignation without further discussing it with Chase. When Chase heard, he was shocked, even though he'd asked for it. Lincoln tempered the blow by dismissing Chase's rival in the Cabinet at the same time, maintaining a balance of interests in the group, and when an opening on the Supreme Court became available, he appointed Chase, an act of magnanimity unimaginable in any of Lincoln's successors.

Recently, I read a very interesting "moral biography" of Lincoln's early years (up to 1861), Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography, by William Lee Miller. Goodwin's fine biography made a good counterpoint to Miller's more limited and focused study. Both made the same point, that Lincoln succeeded as president, and excelled in the role, because he complemented his exceptional political talents and strong intellectual ability with a consistent ethical focus. There has never been another American president with such a strong moral compass as Lincoln and none who heeded it so consistently.
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Doris Kearns Goodwin chronicles an intelligent narrative that draws the reader in immediately as she paints a colorful portrait of Lincoln, his life, and his political rivals. This enthralling story portrays how Lincoln freed America, and protected a nation. The author creates a Masterpiece that is not only elegant in style, but mesmerizing to the very end. Goodwin delivers an incredible, addicting, and rich account of the Civil War Presidency, and all its trials-and-tribulations. She includes a splendid historical view that's beautifully written about the history of several men on Lincoln's team, and the politics behind-the-scenes. I admire the books I collect on different Presidents and their lives and time in office. This is one of my favorite presentations about one of the most notable men in history. Enjoyable, comprehensive, concise, and educational. A Must read, and Highly Recommended!
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on November 8, 2012
Goodwins' book a Team of Rivals is amazing! It is almost 800 pages and is a major work that is stunning in its ability to engage the reader. It is a concurrent history of several men who were contemporaries of Lincoln. The contrast is astounding, as well as the personal and well documented, researched perspectives.

One of the major items which was a surprise to this reader, was the ability of these historical figures, many of whom are well known, was their ability in their personal writings, to speak of their emotional lives. The level at which they share their heart's yearnings and longings is beyond what most men today might be comfortable to share with wives and loved ones.

This is a historical view of the life and times of Lincoln and his political rivals. A book that is certainly well worth the time it takes to read!
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on August 4, 2006
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 that Abraham Lincoln was not the podunk rail splitter whose destiny was determined by chance, a decent man who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Instead, Goodwin argues that Lincoln masterfully pulled the strings of the entire Republican party in order to receive the nomination in 1860, and then he Lincoln's magnanimity allowed him to forgive his rivals/enemies, many of whose condescending words truly warranted not just a cold shoulder but pistols at dawn.

Instead, Lincoln chose to lead in the only way he knew how, by putting the country first, soothing everyone's ego but his own, and saving the US from a fate that could have changed the entire history of the twentieth century. In a feat that has been accomplished by few, if any other politicians, Lincoln was able to ignore the machinations of William Seward, the hubristic animosity of Edwin Stanton, and the muckraking self-aggrandizement of Salmon Chase in order to utilize their talents for the good of the Union. Seward and Stanton became not only an admirers of the president, they were converted into two of his closest friends, whose grief at their friend's death surprised even them. (Seward's grief is even more poignant when one realizes that he too was the target of the assassination plot.)

Goodwin has made a significant contribution to the already voluminous collection of Lincoln and Civil War studies. Impeccably researched, there are near 150 pages of notes, referring often to previously unknown primary resources. Though many will buy this monstrosity of a book because of all the buzz, the truth is, few will finish. Goodwin is no David McCullough; she is not a storyteller. She is an historian, and her writing is often stilted and overwhelming to the reader, two of the traditional hallmarks of historical writing.

One last complaint. Goodwin dedicates too much time and too much ink to her favorite tangents: Kate Chase and Mary Todd Lincoln. She could have significantly slimmed down this tome by removing the repetitious accounts of the Washington social scene during the war. Instead, Goodwin could have made a second contribution to the literature by writing a book on Kate Chase, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the women of the Civil War.
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on November 25, 2012
I must admit I learned more about President Lincoln from reading this book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincolnthan I had ever known before. The documentation that is included within the bound version clearly confirms the magnificent effort it took to complete this project and clearly establishes its credibility. I have recently seen several interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows with the Doris Kearns Goodwin. She discusses her interaction with Steven Spielberg as he went about producing his movie by the same name. I'm glad I read the book before seeing the movie because it was helpful to know about the supporting characters.
I really enjoyed the movie as it did contrast some aspects of President Lincoln. The book clearly addresses his interaction with the cabinet (hence the title) but does not so clearly reveal how brilliant President Lincoln's personal involvement and strategy was to get the 13th Amendment through the Congress before the Civil War concluded. Both the book and the movie deal humanly with the horror and ferocity of the Civil War and the assassination which makes them both suitable for a larger audience. I think the book and movie would serve as a worthy basis for college level history class. Lincoln was an extraordinary man, at an extraordinary time in the history of what I still believe to be greatest test of self governing the world has ever known.
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on June 19, 2008
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.
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Frankly, until reading this book, I did not fully understand the nature and extent of the circumstances in which Lincoln included in his cabinet those who, prior to his election, were his major political opponents and who, in addition, viewed him with contempt. Specifically, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, William H. Seward, and Edwin M. Stanton. He then worked effectively with each throughout the Civil War. Even more remarkable is the fact that, by the time of Lincoln's assassination, each of these four had grown to love as well as respect someone whom Stanton had once described as a "long armed Ape."

Senior-level executives can learn a number of important lessons in leadership by reading this book. They include:

1. Surround yourself with whatever talent the given enterprise requires.
2. Welcome, indeed strongly encourage principled dissent.
3. Timing is not everything but often the difference between success and failure.
4. Exercise selective hearing during a contentious group discussion.
5. Unless absolutely certain, be willing to grant benefit of the doubt.
6. Exhaust opponents by listening to them.
7. Appreciate effort but only reward performance.
8. Serve "with malice toward none, with charity for all"
9. And lead "with firmness in the right."
10. When dealing with forceful personalities, focus on common interests.

As Kearns quite correctly asserts, only a "political genius" could have assembled and then worked effectively with cabinet members such as Chase, Bates, Seward, and Stanton, all of whom were independent thinkers, had personal agendas, and (at least initially) considered themselves superior to Lincoln in all respects. With all due respect to Lincoln's leadership and management skills, however, it should also be noted that Bates eventually described Lincoln as "very near being a perfect man." His inherent decency and impeccable integrity informed and guided his leadership and management as president.

As I read Kearns's book, I realized that only by preserving the unity of his diverse cabinet could Lincoln have preserved the Union. Had he been able to complete his second term, his "political genius" would have enabled him to fulfill hopes he expressed in his second Inaugural Address: "to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
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on January 28, 2006
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.
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