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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – Illustrated, September 26, 2006
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Winner of the prestigious Lincoln Prize and the inspiration for the Oscar Award winning–film Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Tony Kushner.
On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.
Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.
It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.
We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.
This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.
—James M. McPherson, The New York Times Book Review
"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
"Endlessly absorbing....[A] lovingly rendered and masterfully fashioned book."
—Jay Winik, The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (September 26, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 944 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743270754
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743270755
- Item Weight : 2.7 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 1.7 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on May 19, 2018
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1- "This, then, is a story of Lincoln's political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing. His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources...To be sure, he had a melancholy temperament, most likely imprinted on him from birth. But melancholy differs from depression. It is not an illness; it does not proceed from a specific cause; it is an aspect of one's nature. It has been recognized by artists and writers for centuries as a potential source of creativity and achievement. Moreover, Lincoln possessed an uncanny understanding of his shifting moods, a profound self-awareness that enabled him to find constructive ways to alleviate sadness and stress. Indeed, when he is compared with his colleagues, it is clear that he possessed the most even-tempered disposition of them all. Time and again, he was the one who dispelled his colleagues' anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift for storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor. When resentment and contention threatened destroy his administration, he refused to be provoked by petty grievances, to submit to jealousy, or to brood over perceived slights. Through the appalling pressures he faced day after day, he retained an unflagging faith in his country's cause."
2- "In these convivial settings, Lincoln was invariably the center of attention. No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories nor his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth. As his winding tales became more famous, crowds of villagers awaited his arrival at every stop for the chance to hear a master storyteller."
3- "It was a country for young men. "We find ourselves," the twenty-eight year-old Lincoln told the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, "in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate." The founding fathers had crafted a government more favorable to liberty "than any of which the history of former times tells us." Now it was up to their children to serve and expand the great experiment."
4- "Lincoln's early intimacy with traffic loss reinforced a melancholy temperament. Yet his familiarity with pain and personal disappointment imbued him with a strength and understanding of human frailty unavailable to a man of Seward's buoyant disposition. Moreover, Lincoln, unlike the brooding Chase, possessed a life-affirming humor and a profound resilience that lightened his despair and fortified his will."
5- "Books became his academy, his college. The printed word united his mind with the great minds of generations past. Relatives and neighbors recalled that he scoured the countryside for books and read every volume "he could lay his hands on." At a time when ownership of books remained "a luxury for those Americans living outside the purview of the middle class," gaining access to reading material proved difficult. When Lincoln obtained copies of the King James Bible, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, and William Scott's Lessons in Elocution, he could not contain his excitement. Holding Pilmm's Process in his hands, "his eyes sparkled. and that day he could not eat, and that night he could not sleep." When printing was first invented, Lincoln would later write, "the great mass of men ... were utterly unconscious, that their conditions, or their minds were capable of improvement." To liberate "the mind from this false and under-estimate of itself, is the great task which printing came into the world to perform." He was, of course, also speaking of himself, of the transforming liberation of a young boy unlocking the miraculous mysteries of language, discovering a world of possibilities in the small log cabin on the frontier that he later called "as unpoetical as any spot of the earth."...He read and reread the Bible and Aesop's Fables so many times that years later he could recite whole passages and entire stories from memory. Through Scott's Lessons in Elocution, he first encountered selections from Shakespeare's plays, inspiring a love for the great dramatist's writings long before he ever saw a play. He borrowed a volume of the Revised Statutes of Indiana from the local constable, a work that contained the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787— documents that would become foundation stones of his philosophical and political thought."
6- "What Lincoln lacked in preparation and guidance, he made up for v^itl his daunting concentration, phenomenal memory, acute reasoning faculties, and interpretive penetration. Though untutored in the sciences and the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood them fully. "Get the books, and read and study them," he told a law student seeking advice in 1855. It did not matter, he continued, whether the reading be done in a small town or a large city, by oneself or in the company of Others. "The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places— Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."
7- "Though Lincoln's empathy was at the root of his melancholy it would prove an enormous asset to his political career. "His crowning gift of political diagnosis," suggested Nicolay, "was due to his sympathy... which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do." She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk were likely to do." She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his chair, and say: "From your talk, I gather the Democrats will do so and so ... I should do so and so to checkmate them." He proceeded to outline all "the moves for days ahead; making them all so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves." Such capacity to intuit the inward feelings and intentions of others would be manifest throughout his career."
8- "Lincoln's ability to win the respect of others, to earn their trust and even devotion, would prove essential in his rise to power. There was something mysterious m his persona that led countless men, even old adversaries, to feel bound to him in admiration."
9- "Chance, positioning, and managerial s strategy—all played a role in Lincoln's victory. Still, if we consider the comparative resources each contender brought to the race—-their range of political skills, their emotional. intellectual, and moral qualities, their rhetorical abilities, and their determination and willingness to work hard—it is clear that when opportunity beckoned. Lincoln was the best prepared to answer the call. His nomination, finally, was the result of his character and his life experiences—these separated him from his rivals and provided him with advantages unrecognized at the time. Having risen to power with fewer privileges than any of his rivals, Lincoln was more accustomed to rely upon himself to shape events. From beginning to end, he took the greatest control of the process leading up to the nomination."
10- "At the same time, his native caution and precision with language—he rarely said more than he was sure about, rarely pandered to his various audiences—gave Lincoln great advantages over his rivals, each of whom tried to reposition himself in the months before the convention...Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his i rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause."
11- "Later, Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents. He particularly questioned the president's selection of the three men who had been his chief rivals for the Republican nomination, each of whom was still smarting from the loss. Lincoln's answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd. "We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.""
12- "To Lincoln's mind, the battle to save the Union contained an even larger purpose than ending slavery, which was after all sanctioned by the very Constitution he was sworn to uphold. "I consider the central idea pervading this struggle," he told Hay in early May, "is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it win go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.""
13- "Lincoln had long believed, as we have seen, that "with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed." He understood that one of the principal stumbling blocks in the way of emancipation was the pervasive fear shared by whites in both the North and the South that the two races could never coexist peacefully in a free society. He thought that a plan for the voluntary emigration of freed slaves would allay some of these fears, fostering wider acceptance of his proclamation."
14- ""Abraham Lincoln, will take no step backward." Intuitively grasping Lincoln's character. though they were not yet personally acquainted, Douglass explained that "Abraham Lincoln may be slow... but Abraham Lincoln is not the man to reconsider, retract and contradict words and purposes solemnly proclaimed over his official signature...If he has taught us to confide in nothing else, he has taught us to confide in his word." Lincoln confirmed this assessment when he told Massachusetts congressman George Boutwell, "My word is out to these people, and I can't take it back.""
15- ""I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper," he said. "If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it." His arm was "stiff and numb" from shaking hands for three hours, however. "If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation," Lincoln said, "all who examine the document hereafter will say, 'He hesitated.' " So the president waited a moment and then took up the pen once more, "slowly and carefully" writing his name. "The signature proved to be unusually bold, clear, and firm, even for him," Fred Seward recalled, "and a laugh followed, at his apprehensions." The secretary of state added his own name and carried it back to the State Department, where the great seal of the United States was affixed before copies were sent out to the press."
16- "Asked months later by a radical to "suppress the infamous 'Chicago Times,' " Lincoln told her, "I fear you do not fully comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens.""
17- "Herein, Swett concluded, lay the secret to Lincoln's gifted leadership. "It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results." John Forney of the Washington Daily Chronicle observed the same judgment and timing, arguing that Lincoln was "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."
18- "Four score and seven years ago," he began, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are sated equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living i and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor Dower to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced, d. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
19- "Discipline and keen insight had once again served Lincoln most effectively. By regulating his emotions and resisting the impulse to strike back at Chase when the circular first became known, he gained time for his friends to mobilize the massive latent support for his candidacy. Chase's aspirations were crushed without Lincoln's direct intrusion."
20- "He gave voice to these ideals in late August with an emotional address to the men of an Ohio regiment returning home to their families. "I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House," he said. "I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has. It is in order that each of you may have through tills free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright.... The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.""
21- "Drawing upon the rare wisdom of a temperament that consistently displayed uncommon magnanimity toward those who opposed him, he then issued his historic plea to his fellow countrymen: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shah have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just. and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.""
22- "The editors of the Mercury would have been even more astonished if they had an inkling of the truth recognized by those closer to Lincoln: his political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture. With respect to Lincoln's cabinet. Charles Dana observed, "it was always plain that he was the master and they were the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will, and if he ever yielded to them it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate.""
23- "At 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton's concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. "Now he belongs to the ages.""
24- ""Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together. We are still too near to his greatness," Tolstoy concluded, "but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us."
25- "The ambition to establish a reputation worthy of the esteem of his fellows so that his story could be told after his death had carried Lincoln through his bleak childhood, his laborious efforts to educate himself, his string of political failures, and a depression so profound that he declared himself more than willing to die, except that "he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived." An indomitable sense of purpose had sustained him through the disintegration of the Union and through the darkest months of the war, when he was called upon again and again to rally his disheartened countrymen. soothe the animosity of his generals, and mediate among members of his often contentious administration. His conviction that we are one nation, indivisible, "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," led to the rebirth of a union free of slavery. And he expressed this conviction in a language of enduring clarity and beauty, exhibiting a literary genius to match his political genius. With his death, Abraham Lincoln had come to seem the embodiment of his own words—"With malice toward none; with charity for all" voiced in his second inaugural to lay out the visionary pathway to a reconstructed union. The deathless name he sought from the start had grown far beyond Sangamon County and Illinois, reached across the truly United States, until his legacy, as Stanton had surmised at the moment of his death, belonged not only to America but to the ages—to be revered and sung throughout all time."
Team of Rivals traces the story of Lincoln (primarily), Bates, Seward, and Chase—all political figures running for the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination. After Lincoln shockingly won the nomination, he assembled these three “rivals” as the primary cogs of his cabinet, key players who would prove indispensable throughout the most turbulent period in our nation’s history. Goodwin also brings us up to speed on other key players of the times: Secretary of Navy Welles, Secretary of War Stanton (my personal favorite), General McClellan, General Grant, Senator Sumner, Mary Lincoln, Republican Operative Thurlow Weed…etc.
Goodwin does a biographical sketch of each key figure and, most importantly, the unlikely rise to power of the “rail splitter,” Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln peaked politically at the right time, and though he was less accomplished than his opponents for the nomination he was active in the build up to the election. With only one congressional term under his belt, his highly publicized debates with Stephen Douglas over the divisive issue of slavery were paramount to his quick rise. Furthermore, Lincoln’s patience and delayed gratification in years prior were foundational to him gaining allies necessary for the 1860 upset.
There are many, many leadership gems throughout this book. I actually cannot imagine a better way to learn leadership than through well-written history of great leaders of the past. Here are some qualities we can learn from Abraham Lincoln:
We can learn from Lincoln’s caution: not impulsively making a decision or taking a public stance before we are sure it is the correct approach. Though often criticized for being late to the party on the progressive issue of slavery, once Lincoln made up his mind there was no looking back. This resolution and determination to “see it to the end” once a decision had been made was key to Lincoln’s success throughout the war.
We can learn from Lincoln’s magnanimity. Lincoln had an overwhelming ability to overlook offense and personal slights, to the point where I was frustrated with his longsuffering treatment of General McClellan. I found his handling of the gifted yet difficult Secretary Chase humorous. The ambitious Chase was not-so-subtly trying to undermine Lincoln in order that he would be able to take the Presidency in the next term. While Lincoln was well aware of this, he recognized Chase to be indispensable to the war effort as Secretary of Treasury. Three times Lincoln denied Chase’s resignation and continually pandered to his easily wounded and offended ego. Lincoln even nominated Chase to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after he eventually accepted his resignation from the office of the treasury, which showed a practically inhuman ability to overlook personal animosity.
We can learn from Lincoln’s love for people and his empathy. Lincoln had a profound capability to connect with people, to share in the sorrows of others, to form a bond with constituents. His speeches, while loaded with precise logic our modern times may struggle to keep pace with, had a unique ability to connect with the common, everyday man through his frequent illustrations, idioms, and stories. People were attracted to Lincoln; they were assured of his goodwill. Suffice it to say, the guy was likeable.
We can learn from Lincoln’s ways of coping with stress. While the war weighed heavily on him and took a shocking emotional toll (not to mention it overlapping with the death of his beloved son), Lincoln found healthy ways to deal with the inner turmoil. He went to plays at the local theaters frequently. He had close friendships with other men (Seward, Hay), which consisted of plenty of late night conversations and light hearted debates. These relationships allowed him to frequently share his stories and good natured humor, which helped check the internal anguish he was experiencing.
We can learn from Lincoln’s welcome of opposing viewpoints. Lincoln loved debate. He relished the iron sharpening experience brought by opposition. Instead of being daunted by a cabinet full of politically ambitious, superiorly educated and experienced men than he, Lincoln welcomed the often lively pushback. Yet, he was never intimidated by them, nor did his will repeatedly bend to the wishes of such celebrated politicians. Lincoln was his own man, and he had a deep confidence in his own aptitude for the job as well as his own ideas. While many expected key figures in the cabinet to perhaps control the Presidency by proxy, Lincoln would remain the President through and through—a fact his cabinet came to recognize rather quickly.
The Civil War era captivates me. I cannot quite place my finger on it: the times are romantic and desperate, filled with immense tragedy and yet bold triumph. There is the issue of profound morality at stake, and yet the War remains drastically convoluted and nuanced. While I have read books on some generals and battles—I had not yet received an exclusively political perspective. Team of Rivals took me there, placed me in that time among these larger than life statesmen, in the greatest upheaval in our nation’s history. For that I am thankful.
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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.
Being embarrassingly ignorant about Lincoln, save that he was an American President; had something to do with the Civil War; was assassinated; and has a memorial named after him, this book has been a total revelation to me. Lincoln, who had come from an impoverished family, was a small town lawyer from Springfield, Illinois, and certainly not a name anyone would have mentioned as a favourite for the Republican presidential nomination much before his surprise triumph in 1860. He seemed to come out of nowhere to beat his rivals and established favourites for the nomination, who all came from considerably better stock than Lincoln, namely William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates. And when he won the Presidential race too, he pulled off a masterstroke, and rather than surrounding himself with his allies who had helped with his victorious campaign, he made these same three former rivals for the Republican leadership, who were still smarting from their defeat to this upstart outsider, his close cabinet members. He had obviously heard of the phrase `keep your friends close, and your enemies closer'.
And it is the way that Lincoln conducted himself when President which still serves today as a master class in leadership skills. He was generous and even tempered at all times, dealing with colleagues with kindness and trust. He encouraged colleagues to criticise his speeches, so that he could make them as good as they could possibly be. And he always waited before sending out a letter which he had written in anger, to see if his views changed when his emotions had settled down. In fact some of the letters written in this spirit were never sent by him, but stayed in their sealed envelopes for posterity, and future biographers, to discover. And in this age of instant communication, how many of us wish we had never pressed `Send' on an angry e mail or two? We could certainly all learn a lot from Lincoln on that score.
And he had the small matter of the American Civil war to contend with, a conflict which nearly brought the young country to its knees, and caused heartbreaking splits between communities and even within individual families, as the Unionists and Confederates battled it out for four years between 1861 and 1865. Fierce battles raged all over America, and even came perilously close to the White House itself on occasion. Kearns Goodwin relates how Lincoln, who was not originally a champion of equality between the races at all, even giving speeches regarding the superiority of the white race over black people, led the Unionists to victory, and engineered the deployment of blacks into their armies, which was a major the turning point in the war. He was the author of the Thirteenth Amendment, to the US Constitution, which abolished the slavery which the Southern Confederates were so keen to preserve.
The long and detailed, but still page turning book, also gives fascinating details on the personal lives of Lincoln and his colleagues, so it is not just a book about leadership and war stratagems. Lincoln was beset by tragedy, apart from his own obvious one, as his young and beloved son Willie died of typhoid fever, a loss than he never seemed to really get over. And his wife Mary was something of a shopaholic, running up huge bills to lavishly kit out both the White House and her own wardrobe, as she thought befitted her husband's status.
Whether you are looking for some inspiration on leadership skills, or an account of the politics behind the American Civil War, or simply a cracking good history book, I can't recommend this Pulitzer prize winning great book highly enough. Leo Tolstoy felt that Lincoln was `a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country - bigger than all the Presidents together.' It feels like we could certainly use someone like him at the moment.