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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – September 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration--Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

Ten years in the making, this engaging work reveals why "Lincoln's road to success was longer, more tortuous, and far less likely" than the other men, and why, when opportunity beckoned, Lincoln was "the best prepared to answer the call." This multiple biography further provides valuable background and insights into the contributions and talents of Seward, Chase, and Bates. Lincoln may have been "the indispensable ingredient of the Civil War," but these three men were invaluable to Lincoln and they played key roles in keeping the nation intact. --Shawn Carkonen

The Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals doesn't just tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. It is a multiple biography of the entire team of personal and political competitors that he put together to lead the country through its greatest crisis. Here, Doris Kearns Goodwin 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.
1. Edwin M. Stanton
Stanton treated Lincoln with utter contempt at their initial acquaintance when the two men were involved in a celebrated law case in the summer of 1855. Unimaginable as it might seem after Stanton's demeaning behavior, Lincoln offered him "the most powerful civilian post within his gift"--the post of secretary of war--at their next encounter six years later. On his first day in office as Simon Cameron's replacement, the energetic, hardworking Stanton instituted "an entirely new regime" in the War Department. After nearly a year of disappointment with Cameron, Lincoln had found in Stanton the leader the War Department desperately needed. Lincoln's choice of Stanton revealed his singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness. As for Stanton, despite his initial contempt for the man he once described as a "long armed Ape," he not only accepted the offer but came to respect and love Lincoln more than any person outside of his immediate family. He was beside himself with grief for weeks after the president's death.

2. Salmon P. Chase
Chase, an Ohioan, had been both senator and governor, had played a central role in the formation of the national Republican Party, and had shown an unflagging commitment to the cause of the black man. No individual felt he deserved the presidency as a natural result of his past contributions more than Chase himself, but he refused to engage in the practical methods by which nominations are won. He had virtually no campaign and he failed to conciliate his many enemies in Ohio itself. As a result, he alone among the candidates came to the convention without the united support of his own state. Chase never ceased to underestimate Lincoln, nor to resent the fact that he had lost the presidency to a man he considered his inferior. His frustration with his position as secretary of the treasury was alleviated only by his his dogged hope that he, rather than Lincoln, would be the Republican nominee in 1864, and he steadfastly worked to that end. The president put up with Chase's machinations and haughty yet fundamentally insecure nature because he recognized his superlative accomplishments at treasury. Eventually, however, Chase threatened to split the Republican Party by continuing to fill key positions with partisans who supported his presidential hopes. When Lincoln stepped in, Chase tendered his resignation as he had three times before, but this time Lincoln stunned Chase by calling his bluff and accepting the offer.

3. Abraham Lincoln
When Lincoln won the Republican presidential nomination in 1860 he seemed to have come from nowhere--a backwoods lawyer who had served one undistinguished term in the House of Representatives and lost two consecutive contests for the U.S. Senate. Contemporaries attributed his surprising nomination to chance, to his moderate position on slavery, and to the fact that he hailed from the battleground state of Illinois. But Lincoln's triumph, particularly when viewed against the efforts of his rivals, owed much to a remarkable, unsuspected political acuity and an emotional strength forged in the crucible of hardship and defeat. That Lincoln, after winning the presidency, made the unprecedented decision to incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family, the cabinet, was evidence of an uncanny self-confidence and an indication of what would prove to others a most unexpected greatness.

4. William H. Seward
A celebrated senator from New York for more than a decade and governor of his state for two terms before going to Washington, Seward was certain he was going to receive his party's nomination for president in 1860. The weekend before the convention in Chicago opened he had already composed a first draft of the valedictory speech he expected to make to the Senate, assuming that he would resign his position as soon as the decision in Chicago was made. His mortification at not having received the nomination never fully abated, and when he was offered his cabinet post as secretary of state he intended to have a major role in choosing the remaining cabinet members, conferring upon himself a position in the new government more commanding than that of Lincoln himself. He quickly realized the futility of his plan to relegate the president to a figurehead role. Though the feisty New Yorker would continue to debate numerous issues with Lincoln in the years ahead, exactly as Lincoln had hoped and needed him to do, Seward would become his closest friend, advisor, and ally in the administration. More than any other cabinet member Seward appreciated Lincoln's peerless skill in balancing factions both within his administration and in the country at large.

5. Edward Bates
A widely respected elder statesman, a delegate to the convention that framed the Missouri Constitution, and a former Missouri congressman whose opinions on national matters were still widely sought, Bates's ambitions for political success were gradually displaced by love for his wife and large family, and he withdrew from public life in the late 1840s. For the next 20 years he was asked repeatedly to run or once again accept high government posts but he consistently declined. However in early 1860, with letters and newspaper editorials advocating his candidacy crowding in upon him, he decided to try for the highest office in the land. After losing to Lincoln he vowed, in his diary, to decline a cabinet position if one were to be offered, but with the country "in trouble and danger" he felt it was his duty to accept when Lincoln asked him to be attorney general. Though Bates initially viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator, he eventually concluded that the president was an unmatched leader, "very near being a 'perfect man.'"

The Essential Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

More New Reading on the Civil War

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood

The March: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

While Goodwin's introduction is a helpful summary and explanation for why another book about Lincoln, her reading abilities are limited: Her tone is flat and dry, and her articulation is overly precise. But the introduction isn't long and we soon arrive at Richard Thomas's lovely and lively reading of an excellent book. The abridgment (from 944 pages) makes it easy to follow the narrative and the underlying theme. Pauses are often used to imply ellipses, and one is never lost. But the audio version might have been longer, for there is often a wish to know a little more about some event or personality or relationship. Goodwin's writing is always sharp and clear, and she uses quotes to great effect. The book's originality lies in the focus on relationships among the men Lincoln chose for his cabinet and highest offices: three were his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, and each considered himself the only worthy candidate. One is left with a concrete picture of Lincoln's political genius—derived from a character without malice or jealousy—which shaped the history of our nation. One is also left with the painful sense of how our history might have differed had Lincoln lived to guide the Reconstruction.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743270754
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743270755
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,894 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
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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