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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Paperback – September 26, 2006
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"An elegant, incisive study....Goodwin has brilliantly described how Lincoln forged a team that preserved a nation and freed America from the curse of slavery."
—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
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s interest in leadership began more than half a century ago as a teacher at Harvard. Her experiences working for LBJ in the White House and later assisting him on his memoirs led to Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor: The Home Front in World War II. She earned the Lincoln Prize for the runaway bestseller Team of Rivals, the basis for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award–winning film Lincoln, and the Carnegie Medal for The Bully Pulpit, the New York Times bestselling chronicle of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer Richard N. Goodwin.
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For example, Ms Goodwin lets us know a lot of details about the parties being given by Mary Lincoln, how many steps a certain house was from the center of power, where Lincoln spent his time waiting for election returns, who he talked to during the time he was waiting for election returns, what jokes Lincoln would tell while he was a circuit court attorney, what kind of bonnet Mary Lincoln bought that needed ribbon or strings, how much money was spent on decorating the White House by Mary Lincoln, and on, and on, and on.
Meanwhile, not much is said about the Civil War. Battles, and their results, are recounted in the most abbreviated way. Lincoln's disappointments in his generals are given very short treatment. Of course, we are told how many drafts the Emancipation Proclamation went through and who changed what words or made recommendations for changes, but as for the war itself we are told very little. Too bad, because Lincoln was probably a better general than many of those in charge during the Civil War. More was needed on conversations with the generals, and less on who attended what party and was wearing what kind of dress.
Another shortcoming of the book is its reluctance to criticize Lincoln. Lincoln was not a demigod without flaws who always made wonderful decisions. It is true that the author handles some of his flaws and points out some minor problems with his decisions; however, the really large errors are simply not discussed.
For example, after the election Lincoln did not go to great lengths to make it clear to the Southern States that he would not abolish slavery and might even support a Constitutional Amendment to allow slavery to continue in the Southern States where it was already a fact. He would only oppose its expansion to the territories. By not speaking out more forcefully, he allowed Southern secessionism to go forward on misinterpretations of his stands. The discussion of this decision is ignored. His decision to raise an army after the Confederates fired on Union forces in Charleston Harbor drove Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina into the Confederacy, but not much is said about this. This exit of the more moderate and powerful states along the border with the Union had disastrous consequences; however, little is said about this decision... and so on.
By failing to discuss important decisions, or even non-decisions, the author leaves the reader with the impression that what ball was thrown by Mary Lincoln was more important than what evaluations may have started, or hurt or helped, the war against the South.
The book is easy to read, as are most gossip magazines, but actually conveys little in the way of real information of lasting value. Most of the information was boring and of little use. A Team of Rivals is good for tidbits of history but not for a deep understanding of history. Much better and more complete information, important information, can be had in so many other books that reading this was a waste of time.
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.
The other problem is that Godwin is a well-documented plagiarist. She has a research team that has lifted whole passages and even pages from the works of others which she has dropped wholesale, verbatim into her books. In reading this book, I noticed the sudden changes of style that are more descriptive and colorful, for example about members of Lincoln's cabinet, before reverting to her plodding style. I've read my share of well-written biographies and histories. It can take on a novelistic flair in the right hands, but she belongs to the dry, pedantic German school of historiography. I donated the book to my public library.