Friday, April 26, 2013

Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin

Summary:  Winner of the Lincoln Prize:  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.  (Summary and image taken from

My Review:  Abraham Lincoln and his legacy are known worldwide.  His speeches are memorized and analyzed by students all over the nation.  He is revered in history classes nation wide, and he is swiftly becoming legend.  It can be argued that he is the most influential president of the United States.  I’m a history geek, and I was pretty certain I knew a significant amount about Lincoln and the Civil War, but I was entranced with how much more there was to the story!

Lincoln’s nomination in 1860 was a surprise to the majority of the nation – he was considered a dark horse compared with the other presidential hopefuls.  Goodwin delves into the political machine surrounding the 1860 convention, making footnoted names in a history book come alive as she fleshes out Lincoln’s rivals.  (Warning, this takes a lot of time.  Stick with it.  It’s only 200 pages, and it’ll be worth it!) 

Upon his election, Lincoln’s cabinet choices surprise everyone, as he surrounds himself with the very men who campaigned for the presidential nomination for the new Republican Party.  Goodwin then takes us through Lincoln’s presidency, his interactions with his Cabinet (his Official Family), the justifications for his political movements, and strips some of the legend from the man. 

One thing was made clear – Abraham Lincoln was a political genius, certainly more adept than any of my professors credited him.   This book explored the relationships with his contemporaries, those closest to him, his family, and the reasons for the decisions he made (delaying the Emancipation Proclamation, his decisions to either keep or remove Generals, and [even more interesting for me] the views of his Secretaries and Generals regarding his moves.

There isn’t enough good I can say about this book.  It broke my heart, it made me so grateful for these men’s sacrifices, it wrung me dry, and it made me want to check out biographies on Mary Todd Lincoln, Generals Lee, Grant, Sherman, (and on and on and on …), do you get the picture?  However, this is a purchase book.  There are about two hundred pages of annotations I want to be able to study, and this is not a book for the skimmer.   Checking it out from a library just won’t cut it. You need to devote yourself to it.  But it’s so very worth the effort.

Sum it Up:  Abraham Lincoln’s political rise and presidency, his relationships to his Cabinet, and the motivations for his presidency encapsulated into one volume.  (This book was the basis for the critically-acclaimed Lincoln – which I will be checking out as soon as I can!)

My Rating:  Five Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The last two chapters are difficult as it describes Lincoln’s assassination and the attempted assassination of his Secretary of State William Seward.  (Did you know that Lincoln’s assassination was supposed to be one of three?  I didn’t!)  Other than that and the descriptions of some of the Civil War battles, this is clean.

This was my March non-fiction ... but it took me nearly a month to finish it!  Stay tuned, April's challenge is coming soon!  But I need some suggestions for May - bring them on in the comments!  And, does anyone have any good biographical suggestions for the plethora of other Civil War legends?  I want more!  More, I say!!


Heather said...

Great review! Have you heard of Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant
by Carol Berkin? This is not about a civil war legend but does focus on the strength of three wives of legends, including the wife of Ulysses S. Grant. I have not yet read it but it sounds interesting!

Anonymous said...

Great review of a great writer's work! Thanks for pointing out the little known facts at the end -- didn't know them either until I read this. :)


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