I am burdened down with minutiae. It must be a great book; there are five pages and the back cover filled with endorsements from across the country raI am burdened down with minutiae. It must be a great book; there are five pages and the back cover filled with endorsements from across the country ranging from scholars to review excerpts of media journalists telling me so. Over 750 pages and 120 odd pages of endnotes! Illustrations, maps, photographs, Oh My! Doris Kearns Goodwin strikes again!
A book that begins with the indisputable but anecdotal fact that Lincoln rose early on a critical morning in his life starts in typical Goodwinian whimper and crescendos to the trademark and, for whatever reason popular, rhythmic whine.
Aside from this revelation about Lincoln's sleeping habits the book travels along various paths by the most surreptitious and disingenuous method available to a historian. Compilation. Yes, if you string enough quotes from original sources end to end to end for hundreds of pages and select a few famous and catchy quotes that can be chapter titles and pull quotes for reviewers you must be great. No? No, not at all. This is deceptively alluring pedantry at best. That is perhaps high praise for an author that has managed to maintain a following after a public scandal involving what is essentially payment of hush money to mute charges of plagiarism in past work. Did Goodwin or didn't she? Does she again edge to level of copying for her own benefit? Only her Team knows.
With a work such as Team of Rivals, it would take perhaps as long as with earlier works, or as long as it took to construct this behemoth to determine if, there is a missing quotation mark and sourcing. Or maybe not. However, stringing so many quotations and in-line references together with at best pedestrian connecting original prose makes one wonder what is hiding or what has been left out? With the amount of details both critical and mundane randomly selected from the 140 years of material available since the end of Lincoln's life, yes I can see her decade of work resulting in this book. Sigh.
Sleeping habits of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln surface again for no discernible reason beyond consumption of space in this book but they are only a symptom. Greater problems exist and are best illustrated by the rewriting clever anecdotes from far better and more thoroughly original historians. Chapter 16 entitled "He was simply out Generaled" is the perfect case in point. The title is a quote from a 19th century commentator and writer speaking of the early stages of the war but it is best now remembered as a memorable moment from Ken Burns epic Civil War Documentary on PBS.
The great Southern historian Shelby Foote in his soft-spoken Southern drawl sheepishly utters the phrase while talking about the conflict between Lincoln and General McClellan in one of the more memorable moments in Burns epic. McClellan's failures documented from original source by Foote decades before in his works give full credit to the original writer, but Foote is forever bound to this commentary as he brought it to modern attention. DKG mentions obliquely in the chapter Foote and the original sourcing from Wolcott is indeed end noted. Yet she get a whole chapter from the work of others little or none of which is original or even well constructed. This is but one example of her standing on the heads of others. Not the shoulders, but the heads!
Obviously, I was not pleased with this long ponderous work. Like few other large histories, I found I would read dozens of pages and realize I had not gleaned a thing and needed to review what I had just gone through. This from a fan of big monstrous history. From Foote to Catton, Halberstam, Shlaes, Atkinson to Oren I have read the 'big history' authors and none come to mind that are as lacking. I even have or should have Thucydides as one my all time favorites.
Is this a book with value? Yes, it has some worth for a beginning point for serious reading or perhaps a chapter or two could entice a reader to explore further details of various events. By itself, it is ambitious like the author and as overreaches from the start. 750 pages are not enough to tell the story DKG wants to tell and tries desperately to convey to what must be a loyal legion of followers.
I have seen DKG speak a couple of times in person, the latest at Illinois State University during their Sesquicentennial year celebration. I am still somewhat puzzled. The hundreds of fans there seemed completely rapt in their shiny faced devotion. It sells books but I do not believer it advances history as a discipline or pastime.
Now this is a part of history that you might never think about without dedicated researchers. How a newspaper helped fight a war and developed what waNow this is a part of history that you might never think about without dedicated researchers. How a newspaper helped fight a war and developed what was almost a magical business model to keep it running while under bombardment.
There are parts to this large story that I am going to return to with all my Civil War histories close at hand to compare various events and how "The Appeal" may affected political and military decisions and perceptions that echo through history until today.
The book is a little ponderous or detailed at points but mostly moves right along. Very detailed notes and references that any Civil War buff must add to the shelves.
Should you be put off by it being 'just another Civil War Book' the surprise is that it covers far more ground than who shot someone and is about how the story of that part of the war was told contemporaneously.
More review after I re-read certain passages and do a 'mental annotation' or two.