Dana Stabenow's Reviews > Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Jan 22, 14

Read in July, 2011

I heard Goodwin talk about this book on NPR, and she sounded like she'd been an eyewitness to the events. Sold me the book.

On June 17th--I've been a hundred pages from the end for ten days. I don't want Abe to die.

July 17th -- Okay, I finally made myself finish. Abe's dead and I'm a wreck.

In this book Goodwin puts Abraham Lincoln in the context of his peers, many of whom ran against him for the first Republican nomination for president (remember they'd just invented that party) and one of whom, Stanton, had treated him with outright contempt in a law case years before. Seward accepted the job of Secretary of State thinking Lincoln would be his puppet, and Chase literally ran his second campaign for president out of the Department of the Treasury. Lincoln understood them all, tolerated them all, put them all to work for the nation that needed them so badly, and jollied, coaxed, cajoled and reasoned them all to victory. A reporter asked him how he could take all these vipers to his bosom and Lincoln replied that these were the best and most able men available and their country needed them, and that he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't put them to work for it. There can't be anyone who has ever occupied the Oval Office more selfless than Abe.

This book is wonderfully written, accessible even to the most casual reader, full of humor and choler and kindness and vitriol, and wisdom. Goodwin has that ability known only to the best historians (David McCullough does, too) to pluck the exact quote necessary from the record to illuminate the scene she is describing, and make the transition from past to present seamless. Listen to Goodwin on Lincoln in his 1862 state of the union address (pp. 406-7):

...he closed his message with a graceful and irrefutable argument against the continuation of slavery in a democratic society, the very essence of which opened "the way to all," granted "hope to all," and advanced the "condition of all." In this "just, and generous, and prosperous system," he reasoned, "labor is prior to, and independent of, capital." Then, reflecting upon the vicissitudes of his own experience, Lincoln added: "The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him." Clearly this upward mobility, the possibility of self-realization so central to the idea of America, was closed to the slave unless and until he became a free man.

The American Dream, articulated, in words guaranteed to be understood by everyone. You close this book knowing not just about these people, you actually feel like you know them, especially Abe.

Impossible, after reading this book, not to wonder what our nation would look like had Lincoln survived his second term. Impossible not to grieve his loss.

It is my habit when reading histories to read the author's prologue last. The author always gives too much away in a summing up of what is to come. I recommend it strongly in this case, especially if you're old enough to have forgotten most of the Civil War section in American History 341. Let the events unfold in real time for you. And keep a box of Kleenex nearby when you get to the end.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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judy Yes, it's wonderful--probably her best. I also recommend her extraordinary No Ordinary Time--the only book I've come across that gives Eleanor and Franklin equal treatment. (most books are love him, hate her or vice versa). Also her first book on Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is the most interesting treatise on getting and using power around. She was a White House fellow and LBJ chose her, unofficially, as his biographer. He made her follow him everywhere (don't want to think about that), sent for her whenever he had a thought and, basically took over her life. No one will ever have a more in depth study of this man. And no, I don't particularly like Robert Caro's version.


Dana Stabenow I sobbed, yes, actually sobbed when Abe died. In re Eleanor, did I make you read this, Eleanor And Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman (http://www.amazon.com/Eleanor-Harry-C...)? It's really good.


judy Thanks! I'll go hunt it up. I'm kind of an FDR/ER junkie (partly because I wanted to find a balanced book) so I haven't done much with in depth on her after the WH years. BTW, DKG's baseball book is charming too and I hate sports.


Deanna also on Leafmarks because I miss Marco I also loved this book. I recommend "My Thoughts Be Bloody" as also an excellent book. It is the story of the relationship between John Wilkes Booth and his brother, Edwin. JWB resented being in his brother's shadow. This contributed to his killing of Lincoln. I followed these books up with Manhunt. This is the story of Booth's flight and his pursuit.


Eveningstar2 Just finished it today, and I'm depressed that Abe's gone. I know, weird right?

The country suffered for his loss. Perhaps his assassination had transformed him into a martyr, made him sacred in our eyes, but after reading this book, I have no doubts--none at all--that he would have done so much more good for our country than Johnson, and perhaps the ugly legacy of Reconstruction would never have existed, and the wounds of secession might have properly healed.

We will never know exactly what would have happened, had he lived.

But I would wager all the money in my pocket that the country--and the world--would have been a little brighter than otherwise.


Dana Stabenow Agreed.


Deanna also on Leafmarks because I miss Marco This is an excellent book that reveals a Presidential Lincoln we do not always get. I am always recommending this book and have given it as gifts. Another great Lincoln related book is "My Thoughts be Bloody" by Nora Titone. A fascinating journey into the relationship of the Booth brothers.


Jenny I completely had the same reaction to your June 17th comment: I felt like telling his friends to either go with him to the theater or to insist that he not go.

p.s. I believe you and my father know each other.


Dana Stabenow Are you Chuck's daughter? If so, say hi for me!


Jenny Yep, that's me! Will do.


message 11: by Joy (new)

Joy I bought copies for myself and my sister. I am glad to see such a promising report of it.


Pedro Pavon I postponed reading the last 100 pages for a year. I realized I wanted Lincoln to live! But you know the truth? He lives on! Listen to us!


message 13: by Dana (last edited Apr 05, 2014 03:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dana Stabenow [grin] You bet he does!


message 14: by Bob (new)

Bob Civil war


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