Feb 21, 09
Recommended to Mahlon by:
Lincoln coverage on TV
Read in February, 2009
Most readers would question the need for another Lincoln Biography at this point. After 200 years and numerous Biographies, is there anything new to learn about the man? In Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin answers that question with a resounding yes. Her focus is mainly on Lincoln as political operator. She explores this theme by looking at Lincoln through the eyes of his three greatest political rivals(and later cabinet members) William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates. Goodwin begins her narrative at the 1860 Republican convention where all 4 were vying for the nomination. Lincoln was thought to be a long shot, but thanks to some adroit maneuvering on the part of his management team, he managed to position himself as every delegation's second choice, and managed to secure the nomination as a compromise candidate. The rest of the book focuses on the way in which Lincoln managed the Civil War, and the way in which various cabinet members influenced policy, and helped shape his evolving view of slavery. Lincoln was also a master at massaging his team's ego's when political in-fighting threatened to break the cabinet apart. He also had an incredible capacity for forgiveness. For example, when Chase crossed him one too many times, he finally accepts his resignation as head of the treasury, only to later appoint him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Can you imagine a President giving a major rival a post with a lifetime appointment today?!
I was captivated by the portrait of William Seward, sadly he is remembered today only for his purchase of Alaska, much derided at the time as "Seward's Folly" I had no idea he was one of the leading political figures of his generation.
A complex portrait of Lincoln emerges from Team of Rivals, one that forever shatters the myth that he was a blundering backwoods political neophyte who could be easily influenced.
Fair warning: This book requires a significant investment of time but you'll be well rewarded. It took me almost a month reading a chapter a day. It ended up being my #2 book of 2005, and my #4 book of the decade.