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

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Dec 21, 08

Read in December, 2008

I, like many young people, was often frustrated by history class. No matter what how hard I worked, or how much I studied we always seemed to run out of time to cover the really interesting parts of history, and I always felt short changed.

Few time periods frustrated me as much as the Civil War. We would spend weeks going over Manasses, and Shiloh and Sherman's march and I invariably felt that something was missing. Was it really just General v.s. General? What was Lincoln doing that made him so great? And when it all ended with Lee's sudden surrender at Appomatox, and Lincoln's assassination in the next paragraph, I kept looking around for more details. But I could never find any.

For anyone like me, anyone who wishes they could have figured out the complexities of the great struggle for America's soul, anyone who seeks advice from the past to inform their lives for today and tomorrow there is Team of Rivals.

Kearns Goodwin has created a compelling and comprehensive portrayal of the men who led America through the crucible of the Civil War, she turns the president from the static caricature of "Honest Abe" with the stove pipe hat and chinstrap beard into a dynamic and endearing hero. His wit and charm flow from first hand sources and innumerable anecdotes. His devotion to his wife and young sons, his humor, his faith, all of it makes Lincoln so much more accessible.

But even more engaging than the accounts of the commander in chief are the equally dynamic supporting characters who populate Lincoln's life and times. From his family and the frantic Mary Todd to the armed services and the craven General McClellan, from the titular Team of Rivals [including the corrupt, the pure, the powerful and the power-hungry] to society celebrities the reader is immersed in another America, at once novel and yet familiar.

Any work of this scope, must, by necessity, be long. Very long. [Long enough to preclude me from reading anything else for 5 months] So, while the depth of research is remarkably engaging, it's also remarkable dense. True scholars won't have a problem with it, those of us who seek more knowledge to enhance our understanding, will. Still, any opportunity to encounter and understand a truly great president, a man whose temperament, acumen and eloquence were the perfectly prescribed tonic for a nation in turmoil, is worth an occasionally disconcerting density. It's engrossing, engaging and utterly remarkable, even over five months.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Bryan (new)

Bryan "the complexities of the great struggle for America's soul"???...you have to be joking...the nation of superficiality, soullessness and which believes life owes it a living!!!!


message 2: by Mary (new)

Mary Great review - I'd heard of this book elsewhere recently. Definitely will be looking for it soon.


message 3: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura White Hello - I totally agree with your sentiment that you felt short-changed in your school studies in American History. I, too, did not learn much except for the salient names, dates, and causes. Not only that, my studies ended at, I can't remember (!), maybe the end of the 19th century? Not to mention the lack of education when it comes to World History. Yes, we studied the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, but that's where it ended. The world has changed so much in the 20-something years since I went to college (!), and I feel so far behind other people in the world. Well, I'll just have to pick "Team of Rivals" to re-learn!


Kate Had to smile when I read your comments of history class-- I felt the same way. It especially seemed to me that we'd spend so much of the school year on events up to about 1920 that we'd get to May and then it was "ok, here's the last 50 years of American history in two weeks." Maybe got a paragraph on Vietnam. And Korean War or Cuban missile crisis? If you sneezed in class you missed it... ;)


Judy Excellent review. I think we must have been in the same history class, because all I remember is the emphasis on the military campaigns rather than any deep study of the political and cultural climate that made them necessary.


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