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

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Dec 04, 13

bookshelves: 2013, non-fiction, history, politics, war, usa-usa
Read from November 26, 2012 to January 31, 2013

(Please forgive me resorting to a tired trick and leading off with a definition from the dictionary, but there is a point to it.)

pol-i-ti-cian

1: a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government

2A : a person engaged in party politics as a profession

2B: a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons


Americans these days seem to think that 2B is the only definition for the word, and even the first meaning is considered an insult because if you actually know how the government works, then you’re guilty by association. Hell, politicians now deny being politicians as they try to get reelected to political office while screaming about how all politicians suck. (Or the Tea Party just finds the angriest moron around to run.)

It’s weird that it’s become such a dirty word because one of the greatest Americans by almost any sane person’s standard was Abraham Lincoln. While the myth may be that he was just this humble log splitter and backwoods lawyer who bumbled into the White House during one of the country’s darkest hours and fortunately turned out to be the perfect leader for the time, the truth is that Abe was one super bad-ass politician in the sense of definitions #1 and #2A, but luckily 2B didn’t apply at all.

All American kids hear about Abe in school. We learn about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 13th Amendment, but they never really tell you how Abe managed to win a war that should have permanently split the country and end an evil institution that even the Founding Fathers had just left as some future generation’s problem.

Reading Team of Rivals gives you an understanding of how Lincoln accomplished this, and the simple answer is that he was a politician of uncanny skill. He had a great sense of timing as well as being empathetic enough to see the other side of any argument while never swaying once he had fully committed himself to a course of action he thought right or necessary. The thing that made him unique was the almost inhuman way he could put his own ego and anger aside to find ways to work with people he had every reason to distrust or even hate.

As this book details, Lincoln’s selection and handling of his own cabinet highlight what made him such a great president. He managed to convince some of the biggest power brokers and politicians of his day, many of whom he had beaten out for the presidency, to work for the common good as members of his administration. Even though this meant dealing with constant bickering and political intrigue, Lincoln still got outstanding achievements from all of them, and most of the men who once saw him as an overmatched fool eventually came to regard him as one of the smartest and most honorable men of the age.

Well researched and written in an entertaining style, this book also shows how little has changed in American politics. The tactics of the kind of people who would defend slavery and smear Lincoln seem familiar in many ways. They just used newspapers instead of a cable news channel and talk radio.

One odd thing: I started this after seeing the Spielberg movie, and I knew that only a small part of the book was actually about the passage of the 13th Amendment that the movie centers on. However, there’s not nearly as much as I thought there would be. It seems like only a few pages are spent on it, so it’s a little weird that the movie would cite it so heavily. On the other hand, the details of Lincoln's personality in here are all over Daniel Day-Lewis’s great performance.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent This is one of the books the Lincoln movie is based on, I think.


Kemper Dan wrote: "This is one of the books the Lincoln movie is based on, I think."

I guess the movie is based on just a couple of chapters from it.


Stephanie This book is so long they could get about 10 movies out of it.


Stephanie Nicely done sir.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

This review alone was refreshing. It's nice to be reminded that positive things can come out of politics. I am guilty of forgetting that.


message 6: by Will (new) - added it

Will The author actually worked with the director on this, so some material was drawn from her research apparently, and the director was planning this even before the wide publication of the book.


Kemper Anthony wrote: "This review alone was refreshing. It's nice to be reminded that positive things can come out of politics. I am guilty of forgetting that."

It was refreshing for me to read how little the general public has changed. We tend to think that the days of yesteryear were so much nobler than today, but it was the same back then. It was just that a few guys like Lincoln were able to kick them in the ass and get the right thing done every now and then.


Kemper Will wrote: "The author actually worked with the director on this, so some material was drawn from her research apparently, and the director was planning this even before the wide publication of the book."

That explains a lot. Thanks for the info.


message 9: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin Seeing all your Archer Icons, had me watch the first two seasons on Netflix last week. I am still trying to do a self lobotomy to get rid of all the scarring imagery and wanton dialog.


message 10: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin Oh, great review as usual. I so agree what they teach in school.


Kemper Noran wrote: "Seeing all your Archer Icons, had me watch the first two seasons on Netflix last week. I am still trying to do a self lobotomy to get rid of all the scarring imagery and wanton dialog."

Don't forget about the graphic violence! That's another selling point.


message 12: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin Oh my eyes--have to scrub them again with bleach today!!!


message 13: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten Leading off with a definition is a tired old trick...damn...and I never got to use it...damn.

My estimations of Lincoln have grown to lofty levels after reading Vidal's Lincoln and seeing the movie. I've recently picked up several more books on him including this one. Your statements about the state of political affairs in this country I couldn't agree with more.

Archer is so damn good it is almost criminal. Did you catch last nights episode that used a Grover Cleveland reference as a joke? It made me giddy.


Kemper Jeffrey wrote: "Archer is so damn good it is almost criminal. Did you catch last nights episode that used a Grover Cleveland reference as a joke? It made me giddy."

I got it recorded but haven't watched yet. Any show that teaches me new profanities while incorporating running jokes about the use of 'literally' vs. 'figuratively' is well worth watching.


James Thane Another nice review. I liked this book a lot too, especially the way she wove together the biographies of all the principal parties.


Kemper James wrote: "Another nice review. I liked this book a lot too, especially the way she wove together the biographies of all the principal parties."

Agreed. She did a nice job on working the bios of everyone involved into it.


message 17: by Mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mara Jeffrey wrote: "Did you catch last nights episode that used a Grover Cleveland reference as a joke? It made me giddy. "

"He left two non-consecutive messages." Archer is the best.


Kemper Mara wrote: ""He left two non-consecutive messages." Archer is the best."

He's an American hero. Just like Abraham Lincoln!


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