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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

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Winner of the Lincoln Prize

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.

916 pages, Paperback

First published October 25, 2005

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About the author

Doris Kearns Goodwin

36 books4,015 followers
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN’s interest in leadership began more than half a century ago as a professor at Harvard. Her experiences working for LBJ in the White House and later assisting him on his memoirs led to her bestselling "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream." She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning "No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II." She earned the Lincoln Prize for the runaway bestseller "Team of Rivals," the basis for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film "Lincoln," and the Carnegie Medal for "The Bully Pulpit," the "New York Times" bestselling chronicle of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts. .

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Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
May 1, 2021
“There was little to lead one to suppose that Abraham Lincoln, nervously rambling the streets of Springfield that May morning [during the Republican National Convention], who scarcely had a national reputation, certainly nothing to equal any of the other three [rivals], who had served but a single term in Congress, twice lost bids for the Senate, and had no administrative experience whatsoever, would become the greatest historical figure of the nineteenth century…”
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

As with many of history’s iconic figures, there is no shortage of books about Abraham Lincoln. If you want to read about him, the trouble is not finding a book, but in finding the right one to suit your needs. There is hardly an aspect of the sixteenth president’s fifty-six years on earth that has not been mined for literary purposes. If you want to read about Lincoln and race, there’s a book for that. If you want to read about Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief, there’s a book for that. If you want to read about Lincoln’s sexuality, his mental health, his marriage, his law practice, or his vampire hunting abilities, there are books on those topics as well.

With such a dauntingly extensive bibliography, Team of Rivals stands out from the rest for two reasons.

First, it finds a fresh angle to approach a man who is as recognizable as Jesus, and whose biographies could fill an entire library.

Second, it is written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the best popular historians of our time.

Goodwin’s innovation is to place Lincoln slightly off center, and to focus instead on his cabinet, the titular “team of rivals.” In a way, this is a multiple biography covering Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates, and Secretary of State William H. Seward.

The book starts with the Republican National Convention of 1860, where Lincoln faced off with Chase, Bates, and Seward (the odds-on favorite). This section was excellent, and highlights Goodwin’s gift for giving form to the ghosts of the past. Expertly and efficiently, Goodwin weaves these disparate and fascinating individuals together, highlighting their similarities and their differences, their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, she introduces Lincoln's Treasury Secretary:

Salmon Portland Chase, in contrast to the ever buoyant Seward, possessed a restless soul incapable of finding satisfaction in his considerable achievements. He was forever brooding on a station in life not yet reached, recording at each turning point in his life regret at not capitalizing on the opportunities given to him.

Later, Goodwin presents the beautifully-bearded Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s second Secretary of War (because he was not a Republican, much less a Republican nominee in 1860, he is not one of Goodwin’s featured stars; still he gets his share of time on stage):

Six years younger than Chase, Stanton was a brilliant young lawyer from Steubenville, Ohio. He had been active in Democratic politics from his earliest days. A short, stout man, with thick brows and intense black eyes hidden behind steel-rimmed glasses, Stanton had grown up in a Quaker family dedicated to abolition. He later told the story that “when he was a boy his father had – like the father of Hannibal against Rome – made him swear eternal hostility to slavery.”

Stanton originally thought Lincoln an incompetent rube. Lincoln didn't take this personally, and replaced the actually-incompetent Simon Cameron with Stanton after the first year of the war. The two developed an incredible working relationship, and upon Lincoln's death, it was the distraught Stanton told the world he uttered the immortal phrase: “Now he belongs to the Ages.” (Strikingly, no one around Lincoln's death bed remembers Stanton saying this. Maybe he just thought it, and wished he'd said it).

After giving us a quadruple bio of Lincoln, Seward, Chase and Bates – the rivals for the Republican nomination – Goodwin takes us through the Civil War. Her focus is not on the ins-and-outs of the various battles, which have been well covered in several thousand books; rather, she views everything through the prism of Lincoln's cabinet. This is a wonderfully structured, propulsive story, showing a keen-eye for meaningful details, and imbued with humanity. Someone who's never read a book on Lincoln or the Civil War will follow along just nicely, while even those who are quite familiar with the tale will enjoy how amazingly it is told.

When Team of Rivals was first published, it added a new phrase to the American lexicon. Goodwin’s thesis here is that Lincoln’s cabinet oft-incongruent cabinet was a good thing. Though it detracts absolutely nothing from this book’s value, I’m not sure she completely sells the argument.

For example, Attorney General Bates, after his big rollout, nearly disappears from the narrative. Treasury Secretary Chase was a wrong fit from the start, and Lincoln eventually had to appoint him to the Supreme Court to get rid of him. Lincoln also had to sack Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and replace him with a true “rival,” longtime Democrat Edwin Stanton. Rather than a virtuous gathering of old foes, the Cabinet appears rather dysfunctional.

Long before Truman, the buck stopped with Lincoln. Some of his big moments, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, were unilateral decisions, and came as a surprise to his Cabinet. Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation shows how fraught the “team of rivals” idea can be. It sharply divided the cabinet, with Lincoln receiving advice of varying degrees. Bates and Stanton were for it immediately; Chase and Caleb Smith were against it. Then there was Seward, a smart man who wasn't as smart as Lincoln:

William Henry Seward's mode of intricate analysis produced a characteristically complex reaction to the proclamation. After the others had spoken, he expressed his worry that the proclamation might provoke a racial war in the South so disruptive to cotton that the ruling classes in England and France would intervene to protect their economic interests. As secretary of state, Seward was particularly sensitive to the threat of European intervention. Curiously, despite his greater access to intelligence from abroad, Seward failed to grasp what Lincoln intuitively understood: that once the Union truly committed itself to emancipation, the masses in Europe, who regarded slavery as an evil demanding eradication, would not be easily maneuvered into supporting the South.

I suppose it could be argued that Lincoln wanted a bunch of devil’s advocates to test his own decisions. Still, this was a bickering, troublesome, quarreling lot, and a lot of the advice he received was simply bad. It’s hard to see how the enormous burden on Lincoln’s shoulders was relieved by his closest advisors telling him he was wrong. Thankfully, as the war progressed, he came into a good working partnership with Seward and Stanton. Before that, however, there was quite a bit of lost time.

With all that said, I am not indifferent to the political tightrope that Lincoln had to walk from the beginning. Due to the wildly fragmented nature of the 1860 election – featuring four major candidates – Lincoln did not exactly take office with a strong mandate. Lacking this, and facing the greatest challenge the United States ever faced, he was forced to make bad deals from the start. If you don’t believe me, just look at the roster of the Army of the Potomac, filled with incompetents who happened to have strong constituencies. Lincoln’s cabinet was obviously a concession to this reality, and an attempt to present a solid front. Unlike Goodwin, I just don’t think this was an advantage Lincoln harnessed, but yet another obstacle for him to overcome.

At over 750-pages of text, this is a pretty big volume. Yet it reads short. I blew through Team of Rivals like it was a novel. Though Goodwin is trying to embrace many different lives, she succeeds with grace. I read all kinds of history books, some academic, some popular; some focused on analysis and interpretative theories, others on pure narrative. All types have their value. But if I have to choose, I want a book that connects me to the past in an intimate way. I want to know these people that lived in that strange and distant world that has come and gone. Goodwin does this effortlessly.

At the end of Team of Rivals, Goodwin relates a story told by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. According to Tolstoy, he was visiting a tribal chief in the Caucuses and regaling the tribe with stories of Alexander, Frederick the Great and Caesar. When Tolstoy stood to leave, the tribal chief stopped him:

“But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock...His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.”

This story sounds like something out of fiction, which is to say, it sounds like it was something Tolstoy invented. Still, I’d like it to be true. Certainly, it is a sentiment I can agree with. When it comes to Lincoln, I’m with that chief: Tell me about that man. I am always on the lookout for another book about the complex, imperfect, monumentally impactful Abraham Lincoln. All the better if it is written by a historian with the consummate skill and artistry of Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 95 books1,884 followers
January 31, 2022
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.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,742 followers
November 7, 2016
(Please forgive me resorting to a tired trick and leading off with a definition from the dictionary, but there is a point to it.)


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.
Profile Image for Ellis.
279 reviews2 followers
February 25, 2008
I would have given this book more stars if I could have. I think I loved this book so much because Abraham Lincoln was such an absolutely amazing person. We are all taught that Lincoln was one of America's great presidents, and we know that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but he is so much greater of a man than I ever knew. Lincoln was super smart, wise, and incredibly compassionate and empathetic. While unsure of his own faith, Lincoln, through his own care for others, was so much more of a Christ-like person than the overtly pious self-righteous Salmon Chase (Lincoln's former rival and Secretary of the Treasury who, while disparaging of others characters, allowed himself to be uncritical of his own unethical actions [much like our current president - in my opinion]).

This book showed Mary Lincoln in a better light than I had expected. I had always had the impression that Mary was a real stinker, and while she definitely had her faults that must have been caused real difficulties for the president, she also had many good qualities. One thing that impressed me is how she personally gave service to soldiers while not allowing any of her kind actions to be made known to the Washington social elite. While Mary may not have always been easy to live with, I felt kind of bad for her since she suffered from such severe migraines and depression. Who's to say for sure, but this book left me with the impression that Mary probably really tried to be a good gal despite her mental/physical problems.

I did like the point of view of this book. Telling the history of Lincoln's political and personal life inclusive with the lives of his opponents-turned-collaborators not only gave a more complete view of the times and happenings of the mid 1800s, but it demonstrated in a few cases what Lincoln did so widely, humbly, and deftly; turn those against him into believers and supporters of his work.

One interesting thing that Lincoln did that I loved about him, and can't stand about George W. Bush, is that Lincoln, while not being dishonest, again unlike our current president, used much political slide-of-hand to get things done. I guess the biggest difference between Lincoln and some of our modern politicians is that while this technique is used today to cover up wrongdoings or cheating, Lincoln used it to help bring unity back to the nation and freedom to all people.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,471 reviews9,375 followers
December 15, 2022
Yesssss! I did it y'all!

This is an accomplishment. Team of Rivals is dense, not gonna lie, but incredible and so worth it.

If you set one reading goal for yourself, in your life, it should be to read this book. The writing, Lincoln's life, the goings on of the cabinet and the country ... wow, wow, wow.


Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews872 followers
April 2, 2015
When Rod Blagojevich was impeached and hauled off to prison, that made four of the previous seven Illinois governors to have done time. Countless representatives and aldermen have been locked up, too. Then there was my wife’s favorite: a former Secretary of State found after his death to have $800,000 stuffed in shoe boxes. Our reputation for corrupt politicians is, I dare say, unsurpassed. Fortunately, we here in the Land of Lincoln (as we call it on our license plates) have one historical figure capable of tipping the scales back towards respectability.

I’ve taken a real interest in Abe and his legacy in recent months (more on why in a minute). Of the books I’ve read, this one and David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln are my favorites. They both deserve credit for finding unique space within what is arguably the most densely populated expanse of American history. Goodwin focused on Lincoln’s clever leadership in bringing together a group of his former opponents, thinking them to be the most capable cabinet members at a very challenging time. We get thoroughly researched sketches of:
Edwin Stanton – a bitter rival contemptuous of Lincoln when they were both involved in a famous court case. He called Lincoln a long armed ape, but was subsequently recruited by a magnanimous Lincoln to be Secretary of War and grew to love the President.

Salmon Chase – one of the founders of the new Republican Party who felt he was owed the nomination that Lincoln ultimately won, later did laudable work as Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary.

William Seward – a senator and later governor of New York, was certain he was going to win the nomination in 1860. After Lincoln offered him the Secretary of State post, Seward figured on seizing power by essentially running his own government within the cabinet only to discover Lincoln’s skill at bringing different factions together. In Seward’s capacity as the anti-yes man, he became Lincoln’s best ally and friend.

Edward Bates – a senior presence within the party who was coaxed into running against Lincoln in the primaries. After losing that battle he reluctantly took the job as Attorney General for the good of the troubled nation. He initially thought of Lincoln as an incompetent bureaucrat, but ultimately concluded that he was “very near being a ‘perfect man.’”

Naturally, most of the spotlight fell on Lincoln himself. Goodwin showed us the tricky waters that led to the Emancipation Proclamation on 4/1/1863 – a Good Friday in every way – as well as other less famous but still important milestones that required a masterful helmsman. I give her ample credit for underscoring his sound judgment, his political savvy, his wry sense of humor, and his superabundant humanity.

So why my sudden interest in Lincoln? I thought you’d never ask. Aside from the fact that he is probably the most analyzed and lionized figure in American history, it looks like I have a personal connection as well. I was revisiting some genealogical research I’d started years ago, knowing that the internet now reveals more ties than those dusty tomes I used to find in libraries and court houses ever did. One of my ancestors, Joseph Hanks, had a sister named Lucy who I’d never bothered following up on before. Anyway, according to ancestry.com, she was the mother of an illegitimate daughter named Nancy who was, by all known accounts, Abe’s mother. It was one of those can-this-really-be-true moments. But I triple-checked every link and am as sure as anyone can be given existing records that Abe is my second cousin six times removed. I’d originally thought to look into a DNA test like the one they did to explain all those red-haired, brown-skinned kids running around Monticello, but then decided against it. I wouldn’t know who to contact, it would likely be expensive, and I’d rather just assume that it’s true.

Of course I realize this is a watered down relationship, and for all I know hundreds if not thousands of other people can make this same claim. I have to confess, though, that for a while I thought of myself differently. My gaunt face and hollow cheeks were no longer flaws, but indicative family traits. And though I haven’t tried to grow a beard in years, I’m certain if I did, it would be scraggly. I even looked for examples where I could count myself as a cut above in probity, eloquence and fair-mindedness.

Before I got to the point of imagining Daniel Day-Lewis playing me in a biopic of my soon-to-be famous life, I realized that I was still just me – a guy who needs to remember that humility is one of his few attractive traits. Besides, (this is the really weird part) I did more digging into my family roots and discovered that my great-great-grandmother, Cora Claudine Flickinger from Byhalia, Ohio had a sister named Lula Dell Flickinger who the internet shows was the grandmother of one Barbara Pierce Bush. That makes me a somewhat less diluted third cousin once removed of George W. Bush. Suffice it to say I now think of these genealogical ties as less meaningful. I lack the power and initiative to unshackle an oppressed segment of society, but then I don’t feel any compulsion to invade Iraq either.

So please understand I’m not obsessed by my connections, but today of all days, after reviewing this wonderful book, I feel enough of a kinship to quote my famous cousins. As Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Cousin Dubya modified the quote (for real) observing that, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”

Are any of you picturing Pinocchio in a jester’s hat right now, perhaps in place of a white Rubik’s cube? Any theories on why I feel compelled to do this? I’m curious myself. Am I dissatisfied with reality and need the artifice to spice things up? (No, I’m luckier than most and I know it.) Am I simply attempting to entertain? (Hmm… sounds a little too noble and generous – probably not.) Am I trying to switch the focus away from anything relevant to shine the light on me, myself and I? (That’s probably closest to the mark. Either that or I’ve got a genetic predisposition for dis honesty.) If there’s any good that’s come of this, it’s that I’m now truly eager to read Team of Rivals.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,478 followers
March 3, 2020
Doris Kearns Goodwin weaves a masterful tale as she follows the lives of Lincoln and his intimate circle of friends and rivals from the early 1800s, through the Civil War until the catastrophe assassination of the President in April 1865. It is a complex, but fascinating story of the political genius of Lincoln who was able to get consensus from his most bitter rivals all while holding on to his own high moral code. Particularly moving, besides the horrors of war and the cataclysmic night at the Ford Theater, was the various contexts for his greatest speeches and writings including the moving Gettysburg Address. Readers will find Lincoln to be both humorous and melancholy, but ultimately curious, brave, and human.

There is some beautiful psychological analysis of Lincoln's personality along with a Pynchon (one of my favorite authors!) quote on melancholy on page 109. In fact, all the characters are analyzed with great insights into their motivations and characters: one of the primary strengths of this book is this intimate portrait of these men. I feel like I can sympathize greatly with Lincoln's particular pathos: The melancholy stamped on Lincoln's nature derived in large part from an acute sensitivity to the pains and injustices he perceived in the world. He was uncommonly tenderhearted.. We are also treated to many of Lincoln's wonderful stories. Drawn from his own experiences and the curiosities reported by others, they frequently provided maxims or proverbs that usefully connected to the lives of his listeners. Lincoln possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat. This process of repetition is central to the oral tradition. (p. 151)
That is one of the things that struck me about the world described - oral communication played a far more critical role in these days before the internet, and it would seem that we have lost a generation of able statesmen in our times of vacuous soundbites.

Some time is spent on the catastrophic Dred Scott Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice Taney. It was admirable how Seward fought this tooth and nail. I feel that today's Justice Roberts may be nearly as corrupt as Taney and may yet deliver some similary catastrophic decisions. (p. 191)

Another phrase that certainly rung a bitter bell for me was during the presidential campagn of 1860 when the Chicago Press and Tribune wrote: if Mr. Lincoln is elected President, he will carry little but that is ornamental to the White House. The country must accept his sincerity, his ability and his honesty...He may not preside at the Presidential dinners with the ease and grace which distinguish the 'venerable public functionary,' Mr. Buchanan; but he will not create the necessity" for a congressional committee to investigate corruption in his administration. (p. 265). This is, sadly, very very far from where we have sunk today.

One piece of trivia I appreciated was that the officialization of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was, in fact, Lincoln's idea (p. 577) in October 1863. Brilliant. This was followed by one of the most moving speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address which is quoted in full on page 586.
Oh that today’s leaders had even a sprinkling of Lincoln’s humanity. But that is a whole other debate.

The book was absolutely wonderful and ends with a fascinating quote from a young 23yo Lincoln, "Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow man, of rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed." (p. 749) He certainly made good on that promise, and the United States is indebted to him for it. Hopefully, the winds of change will blow on Washington in November 2020 and renew a spirit of humanity which is so lacking today and so evident in Lincoln's story.
Profile Image for Asif.
19 reviews12 followers
May 15, 2018

According to Oxford Dictionary: Team=Two or more people working together and Rival=A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.
So this oxymoron title caught my attention when I was in the final semester of my college. I bought this book out of whim with slight consideration what is written inside because I am one of those people who are crazy in love with Great Honest Abe.
Having said that let me come to the commentary on the book what can I say about a book written on the as vast a subject as civil war,slavery, abolition and quest for integrity of greatest nation on Earth!
The book "Team of Rivals" as the title suggests is the story of uneasy alliance of brilliant minds of era forged by the greatest leader of the time. Story begins with the earlier struggles of abolitionists and pro slavery legislators to maintain their position at that time Seward was the apple of eye for the abolitionists and his fiery speeches roused the spirits of the camp, at that time lawyers like Stanton and Lincoln were not that significant in politics and could not imagine at the time their subsequent rise in the ranks of government. A western backwoodsman and rail splitter and prairie lawyer who seemed to enjoy his country side stories more than intricacies of the politics of capital was abruptly convinced and nominated as candidate for presidency; at that time the ambitions of then to-be president Seward were destroyed when he came to know that an obscure Prairie Layers has been nominated as the candidate for presidency by newly formed republican party instead of him(most likely).Also another ambitious man Salmon chase could not find support to be candidate from his own state Ohio which if am not mistaken is considered the state which decides president for every election.
When Lincoln assumed presidency country plunged into war with seceding southern Confederacy, this entire book is dedicated to the saga of managing country during the testing times some historians think that Lincoln was the god sent man for American union I also hold the opinion as in my view there was no any man as astute in running the affairs as Lincoln and as magnanimous as him to allow his crucial cabinet position to his bitter rivals like, Chase and Stanton. In the end chase was to be the one lasting villain with his never ending ambition for presidency and i am equally startled to know he never got much respect outside the sphere of Lincoln by himself as he was regularly snubbed for the candidacy long after the death of Lincoln.
This book is definitely worth reading not only for the purpose of understanding history, politics and government of the era but also for the sake of a lesson in management. I think modern leaders belonging to any region can get valuable lessons reading this book and gaining immense insight on what it means to be statesman and how to manage in crisis situations.
Coming towards some characters in the book, throughout the book Kate Chase appears to be the most charming and sought after lady in the book in her peak years she was the center of attention but when I am finishing the book I have found that her last years were pure testing times as she cheated her husband and due to alleged affair she ultimately divorced her husband and lived her last years in abject poverty Alas! this reminds me Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone. Secretary Seward(Abraham Lincoln lovingly called him Governor) was one of the most faithful member of cabinet and he was intellectually most towering personality among cabinet members due to his unfortunate accident during the last days of Lincoln which made him bedridden for many days he could not celebrate the success of Union victory or could see and mourn his best friend death this made me cry! this whole drama perhaps has shadowed the greatness of a lady who inspired me in the book was Frances Seward a lady of love of Great Seward she was the architect behind her husband's firm views against slavery and she served as ideological guide to cement the support for the cause today African Americans should pay tribute to this great lady for her unwavering support for the cause of their liberty. Her demise and immediate death of daughter Fanny was perhaps most tragic events following the death of his beloved leader, Seward has another feather in his crown he purchase Alaska for US too as mentioned in book. In my opinion after Lincoln, the true heir and ablest man in US at that time was Seward he should have been the US president but fate gave Johnson to American people. Stanton as always was to be the most stiff of the persons in the cabinet he could not get along with Johnson. Welles continued to be loyal to next president. At the conclusion of my review i would like to mention the most important person in the life of Honest Abe, his love and wife Marry, It strikes me she was a bit out of mind always, my this proposition is supported by argument that his own son admitted her in mental hospital. Mary was westerner and not suitable for high life of Washington but she managed nonetheless good time at capital,Finally i would say Lincoln was a center of gravity of government who held many distinct elements like capricious, ambitious and intriguing Chase, always skeptical and gruff Stanton, suspicious and indecisive Welles and intellectual and gregarious Seward all of them were in one way or other rivals but this great man turned them into team and rallied their strength for the cause of Union. If history do not exhaust to count the great achievements of Honest Abe in Managing country, Abolition of slavery,Emancipation Proclamation, Magnanimous behavior to enemies one last thing to credit Lincoln is his befriending his enemies and thus destroying them.
Profile Image for Jay Schutt.
245 reviews79 followers
February 1, 2020
A Pulitzer Prize winner worthy of the award.
All of the superlative adjectives apply to this book.
A monumental effort on a monumental book.
A remarkable study of Lincoln and the people who surrounded him during his lifetime.
The saying "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" applies throughout the book.

These are just a few of my thoughts and comments on this extraordinary book. Extensively researched and well-written, Goodwin expertly intertwined her prose with the myriad of letters, diaries and notes provided by the many historical figures involved in the political and personal events of Lincoln's life.
I must admit to the use of the audio version of the book at times due to its length and detail. The audio (read superbly by Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" fame) was edited so much that I had to stop listening and read from time to time. While the audio stayed true to the political theme of the book, so much of the personal side of events of the main and secondary characters was edited out. Though seemingly unimportant to the audio, these personal stories were a welcome addition to my reading enjoyment and showed the human side of this terrible time in American history. I would have missed so much information and knowledge just by listening to the audio. This contributed greatly to my reading experience.
If you intend to read this book, please do so word for word with the printed text. You will be greatly rewarded for your commitment. Highly, highly recommended for all Civil War and Lincoln enthusiasts.
9 reviews4 followers
January 10, 2009
Put aside whatever you're reading now--yes, even those compelling vampire/romance books--and pick up this book. It's that good. Even though Goodwin is writing about Lincoln's cabinet, her work is eerily contemporary, given Obama's situation. Everyone but a handful of people thought Lincoln had risen too fast and was too untried to take charge of a desperate crises facing the country. Goodwin uses the main characters' diaries, letters, journals, and speeches to show how that opinion gradually changed. If Obama has half of Lincoln's greatness of heart, we are in good hands.
Profile Image for Julie.
549 reviews276 followers
April 18, 2019
As usual, I seem to be pushing against the river. All the reviews on this tome are positively stellar -- to the 5th degree. My poor offering is a meagre 3.

Goodwin is an exceptional historian. Research should have been her middle name. But -- and it's quite a big one --

The book would have been vastly improved if a good editor had taken charge.

This book reads like ... you asked someone for a recipe on how to bake a cake, and she starts by telling you how to grow wheat; then walks you through milling the grain into flour, down the line to raising chickens and collecting the eggs. My god, by the time you get to the cake, you've starved yourself and three subsequent generations.

A good editor would have sliced at least 200 pages and given more substance to the importance of this team of rivals. The relevance of the momentous symphony created by this team is almost drowned by the irrelevant preamble.

All the minutiae that Goodwin gathers on the respective players is interesting, perhaps, but doesn't add to the central argument. The trivialities of childhood toe-stubbings and early disappointments in love of one and all do not belong in such a work. They belong in a biography dedicated solely to that individual: therein, one could expand to heart's content and would in that case be appreciated by the reader. Herein, it made me forget what/who the book was about, almost.

After sifting through the mound (sorry, can't seem to get that cake imagery out of my head) of froth and frivolity, the book is excellent and I appreciated learning a few things about Lincoln that made clear his exceptional contribution to the building of the United States of America. I appreciated, perhaps for the first time, the political astuteness of the man, stripped clean of his "aw shucks" image that has often been portrayed in other biographies. When Goodwin finally gets down to it, she is immensely capable of delivering good solid writing, with a purpose.
Profile Image for Perry.
631 reviews502 followers
August 27, 2017
A True Leader and Genius of High Moral Character

If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for other business.... If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference. Pres. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in F. B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House (1869).

Truly, I didn't start out reading this book to compare President Donald J. Trump to Abraham Lincoln. Yet, the differences are so Radical, one would have to be marooned on a desert isle for the past year not to notice them. I am so glad I read it now.

One anecdote was most powerful and revealing in illustrating what most would agree is paradigmatic for any LEADER: taking responsiblity and loyalty. In early 1862, Congress made findings of financial mismanagement in the early months of the Civil War by the Secretary of War Simon Cameron, which it followed with a censure of Cameron by which time Lincoln had already replaced him. Instead of letting that be the end of the story and of Cameron's career, Lincoln sent a letter to Congress saying, "not only the President, but all the other heads of departments, were at least equally responsible with him for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed...."

Now, whether you are a Trump supporter or hater, Republican or Democrat, can you imagine President Donald J. Trump writing such a letter or, Lord help us, "tweet," acknowledging fault, no matter the circumstances ?


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is an absolutely outstanding and incisive biographical narrative showing Lincoln's road to becoming U.S. President and his Presidency as well as the lives of the most significant among his cabinet members, three of whom ran against him in 1860: William Seward, Secretary of State; Edward Bates, Attorney General; and, Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. Hence, the name Team of Rivals; no doubt was there ever who was the Captain, my Captain.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is amazing (a term I almost never use) at showing how President Lincoln resolved the numerous conflicts among the egotistical cult of personality and among the radical and conservative factions among his Republican party. A hint: we are all human, all make mistakes and even the President must maintain a sense of humility and (this really should go without saying [see Twitter, 2017]) dignity.

Perhaps it's unfair to compare our MODERN DAY PRESIDENT to Lincoln. Maybe I should offer this as a plea and a hope that Lincoln should serve as the Standard Bearer for ALL PRESIDENTS for demonstrating the meaning of Leadership . If not, I am assured that "[a]ny people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government...." Lincoln, Speech in House of Representatives, 1848.

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. President Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Albert G. Hodges, 4 Apr. 1864.

No one can rationally argue that Lincoln was not the greatest leader of the United States and will go down as one of the greatest in history. I love the quote from Tolstoy in the book, a quote I had not before seen:
"why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.

Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchmen, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country--- bigger than all the Presidents together. We are still too near to his greatness ... but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when it's light beams directly on us.”

Additional Telling Quotes of President Lincoln

You can fool all of the people some of the time; you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. Attributed in N.Y. Times, 27 Aug. 1887

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. Attributed in Golden Book, Nov. 1931.

That [man] can compress the most words in the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew. Quoted in Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln (1892).
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
October 21, 2020
Although there are two books squeezed between the covers this remains readable.

The first book is an account of the competition for the Republican candidacy and the beginning of the Lincoln administration. Here is a slightly different story about the developing USA, the changing, growing country and the kinds of political careers and ambitions available to men in it. There is a very serious heavyweight argument I felt lurking in the prose that never comes to the forefront and possible never developed in the author's mind about how one could become a political figure in early nineteenth-century America. Still we're told an entertaining tale about the backgrounds, rivalries and capers that led to Lincoln clinching the candidacy and then going on to win the presidency.

The story that we are then told of Lincoln eventually asserting his authority over his one time political rivalries is ok, but could have been extended to look at his dealing with his generals. The dynamic between Seward or McClellan and Lincoln strikes me as similar. The self-conscious expert looking to assert their authority relative to the titular Chief.

This issue of how a newcomer to a position manages to assert themselves and deals with competing authorities is a fairly basic problem, one which many readers will themselves have had experience of. Certainly a similar book could be written about most political administrations, but the concept of seeing Lincoln's first administration as a team of rivals is still interesting, although underdeveloped. The sources might not allow a thorough understanding of what happened but there has been a lot of work on teams, team building and leadership. I don't mean that I expected to see an analysis in terms of storming, norming and performing, but there are theoretical frameworks which Goodwin chose to ignore in favour of the cosier narrative format. Nor does she put Lincoln's experience of making himself into the president and asserting his authority in context - all the more surprising since the author has written about other US presidents. While this was the first republican administration the need to accommodate different groupings, power bases or ambitious personalities was hardly unique to Lincoln.

The idea however rather runs out of steam once his leadership is established during his first year in office. The author anyway continues the narrative to Lincoln's death. This is where the second book kicks in - it's just a biography of Lincoln with no particular new argument to make. It was no less entertaining to read, but wasn't relevant to the notion of a team of rivals.

This was my first and so far only Lincoln biography, despite it's bulk as a whole it is a nice, moderately fresh political account, cosy, lacking in ambition, unchallenging but thoroughly readable and entertaining. There's probably an essay already written on the subject of President Obama's references to wanting his cabinet to be a team of rivals , perhaps the best that can be said is that there is a charisma to high political office which the successful holder, if sufficiently capable, can use to their advantage to outmanoeuvre or win over potential rivals - irrespective of their presumed or actual power bases.
Profile Image for David Baldacci.
Author 273 books116k followers
November 15, 2013
This is the book that the film “Lincoln” is somewhat based on. President Obama has said that he looks to Lincoln as a model leader. He should. In TEAM OF RIVALS Lincoln brings genius to the adage “friends close, enemies closer.”
Profile Image for James Thane.
Author 8 books6,913 followers
January 2, 2013
In 1860, the fledgling Republican Party nominated its second candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Four men competed for the honor: William Seward, a U.S. Senator, former governor of New York and one of the most honored and experienced politicians of his day; Edward Bates, a former congressman from Missouri; Salmon P. Chase, a former U.S. Senator and former governor of Ohio who had played a significant role in founding the party; and Abraham Lincoln, until very recently a little-known lawyer from Illinois who had served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives in the late 1840s.

As the convention neared, Seward was the presumptive favorite and considered himself the best of the possible candidates while Chase assumed that the convention owed him the nomination because of his early service to the party. But Chase ran an inept campaign and was unable even to win the consolidated support of his own home state.

Several of the candidates had been dismissive of Lincoln. Seward clearly assumed that he was superior to the Illinoisan both intellectually and in terms of his political experience. In the end, though, Lincoln ran a brilliant campaign, cleverly positioning himself as the first choice of a few delegates to the Chicago convention but as the second choice of a good many others. And when none of the other candidates could garner enough votes to win the nomination, Lincoln emerged with the prize on the fourth ballot.

His rivals, Seward in particular, were stunned by the outcome. But then, perhaps even more surprisingly, Lincoln invited all of his fractious rivals into his cabinet and when some initially demurred, Lincoln effectively maneuvered them into joining the administration. Seward became Secretary of State; Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, and Bates, Attorney General.

As Secretary of War, Lincoln initially selected Simon Cameron. But it early became apparent that Cameron was not up to the demands of the job and so Lincoln turned to another "rival," Edwin M. Stanton, a celebrated lawyer. Stanton had been briefly associated with Lincoln in an important court case in 1855, but he had contemptuously dismissed Lincoln and at one point referred to the future president at a "long armed ape."

Many assumed that Lincoln had made an horrendous mistake in forming the administration. Seward, for example, took the position as Secretary of State assuming that he would be the power behind the throne and that Lincoln would be a mere figurehead, taking his directions from the New Yorker. But The new President was determined to put into place the most talented men he could find, especially at such a critical moment in the nation's history, and he was perfectly willing to put behind him any slights or disagreements he might once have had with them.

Lincoln quickly proved all of the critics wrong, Seward included.
In fairly short order, he demonstrated that he would clearly be the master of his own political household and that he was easily the most talented member of the administration. He would spend the next four years mediating among these opinionated and often disagreeable men while at the same time demanding that each give his best effort in the enormous task of saving the Union and, ultimately, freeing the slaves.

Seward would ultimately become Lincoln's closest friend in Washington, readily admitting that he had vastly underestimated the President and that no one could have done a better job. In time, all of the other men were won over as well and together, this team of rivals, under Lincoln's direction, made perhaps the most significant contribution to the future of the nation of any presidential administration.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has, in effect, written the political biographies of these five distinguished men and demonstrated how Lincoln brilliantly brought them together and made the best use of their talents. She also clearly demonstrates how Lincoln was clearly the best choice for the Republican nomination in 1860, and how lucky we are as a nation that he was there to answer the call. Though much of this story is familiar, Goodwin brings a new perspective to it and provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Lincoln administration. The book is well researched and beautifully written. Certainly it will be of great importance to anyone interested in the topic of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
Profile Image for Sydney.
18 reviews
June 2, 2008
Biographies aren't always boring tomes. Doris Kearns Goodwin does a magnificent job of detailing how Abraham Lincoln, a lesser known and ill-positioned candidate captures the Republican party's nomination, goes on to get elected President, and leads America through the tumult of the Civil War.

While most of us know Lincoln as "honest Abe" and the President who emancipated slaves, Kearns-Goodwin offers a portrait of a man who took many of the men who'd he'd beaten out as the republican nominee into his Presidential Cabinet. His offering them positions of significance in his Administration--positions that had the power to ruin his presidency--seemed, at least initially, to many as the act of a political neophyte or backwater bumpkin. As the Civil War is being prosecuted, readers get to see how strategic Lincoln’s use of man's personal ambitions and commitments to country made them effective members of the Cabinet.

Kearns-Goodwin's narrative offers timely reminders how a nation at war undergoes philosophical and political tensions that will takes years to heal. In reading the book, there were times when the circumstances or politicians involved in the civil war could just as easily have been the circumstances and politicians involved in the war in Iraq.

The book does an admirable job of showing the nuances of the internal conflicts that Lincoln faced abut social and political issues of the times. While he believed slaves should be free, he was slow to adapt that they should be granted suffrage. At the same time he welcomed Frederick Douglass into the White House, argued the merits of equal pay for black and white soldiers, and offered the first African American attorney the opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court.

Great history lesson that was also surprisingly readable.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,019 followers
October 12, 2017
This is a wonderful nuanced book that resonates mightily with and informs what is going on today. Read it if you want to understand any kind of historical basis for what is now happening in the U.S. Read it if you love the minutia of history—every conversation ever recorded during the Lincoln period, every permutation and convolution of the Civil War, the complex emotional motivations behind the factions (a lot of people fought more for preservation of the union than out of any conviction about slavery)—or if you feel as if you need to learn U.S. history. This book has garnered enormous public attention as well as an award-winning movie based on it, so I am not going to write more commentary on what is in it. Instead, here are some opinions about the very important content that is missing.

At more than 900 pages, the book was so heavy, I broke down and bought a wretched Kindle version so that I could read without straining my tendons. But still, it was too short. Why?

In all the discussion about the virulent disagreement about the morality of slavery—whether it was constitutional for man to enslave man, whether the ever-expanding U.S. territories should be allowed to have legal slavery, whether people who had spent “blood and treasure” to settle the South and whose economy depended on slavery had any right to this abominable practice even though they had outlawed the slave trade as piracy—in all this, there was a complete absence of concern for, let alone awareness of, the existence of Native Americans who were being systematically killed and herded off their land in order for white people to create settlements, territories, and eventually states that would argue about the morality of person abuse and economy vs. morality and eventually erupt into civil war.

As I read through Goodwin’s flowing prose, I longed to go back in time and personally demand of Lincoln: “What about the Natives? Are you concerned about man killing man (women and children)? Are they not people also? What about our Declaration of Independence’s only reference to them as ‘savages'? Is that how you feel? What about George Washington’s famous letter of 1790 stating 'the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.'? You ethically opposed the Mexican American war, insisting that we had attacked peaceful Mexican settlements and thereby stole land. You are a wise and deeply good man who has known firsthand suffering and degradation and who consistently subsumed your substantial ambition and ego impulses, choosing what was just and most likely to result in the greater good. Tell me your thoughts.”

Here is a map of the inhabited American continent that is never in the history books:
See it full-size here
. . . native peoples are central to the nation’s history. As late as 1750—some 150 years after Britain established Jamestown and fully 250 years after Europeans first set foot in the continent—they constituted a majority of the population in North America, a fact not adequately reflected in textbooks. Even a century later, in 1850, they still retained formal possession of much of the western half of the continent.
—Claudio Saunt, associate director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia. From his book West of the Revolution (2014) [excerpted in the link]

Native Americans participated on both sides of the Civil War and, according to Wikipedia, “Historians claim they were hardest hit of all who participated in the War.”

I am ashamed that I didn’t know about this distortion of history until about sixteen years ago when I worked for a magazine that was involved with indigenous communities and issues. Until we are willing to look at the whole truth of our past and ongoing history, until it too is included in tomes about our Civil War, until it is fully acknowledged when somebody writes about spending “blood and treasure” to create new American settlements, we are doomed to repeat it by demonizing, ignoring, and/or erasing “inconvenient populations.”

That said, Team of Rivals stunningly makes you appreciate our country and our history, makes the past come alive and feel quite present, makes you cry with joy at the passage of the antislavery Thirteen Amendment and sob at Lincoln’s death. (A million times I’ve looked at this statue of a Union soldier from New York in Central Park, but after reading this book, I see him!)

My wanting more truth is a testament to the healthy hunger for truth aroused by this book. I want truth about our hypocrisies through heartfelt stories that are hard to hear, but whose fullness makes us all feel what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” as well as our culpability. If white people can feel both these extremes, perhaps somewhere in the middle we can know we are all the same, that we are sorry, and that we will now commit to acknowledge and therefore be able to correct our present and past wrongs. If we can admit the wrongs of our ancestors, we will do better, slaying delusions of righteous superiority with the light of exposure.

Explaining Lincoln’s worldwide legacy and the love he evoked in people, Goodwin quotes Tolstoy’s conclusion that “Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the presidents together.” So I can’t help thinking he would agree with me and encourage the greatest truths we can tolerate.

10/12/17 Addendum:
Russell Brand posted this video, a postcard to America, where he makes the same point I make in this review about the importance of acknowledging our true history--we are a country founded via genocide (to acquire the land) and slavery (to enable our economy). It's not pretty. But if we can acknowledge this for the part it plays in the picture with all the magnificent things we have produced, including Lincoln, maybe we will stop having what we deny erupt from its inborn craving to be seen and reaction to the pressure of being denied.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
386 reviews113k followers
October 19, 2017
I loved this book. Although it was a beast of a book, and could probably have been a lot shorter. I had not read a Lincoln biography before, so was firstly blown away by how he rose up from nothing, self-taught himself a college degree, and then somehow rode the middle line and got himself elected President. Nobody seemed to have expected that, nor expected much from him, and he continued to surprise them all.

I am always curious about the motivations of successful people. In Lincolns case, he just literally seemed to want to have the respect of his peers, and of the American people. “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition,” he wrote. “I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

Lincoln's tactic to make his enemies his cabinet was also interesting and ultimately brilliant. Especially because he was so unknown, but also because they were the strongest options, and would be hard for him to manage. The confidence he had was impressive. Lincoln constantly showed this higher level of trust in people that many wouldn't have given because it didn't make themselves look good. Hiring people who are smarter than you, and giving them credit when things go right, is very hard to do.

But Lincoln could afford to trust his people and even hire people like Chase, who was on his staff yet coveted his job, because he was a masterful tactician. He seemed to have a knack for how to position things to the public at the right times to achieve the right outcomes. The main example of this is of course holding back the proclamation of emancipation so the border states didn't slip into the war on the side of south - but there were many more examples.

One thing that surprised me was how lax access to the white house and president were back then. You could literally just walk into the White House and get in line to see the President. And he seemed to only have one security guard - who happened to be "off-duty" the night he was killed.

I think Lincolns main strength was his empathy. He spent a lot of time trying to understand the people of different states, and putting himself in their shoes and imagining how they felt given what they knew about the situation. A tough, tough thing to do as his whole presidency was during a civil war during which over 600,000 soldiers died. I can't imagine having that on your conscience and trying to internalize that. But a very valuable skill to have as a leader.

"Lincoln had internalized the pain of those around him—the wounded soldiers, the captured prisoners, the defeated Southerners. Little wonder that he was overwhelmed at times by a profound sadness that even his own resilient temperament could not dispel."
Profile Image for Tim.
129 reviews53 followers
July 31, 2021
One of my favorite history books. What really made it enjoyable for me is DKG’s writing quality. There is something about her writing style that I really enjoyed. It just felt really easy to read, with a great narrative flow. She also seems to have a gift for being as crisp and concise as possible.

I’m glad I read this book and had the chance to learn more about Lincoln.

I just finished a book about Hoover, who came to Presidency with one of the most impressive resumes you could imagine. Lincoln came to the office with one of the thinnest resumes. Why was he so successful? With this book, you get a sense for his unique qualities that made this possible.

Some of the things I learned about Lincoln were not surprising but were nice to have confirmed. He really was honest, principled, and courageous. Perhaps his signature quality that made him unique was his ability to set his ego aside. There are many examples of him taking the blame, or refusing the impulse to embarrass an opponent, or a willingness to hire talented people who have been critical of him in the past. I know it is a cliché to say “it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care about who gets credit”, but Lincoln’s story made me think there is a lot of truth to this.

One of the things I didn’t know was how deft of a politician he was. His skills as a storyteller enabled him to persuade and inspire people. Through the years he built long-term relationships to build up his influence. He was also skilled at political chess games, always seeming to be a couple steps ahead of his opponents. I think this ties back to his ability to set his ego aside and analyze situations with ruthless objectivity. But his political skills didn’t get in the way of his integrity, as he didn’t use them to just increase his popularity – he used them to accomplish political goals that he thought was in everyone’s interest.

Lincoln was incredibly ambitious. He had a desire to be someone important, to make a contribution to the great events that were unfolding. He also had a desire to be admired and respected, but he didn’t just want to be admired and respected for its own sake – he wanted to be worthy of it. It was nice to read about how ambition could be directed towards positive ends, and not necessarily be corrupting.

I listened to the audiobook, and Suzanne Toren did a great job with the reading. The way great narrators are able to bring a book to life is an underappreciated skill. I do almost all my reading through audiobooks these days, and I do appreciate their work.
Profile Image for CoachJim.
157 reviews88 followers
September 23, 2020
Writing a review of this book is a very difficult chore. What am I to say about a book that is almost universally acclaimed and is written by one of my favorite historians? I have read most of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books, although they mostly deal with the twentieth century and historical figures in which I am more interested and familiar, this book introduced some historical figures about whom I would like to learn more.

The title Team of Rivals can refer to the fact that Lincoln invited his rivals for the Republican Presidential nomination, Bates, Chase, and Seward, into his cabinet. But it also can refer to the rivalries that existed within the Cabinet. Chase and Seward were frequently at odds along with several others. There were several letters of resignation submitted to Lincoln which he handled smoothly and the letters were withdrawn. As the time went on the rivalries became more intense, especially with Salmon Chase pursuing his ambition to be President. Lincoln handled the Chase controversy graciously. Lincoln was able to look beyond the pettiness of Chase when he eventually selects him to replace Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney.

The early biographical information I found rather dull. The Wives, and their families, and the courtships are described and then the woman largely disappear except for Mary Todd Lincoln and the “lovely” Kate Chase. Compare this to Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winner,
No Ordinary Time, where Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps the major figure.

There is a flattering description of Grant. In addition to Lincoln he is a figure I would like to read about.

Everything Grant did during his four-day stay in Washington, from his unheralded entrance to his early departure, “was done exactly right,” the historian William McFeely concludes. “He was consummately modest and quietly confident; the image held for the rest of his political career—and beyond, into history.”

When it became apparent that Lincoln would be the party’s nominee for President in the 1864 election

A visitor to the White House at this time told Lincoln that “nothing could defeat him but Grant’s capture of Richmond, to be followed by [the general’s] nomination at Chicago” — where the Democratic Convention was scheduled to take place later that summer. “Well,” said Lincoln, “I feel very much like the man who said he didn’t want to die particularly but if he had got to die, that was precisely the disease he would like to die of.”

There is a section describing Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Everyone is taught and probably had to recite this address, but it’s presentation gave me a thrill. Lincoln was not able to devote as much time as he wanted to this address and was working on it until the very day, and then

Edward Everett delivered a memorized speech for two hours “Seldom has a man talked so long and said so little.”

Lincoln listened intently during Everett’s speech and then stepped forward to deliver his remarks.

When Lincoln finished, “the assemblage stood motionless and silent,”
The extreme brevity of the address together with its abrupt close had so astonished the hearers that they stood transfixed. Had not Lincoln turned and moved toward his chair, the audience would very likely have remained voiceless for several moments more. Finally there came applause,” Lincoln may have initially interpreted the audience’s surprise as disapproval. As soon as he finished, he turned to Ward Lamon. “Lamon, that speech won’t scour! It is a flat failure, and the people are disappointed.” Edward Everett knew better, and expressed his wonder and respect the following day. “I should be glad,” he wrote Lincoln, “if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

This book is an example of why I like reading history. A good historian (Goodwin) takes a historical event (the Civil War) and deals with it from a different perspective. The Civil War here is in the background. The important battles, Bulls Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg are all mentioned, but the War is only a backdrop to this book. It is Lincoln’s management of the government and the Cabinet that take center stage.

Perhaps the most surprising contemporaneous evaluation of Lincoln’ leadership appeared in the extreme secessionist paper the Charleston Mercury. “He has called around him in counsel,” the Mercury marveled, “the ablest and most earnest men of his country. Where he lacked in individual ability, learning, experience or statesmanship, he has sought it, and found it. … Force, energy, brains, earnestness, he has collected around him in every department.”

The Civil War has a rich and deep library of books. My reading this year only skims the surface, but I am glad I included this book. However, the next 2 history books I plan to read involve the War itself, then I plan on reading a couple of books on the Reconstruction. I think this book would have been better positioned prior to the Reconstruction books because here Lincoln is proposing some policies that lead to that period.

Even before Lee’s surrender Lincoln and his cabinet had thought about how to handle the secessionist states once the conflict had ended. Lincoln wanted the confederates dealt with compassion. After the surrender he proposed that the states could continue their legislative governments. The cabinet universally objected to this. By leaving in power the people who had originally seceded from the union the “Lost Cause” was probably born, and we suffer from that to this day; these Southern “Yellow Dog Democrats” would impede any progress on Civil Rights. However, had Lincoln lived we cannot know how things may have worked out. General Grant noted that

“The President was inclined to be kind and magnanimous, and his death at this time is an irreparable loss to the South, which now needs so much both his tenderness and magnanimity.”

The Lincoln described in this book is a president with intelligence, benevolent statesmanship, lacking vindictiveness, and an outstanding orator. He was a giant, both physically and politically. He truly deserves his spot on Mt. Rushmore.

Reading this book has not changed my opinion that Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of my favorite historians and it deserves all its acclaim.
Profile Image for Cindy.
257 reviews265 followers
March 4, 2011
(I thought it would make sense to start this while I'm still reading Gone With the Wind.)

This isn't a straight-up biography of Lincoln. And it's certainly not a history of the Civil War. Instead it's a portrait of Lincoln, defined by the diverse men he surrounded himself with on his Cabinet. In particular, Goodwin focuses on the 4 major contenders in the Republican national convention: Lincoln, Seward, Chase and Bates. The better part of the book takes place leading up to Lincoln's 1860 election to his death in 1865.

It's a fascinating, fabulous look at the politics behind the man. I'll be honest: politics - the rhetoric, the deal-making, the personal wrangling - bores me to tears. In addition, the details and minutia of war generally bores me silly. (I'm looking at you War & Peace!) Although quite necessarily, this book is mostly about these two things, politics and the U.S. Civil War, I was enthralled. Never before had details of when, where and how to make decisions seemed to be more vital to elucidate the nature of a man.

And it's really hard not to fall in love with Lincoln. The focus of the book, that Lincoln chose to surround himself with opposing personal advisers in Washington and Generals on the battlefield, not only shows his self-assured character to deal with warring factions but also shows his wont and need to ponder all sides of an argument before reaching a decision. What struck me the most about Lincoln, however, is his ability to let criticisms roll off his back, maintain his composure, and disarm people with a quick joke or story. If only I could have met Lincoln to hear some of these retorts in person!

I should mention that Goodwin doesn't shy away from Lincoln's mistakes or lapses in judgment. Particularly surprising was his gathering of free black leaders from the North at the White House to propose a plan of resettling all blacks residing in the U.S. to a new settlement somewhere in Central or South America. Luckily that proposal didn't go much further than that meeting. He occasionally let the temper get the best of him, but was quick to mend the broken fences.

I also appreciated Goodwin's inclusion of the women behind and beside Lincoln and his leaders. She presents quite a balanced portrait of these remarkable and distinguished women. It's quite clear that many of the men relied on their wives and daughters for council at work and with personal relationship. Mary Todd Lincoln was something else. Despite her wild mood swings, Lincoln by all accounts remained calm and kind to her. It's a pretty fascinating relationship, and not one I can understand or relate to.

After finishing the book, my first reaction is to immediately pick up other Lincoln books. (By the way, the page count is a bit deceiving - in the paperback edition, there's 'only' 757 pages of text. The rest are index and extensive bibliography.) The natural one to go to would be John Nicolay and John Hay's Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, but it's a 7 volume work! There are many condensed copies out there. Hay and Nicolay were Lincoln's personal secretaries/assistants who slept in the White House, and were quite intimate with Lincoln. The other book I'm dying to get to - because it's subject isn't really covered in Team of Rivals is Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Likewise, I'm eager to read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. And I think Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era would round out my Civil War education nicely. Feel free to throw any other suggestions my way!
Profile Image for Pam.
388 reviews25 followers
January 8, 2022
This is a great civil war book with a definite theme. It’s common in Doris Kearns-Goodwin books for her to discuss leadership. In fact her most recent book is called Leadership: In Turbulent Times. Her past subjects have included Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam and the Great Society); Franklin Delano Roosevelt (WWII); and in this book Lincoln (the Civil War and reconstruction). Team of Rivals is meant to demonstrate Lincoln’s great ability to bring widely different and sometimes antagonistic politicians together at a time of great need.

I particularly enjoyed and was surprised by her ability to make these figures deeply human after all these years, especially Lincoln. I’d read a biography of Seward not long ago and although I trust the book’s basic facts, Kearns-Goodwin showed so much more in this book in which he is only one of the characters. To me this suggests there is always more to learn with a really talented writer.

Team of Rivals is ostensibly about the political figures from the North and West that were jockeying for position in what was to become a platform initially based on opposition to the spread of slavery. This issue was eventually to divide the country in two. Politicians Bates, Chase and Seward were the most prominent, experienced and well known. Lincoln in 1859 was a distinct lesser known and generally treated as somewhat of a backwoods clown. To the shock of the forerunners and the country Lincoln prevailed and eventually became president. The worst was expected.

Lincoln brought his “rivals” with him to Washington and through force of personality, political skill and intelligence managed to use their talents and control their frequent jealousies and bad behavior.

Kearns-Goodwin shows Lincoln as a true leader. Among his best qualities were his even-tempered forgiveness, his self-awareness, and empathy, all qualities that the author feels were innate. While others were better educated, had greater wealth, had more sophistication and “better” families, it was Lincoln who was critical at this desperate time. A truly interesting book.
Profile Image for Laura Leaney.
461 reviews103 followers
April 21, 2013
I don't read enough non-fiction.

Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I thought I knew enough about Abraham Lincoln that a book on his presidency wouldn't hold my interest as much as a novel might. Happily, I was wrong, and this book gave me a profound sense of appreciation for the ol' "rail-splitter" and a renewed sense of pride in America's history (a feeling that's been somewhat battered of late).

It took Doris Kearns Goodwin ten years to write the book, and no wonder. Her list of primary sources is astonishing. The book is fundamentally a compendium of private and public letters from the principal players, newspaper accounts, diaries, speeches, and official records. Just thinking about trying to organize a plot arc from all of that makes my heart weaken. Yet, the book is more than organized - the author has stirringly crafted the story of Lincoln's political life - from his unusual beginning to the tragic end that I could barely bring myself to read. I cried, I admit it. I just didn't want him to die - even on the page.

By the time I was done, I wasn't just in love with his "genius," as Kearns Goodwin puts it, but also his big tolerant heart and odd mannerisms. And his unshakeable vision of a unified slave-less country.

After the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, after Speaker Colfax "stood to announce the final tally. His voice shaking, he said, "'On the passage of the Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States the ayes have 119, the noes 56. [. . .] and "'utter silence'" descends upon the room, I was held spellbound until "'there was an explosion, a storm of cheers, the like of which probably no Congress of the United States ever heard before'" (says Noah Brooks as cited by Kearns Goodwin). And Lincoln is re-elected and the fight for the Union continues.

Frederick Douglass, held back at the door to Lincoln's second inaugural party, is finally allowed entry after Lincoln sends orders to the guards. Douglass writes that Lincoln "stood 'like a mountain pine high above the others [. . .] in his grand simplicity, and home-like beauty. Recognizing me, even before I reached him, he exclaimed, so that all around could hear him, 'Here comes my friend Douglass.'" When Lincoln asks Douglass how he liked his inaugural speech, Douglass "said finally, 'that was a sacred effort.'" And I have to think that this phrase applies to the noble goals that Lincoln accomplished before his assassination. He was a man so different than other men. He made mistakes, yes, but he never seemed to lose sight over the most singularly important and necessary ideals for the human good.

This was a genuine pleasure to read, and a great long lesson for anyone entering political life.

Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
670 reviews383 followers
February 9, 2018
Solid 4 Stars: Intricate details spin an illuminating web around this historical colossus.

We all know about Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents ever, and are well versed in the legend and legacy of Lincoln — but what about the man behind the public persona?

This book pulls back the curtain and humanizes Lincoln, brining him to life through the wide array of lives closest to him, providing a fresh view of his vivid personality, strength of character, and unflagging belief in his country.

Lincoln was a master statesman, handling and maneuvering men remotely as pieces upon a chessboard. As soon as he secured the Republican nomination, he set about enlisting the help of the very men who had fought him for it — Chase, Bates, Seward, and Stanton. These men transitioned from adversaries into his most loyal allies, a true team of rivals.

Author Doris Kearns Goodwin admits in the intro that some of her assumptions about Lincoln were incorrect at the outset—Lincoln was not a depressive individual, but actually one of the most even tempered of all of his colleagues. He had a gift for story telling, and a “life affirming sense of humor” — both were news to me.

Other tidbits that took me by surprise:

— Details about Mary Lincoln, including her temper, migraines, and carriage accident

— Walt Whitman worked as a nurse for wounded soldiers

— Lincoln considered colonization of the freed slaves?!?

Thought to Consider:

“Without the march of events that led to the civil war, Lincoln still would have been a good man, but most likely would never have been publicly recognized as a great man. It was history that gave him with the opportunity to manifest his greatness, providing the stage that allowed him to shape and transform our national life.”

Favorite Quotes:

“As he had done so many times before, Lincoln withstood the storm of defeat by replacing anguish over an unchangeable past with hope in an uncharted future.”

"'Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country — bigger than all the Presidents together. We are still too near to his greatness,' Tolstoy concluded, 'but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when it's light beams directly on us.'”
Profile Image for Brian.
680 reviews323 followers
December 19, 2016
“Team of Rivals” is an extraordinary work that sheds light on an aspect of the Lincoln presidency that many avid historical readers probably know little or nothing about, the presidential race of 1860 and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as seen through the lenses of his cabinet and his dealings with them.
This lengthy book never feels like one, and the research and vividness with which Doris Kearns Goodwin draws these historical giants is a delight to absorb. I am a bit of a Civil War buff, but this text created in me a whole new appreciation for the political genius of Abraham Lincoln, and rendered members of his cabinet as more than historical footnotes. I was especially intrigued by the parts of the text dealing with Salmon Chase, who I knew only the most rudimentary things about. I will leave it to other readers to render their own verdict about him.
There are many strengths to this text, and one leaves it with an appreciation for just how much Lincoln and his closest advisers carried on their shoulders. Goodwin calls Lincoln the “poet president” and as you read some of the things he wrote you cannot help but be amazed at his facility with, and economy of, the use of language.
How many historical texts leave you amazed, floored, appreciative, and even teary at times? “Team of Rivals” is a biography of a group of people and it is a testament to Goodwin’s skills that none of them come off as caricatures or as less than complex.
This is a book that deserves to be widely read.
16 reviews3 followers
July 14, 2013
I've always thought Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president in U.S. history, and now, after reading Team of Rivals, I'm convinced of that. His political genius allowed him to harness the talents and tame the “lesser angels” among his many rivals – the political and social cream of the crop in the 1840s-50s. This very humble, self-deprecating man, who lacked formal education and experienced so much sorrow early in life, was pitted against tough competition his entire life -- part of his greatness is that he never succumbed to bitterness or resentment when he lost an election (and there were many more losses than wins). Goodwin’s depiction of the nomination process of 1860 at the Republican convention is nothing short of spellbinding – who knew that a political process could be so riveting (even when you know the outcome!)

For me, the true brilliance of the book is the unremitting theme of slavery woven through every chapter and behind almost every political move that Abe and his rivals made during that period of American history. While it’s true that Lincoln is not the unapologetic abolitionist many think he was, his genius is in knowing how to keep the many factions in his party and in the Union on his side during the crisis of secession and the resulting Civil War. Ultimately, it’s a heartbreaking story, but it makes me appreciate more than ever our 16th President and how he preserved the union and our very frail democracy. It sounds trite to write that “he preserved the union,” but in the hands of Doris Kearns Goodwin, the story behind the preservation of our fledgling country is compelling, gripping, and extremely frightening.

I love this quote from Leo Tolstoy in the frontispiece of the book -- it doesn't seem like hyperbole after reading this incredible biography: "The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years . . . . He is bigger than his country -- bigger than all the Presidents together . . . and as a great character he will live as long as the world lasts."
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,694 reviews1,478 followers
December 27, 2012
ETA: Lincoln's death in 1865 is covered, but not in detail. I will now read "They Have Killed Papa Dead!": The Road to Ford's Theatre, Abraham Lincoln's Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance

I think the book IS good. But Lincoln was much more of a shrewd politician than an honest, moral individual and a fun loving storyteller. I did come to admire him. With talent he got people of opposing views to work together toward a common goal. This was no small accomplishment. His lack of malice is exceptional. Or was that too, merely the best way to go on after the war, if he had lived...... Goodwin failed to make the reader feel Lincoln's knack for storytelling and why people call him "Honest Abe"!

Has history idolized Lincoln?

What I think of Lincoln has little to do with how I judge this book. The book is thorough and clearly much effort has been invested in giving us all the facts. I would have appreciated better editing. Not all of the quotes were necessary or relevant. Parts are tedious. In that we learn about Lincoln through what others have said of him, often via direct quotes, much of the book is told rather than experienced. When I looked at his actions I found them contradictory to what was said of him! So very much was said about him. How much is true? I grew so tired of being told of his great stories and quick humor. I didn’t laugh or appreciate those stories. They were preachy; they pointed a finger, they were employed to teach a moral. Lincoln avoided direct confrontation. His inability to dismiss General in Chief George McClellan probably prolonged the war and increased the numbers killed. I do believe that the South would have fared better had he not been assassinated, and I do admire his ability to balance opposing contentions.

I learned very, very much from this book!

Although the narration by Suzanne Toren was excellent, perhaps it is better to read this book than listen to it. It is complicated; lots of people to keep track of. This is hard with an audiobook! Maybe had I read it, more would stay fastened in my head!


Yesterday my husband and I listened to a lot of ToR. You know how Audible splits an audiobook into different "books"? This one has five. I am at chapter 8 of 12 in the fourth book. This thing is monstrously long. Both Per and I agree that parts are unnecessary. Parts neither illustrate the depth of a character nor tell important history! Chapter 20 has a recording error. You hear a section twice, but the repeated section is only about five minutes long. Maybe it is to keep you on your toes? :0)

My biggest problem is that I now see Abe as a shrewd politician, one cleverly balancing opposing sides to attain a given goal. His speeches seem pithy. His honesty does not shine through. I rarely enjoy his storytelling or laugh at his "funny lines". I am disappointed. I liked him more before I read the book. OK, I have a much better idea of who he really was, but .......


Through the Republican convention of 1860:

The text is thorough and detailed. You DO clearly come to understand HOW Lincoln succeeded in winning the Republican nomination in 1860. That is where I am. There are many quotes, so you get detailed, accurate and time relevant views. I believe that Lincoln won basically because his views were "middle-of-the-road". This was tactically expedient, but he didn't hold these views to achieve personal goals. There is a huge difference between this and an individual that tactically determines his actions in an effort to win. Lincoln's views really were balanced and not extreme! He worked hard, from the bottom up, not delegating tasks to others. He was the kind of person that instinctively knew how to talk with people. It wasn't merely chance that the Convention was held in Chicago. He recognized early on that this would be advantageous and worked to bring it about. He intelligently knew that to win he had to fight as an alternate to those who were stronger. He knew he would not succeed on the first ballot. The nomination proceedings are exciting. All the previous chapters have lead up to this point so the reader thoroughly understands why and how Lincoln came to win the nomination.


We have listened to more than 8 hours of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Both my husband and I agree that it is less engaging than. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Keep in mind, much remains. The audiobook is more than 40 hours long. One complaint that I have is that we are told over and over that Lincoln has a sense of humor and loves telling stories. So after about seven hours I say to my husband, "When are we going to be told some of those stories that everyone was so enchanted with?" Then, as if someone were listening to me, we were told two short stories. I found then scarcely interesting and the humor was not my kind of humor. So my complaint is that too much is told rather than experienced. If I am going to believe he is a great story-teller give me a good story. If he is humorous, make me laugh.

It is clear. I am learning, but it isn't great....not yet.

Per summarizes his views with the comment: "It is very detailed!"
Profile Image for Jim.
181 reviews34 followers
February 15, 2021
I've read a lot of Civil War-era books, and inevitably whenever Lincoln shows up in them it ends up being the best part of the book. Just about everything he said and did was so kind, smart, funny, wise, and engaging that it makes you want to know him personally. What made Ron Chernow's Grant so great wasn't just that the writing was so good and that Grant lived such an interesting life, but that Lincoln kept popping in and stealing the show.

I've read several books about his assassination, a book about his aides Hay and Nicholay, a travel book about Lincoln locations to visit (Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson, which I really enjoyed), and my favorite Civil War book of all-time - 1861 by Adam Goodheart features a great Lincoln moment, so I've read a lot of books where Lincoln is around. But somehow I've never read a book centered on the man himself. So I knew it was finally time to dig into this one and I'm glad I did. I loved it.

Ostensibly this is a book about how Lincoln masterfully built a cabinet of rivals that guided America through the war, but once the cabinet is put together you realize they weren't exactly an all-star team. They weren't really a "team" at all. Lincoln is the hero of this book, he is the engine that wins the war, he is the personality that keeps the machine running, and he is a master of moving men around as he needs and wants them. And that's the prism the story is told through.

The biographies of Seward, Chase, and Bates are all excellent and seeing the 1860 convention through their perspectives was great. There’s a part in the book where all of these guys who had all ran for president against each other and were nationally famous and didn’t know each other are now all at the White House at 3 am, eating snacks and making big war decisions. So cool.

- Goodwin is, as other reviewers have noted, too sympathetic to Mary Lincoln. But I think it's because she's trying to see her through the eyes of Abe, and through Abe's eyes there are no villains. He literally saw the best in everyone.
- Speaking of villains, there is no better villain in American history than George McClellan. He was a failure at everything but thought he was the greatest man to ever live, and it's fun to read about people like that.
- I had never heard of the "Reaper" trial (173), but what a great story. Lincoln's first interaction with Stanton, and also a great window into what Lincoln was like as a man.
- Goodwin does a great job of explaining the brilliance of Lincoln's views on the founding documents, and how they tied into his views on slavery.
- Stephen Douglas and Wendell Wilkie were a lot alike. They both ran against and disagreed with war-time presidents, and then immediately supported those presidents for the good of the country once the elections were lost.
- Reading about a plot forming to seize the capitol around the time of Lincoln's inauguration just days after what happened on January 6th of 2021 was surreal.
- Enjoyed reading about some of the family members, especially Willie and Tad Lincoln and Kate Chase.
- Goodwin doesn’t get into the Johnson presidency, but her description of his swearing in as vice-president is wild. It’s so sad that the country was left in the hands of one of the worst presidents during what was still such a perilous time.
- I thought the Vallandigham treason story (522) was very funny.
- Seward and Chase are both on the right side of history, but Seward was a great guy and Chase was a jerk.
Profile Image for Barnabas Piper.
Author 11 books889 followers
November 26, 2016
Reading this book (or listening on Audible in my case) is a labor of love - it is detailed, intricate and long. But wow, is it incredible. The way DKG weaves together the stories of a ll Lincoln's cabinet members personally and politically and explains their respective roles in American history is astounding. I've never learned so much American history from a single book and enjoyed it along the way.

I have also never respected Abraham Lincoln as much as I do after reading this. He truly was an incredible leader.
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