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

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Sep 21, 2010

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bookshelves: bio, history, race, audible, leaders
Read from December 21 to 26, 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!"
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Comments (showing 1-48 of 48) (48 new)

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ I recently saw the movie made from this book. IT was fantastic! I also received this book as an early Xmas present from a friend. Usually I read the book first but in this case I am hoping that the movie helps me put a face (even if they are only actors) to the many players in this book.

message 2: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura I've been reading the reviews on this and wondering if I should bump it up my list?

message 3: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 21, 2012 09:54PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie I have listened to the introduction and I already enjoy it. It is clear. I am always worried that politics will be difficult because you have to know so much before you open the covers. This I think will be as good as No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The author adds such information to make the people normal, like you and me! That is important for me. I want to know about the whole personality, not just their deeds.

Oh, is there a movie? That is why everybody is reading it! I didn't know.

message 4: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura I'll be curious if your opinion changes as you progress. You make a good point!

Chrissie We are both listening to it.

Maybe I expected the wrong thing from this book. I want to leave it feeling I have met Lincoln and he has become a close friend. But look at the title. This book is about a group of people and what they achieved together. You get lots of details about them too: Seward, Chase, Bates and others. By comparing how they are similar and different you get a better idea of what makes Lincoln Lincoln. I must be patient.

Suzanne I own this book and hope to get to it next year. You're right, Chrissie - this isn't a presidential biography, but rather a look into a particular time in history. I love history, so I will probably enjoy this book.

message 7: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura There must be a quintessential Lincoln bio. I'll see if I can find one. I see what you're looking for. I wonder if in the end, you will have that feeling about Lincoln. I love presidential bios.

message 8: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 24, 2012 03:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying the book, but it doesn't stop me from being critical. Much is told rather than shown. This is a book of non-fiction based on the known facts and many, many quotes. Quotes are essential, but through them you are told rather than shown. Of course we also see the Lincoln's actions. They better demonstrate Lincoln's character. I want to not only learn about the events but learn about Lincoln's personality.

message 9: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura I understand. How much is left? Are you up to the halfway point yet?

message 10: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 24, 2012 04:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie I am far from the half way point. I am only in the second of the five sections of the audiobook!

It may be too thorough for me? It has everything on the topic of how Lincoln came to power.Not just Lincoln but also how he worked with his compatriots, previous rivals and all the the different political parties and the threat of secession. It is detailed.

message 11: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Lincoln that is the other one I found that seemed more in line with covering his life that seems to get good reviews. Another brick though.

message 12: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 24, 2012 08:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie I checked it out, and have added it too! Thank you. If I read that too I am on my way to becoming a Lincoln expert.

I have just finished part two of the five audiobook sections. The last part was very engaging. The threat of secession is movingly told. This is right before inauguration. Seward has just given a conciliatory speech which has the most ardent Abolitionists furious. What is most interesting is how Lincoln publicly distances himself. Total silence. By doing this he keeps his party together. He in fact did support Seward. This makes me a little uncomfortable. Is he being totally honest and moral by behaving in this manner? We have been told, and I was convinced, he was very moral and very honest. Nobody is perfect, but..... Conversely, if he hadn't done as he did the new administration would start off on a bad note. I am involved, but my husband is not following all of it. This makes me think twice. I am surprised that I can stick with it and not him!!!! Hmph. Yay, for me. True, you know I don't like giving up in the middle of a book.

message 13: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura You GO, History Beast!!!! Proud of you!

My two favorite historical biographies to-date: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and John Adams. Haven't checked to see if you've read them. I don't know if I could keep up with you, but I'd love to read Alexander Hamilton as a buddy read if you like. My mom loved it, and it gets great reviews.

message 14: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura And favorite current bio: Steve Jobs. Fantastic book. I think you'd be totally fascinated by him.

message 15: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 24, 2012 10:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie McCullough is a great author. Loved his Mornings on Horseback, so I added John Adams. Tell me pls, what is so special about John Adams? I did have the book about Franklin. I am a bad buddy reader, people cannot keep up with me. I hate reading a book slowly chapter by chapter to fit others.

message 16: by Laura (last edited Dec 24, 2012 10:52AM) (new) - added it

Laura I don't blame you. My memory is so bad though, that it's hard for me to discuss a book unless its a simultaneous read. McCullough is terrific. So is Isaacson (Franklin and Jobs). He wrote also about Einstein and Kissinger.

Chrissie So why would I like the book about Jobs?

message 18: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura He's a genius. And very odd. Interesting guy! Bit of an ass but I wound up loving him actually. And Isaacson is amazing.

Chrissie My brother told me he worked with him for a while.

message 20: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Jobs?? Or Isaacson? Either way, very cool!

Chrissie Jobs.

message 22: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura How many stars? Enquiring minds wanna know!

Chrissie Maybe I was too tired when I wrote this review.... but I know that an honest star rating is three. "I liked it" represents my true emotional response to this book.

Michael Good job in honestly pulling out your personal reactions to the book. You are right that it didn't sing like "No Ordinary Time". Perhaps Lincoln was too distant in history and too much has been written about him for Goodwin to succeed as well in capturing the man. I still felt that her focus on him as a politician and his method of harnessing his competitors was a fresh slant. I too learned a lot, yet somehow tolerated better some of the more historical thoroughness that might feel tedious to most.

message 25: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 26, 2012 10:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie My largest complaint with this book is that Lincoln is known as"Honest Abe". He is known for his storytelling and humor. These three qualities did not come through in the book.

He was a shrewd and intelligent politician! He did a magnificent job given the circumstance. That errors were made is inevitable, but I do not understand why he is so idolized....other than that he was assassinated! The Civil War was so devastating in both the large number of lives lost and in its length.

Michael, for me a book has to be truly amazing, if I am to give it five stars. Three stars means I like a book, and it is definitely worth reading. If you liked the Roosevelt book better, and you give this one about Lincoln five stars, how can one properly show one's appreciation for the other?! Goodwin failed to make the reader feel Lincoln's knack for storytelling and why people call him "Honest Abe"!

Michael Chrissie wrote: "My largest complaint with this book is that Lincoln is known as"Honest Abe". He is ..."
If it was from crafty politics, then she should have covered it. He honestly thought slavery was wrong but delayed it several years until the politics were right.

I wouldn't think of disputing your star system. It should reflect your reading pleasure, and you know "Concerning taste there is no dispute." Would be nice to have a 10 point scale. The Roosevelt book was a fine eclair and Lincoln one a great macaroon. ;-)

The Vidal novel, which I enjoyed 5 stars too, tries to imagine the personality behind Lincoln and Mary. Some of his humor comes out there, along with his demons (and Mary's nuttiness). I also really like McPherson's Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. No "Honest Abe" there either, just a complex leader under great challenges.

message 27: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Simran wrote: "Laura wrote: "There must be a quintessential Lincoln bio. I'll see if I can find one. I see what you're looking for. I wonder if in the end, you will have that feeling about Lincoln. I love presi..."

Ooh, a First Ladies shelf! Love that!

message 28: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Simran wrote: "Chrissie wrote: "I want to not only learn about the events but learn about Lincoln's personality "

That's what i hope to gain when i start reading about these figures too. I've got so many periods..."

It really is, I totally agree.

message 29: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Chrissie wrote: "My largest complaint with this book is that Lincoln is known as"Honest Abe". He is known for his storytelling and humor. These three qualities did not come through in the book.

He was a shrewd an..."

I've found so far in my reading about figures in our government that the history books in school and the reality don't often mesh. It's no question they had good qualities, but the history books skirt over the bad ones almost totally.

message 30: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Michael wrote: "Chrissie wrote: "My largest complaint with this book is that Lincoln is known as"Honest Abe". He is ..."
If it was from crafty politics, then she should have covered it. He honestly thought slaver..."

I agree re the 10-pt scale. That would be great!

Michael, it's interesting you brought up the Vidal novel. I've had that on my TBR for some time, but I always tend to read biographies vs historical fiction. I want to know where the facts end and the fiction begins. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the book.

Chrissie Michael, thank you for all your tips. I am way to direct in how I talk! I did not think you were trying to push me to think more like you and I am not trying to push you to think like me. I just love explaining what is going on in my head. Thank YOU for explaining how you feel about other alternatives. I love your statement:" Would be nice to have a 10 point scale. The Roosevelt book was a fine eclair and Lincoln one a great macaroon." That would not work for me. You know why? Because when I read a book I ask myself: did I hate it, was it OK, was it good, was it very good or was it utterly amazing? THEN the hard part is figuring out why I feel as I know I do in my stomach. I really appreciate your input! And you know, I am very glad I read this book. I am now reading "They Have Killed Papa Dead!": The Road to Ford's Theatre, Abraham Lincoln's Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance and I realize I have learned tons from the previous book. It is so much fun when you have more mastery on a subject. Something fastened in my head. Now that is amazing.

Laura, you too would like a ten star system? Me, I like things simple!

Simran and Laura, are you two friends from before? Nice when we all meet up. I cannot help being how I am...... I just am interested in another's personality. I can relate better if I understand that. But think, if there was a chance I had to fight in a war I might relate differently. Have you ever considered that? Gosh I would fail totally..... If I could envision myself fighting with a gun I think I would relate in another way. I just cannot picture that.

message 32: by Laura (last edited Dec 27, 2012 09:40AM) (new) - added it

Laura Chrissie, my favorite thing about you is that you ARE direct. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone said what was on their mind. This way, it's obvious where we all stand and most importantly, people don't feel as though they have to hide behind a mask. They can be exactly who they are, flaws and all, because if we're honest, no one is without flaws.

I love that you analyze your own feelings and you look to understand others at the same level.

I don't know Simran, but when she mentioned packing and a new start, I became very excited for her because at some level, I'd very much love to do the same thing! So I felt that instant connection.

I can't imagine ever having to fight in a war, and I agree, it would be an entirely different mindset to have that hanging around as even a remote possibility.

I love it that you're now reading another book about Lincoln! I'd think you'd have overdosed on him by now, but I think it's very cool that your mind always hungers for more.

Chrissie Laura, being so direct certainly gets me in trouble often...... but thank you. It is nice you think like me. I couldn't agree more - we all have flaws! It is when communication stops that the real problems arise.

I am actually loving reading a second book about Lincoln. It is a piece of cake! It is amazing; parts are exactly the same in the two books. They must have used the same source material. The one I am reading now is just about the assassination so I suppose they will soon diverge. Both books have used the same examples of funny stories, and I just sit there and cannot figure out what is so funny! I think it was that Lincoln was not seen as an uppity character, but someone like themselves, that enabled people to relate to him. When the Civil War finally ended, he really smiled and looked HAPPY. I think it shown from his face. Otherwise he was often melancholy. I am very glad I read the book. I am a pretty stubborn person. I said I would read these two books one after the other, so now I have to.... and I am enjoying it!

Some women want to fight in a war. Not me.

message 34: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura It gets me in trouble all the time too, and I have lost friendships because I usually can't resist (for very long, anyway) just saying what I think. People I love most are those who will be themselves and say what they think and expect me to do the same in return.

And if we differ, it's ok! Not saying we always must agree, but please respect my right to my opinion and I will respect yours. I may ask you to explain yourself. Some see this as an attack. It is not. My mind searches for answers, always. If your opinion differs greatly from mine, maybe there is something there that fits into my framework too. I'll never know if I don't ask.

Maybe there is nothing about that viewpoint that could ever fit with mine, but if I consider you a friend, I respect your intelligence, and I want to know why. I hope this makes sense, and I'm not rambling again.

I can't imagine ever wanting to fight in a war. I want to fight with no one, ever. Much less with weapons and armor!

message 35: by CatBookMom (new) - added it

CatBookMom I very much enjoyed the review and the comments; you are detailed and clear about why you think as you do about the book. I want to read Team of Rivals because of the different aspect of Lincoln that I think it represents. It is very helpful to know that the book describes him as others saw him, but doesn't necessarily show all of him. Will have to look for other biographies. Also glad that you think ToR may be better read than as an audio experience.

Chrissie CatBookMom wrote: "I very much enjoyed the review and the comments; you are detailed and clear about why you think as you do about the book. I want to read Team of Rivals because of the different aspect of Lincoln t..."

Thank you! I am very glad I read this book. I do recommend reading it; it is thorough. Few books are absolutely perfect! See messages 11 and 28 above for other titles on Lincoln. Laura and Michael pointed out these others. As you read books the ones one still has to read increase exponentially! :0)

Chrissie Michael, may I ask you a question? You have read so much. You probably have the answer. When the slaves were emancipated were the slave owners remunerated for their "loss of property"? How did that work? This was not discussed in "Team of Rivals". Thank you for your help.

message 38: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura You'd think they'd have discussed that. Odd.

Chrissie Simran, I meant, what were the slave owners given for each of the slaves that were no longer their property? Nothing? I know people should not be counted as money, but the previous slave owners all of a sudden lost all the people working for them! The slaves had been considered their property. You can understand their dilemma too. (Thant you can consider a human being a piece of property is truly mind-numbing!)

Laura, the book ends right after Linciln's death, which was only a few weeks after his second inauguration. The war had JUST ended. None of the loose ends were tied up. Andrew Johnson became president since he was vice president. Then came Ulysses S. Grant. It is these guys that had to settle all these questions and so this is not a fault of the book. But I do want to know!

Laura, I see now that I did not respond to your message 36. I agree TOTALLY with what you say there. It is just that many people get upset when you voice another point of view! I have gotten people very annoyed with me; so now I know I must be extremely careful.

message 40: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura I hear ya, believe me.

Michael Chrissie wrote: "... When the slaves were emancipated were the slave owners remunerated for their "loss of property"?..."
I didn't have the answer. History, beyond historical fiction, is largely a recent interest to me as a science nerd. But Wikipedia to the rescue. Under an article on "compensated emancipation", many countries abolished slavery via this route, but in the U.S.:

"In the United States, the regulation of slavery was predominantly a state function. Northern states followed a course of gradual or immediate emancipation. During the Civil War, in 1861, President Lincoln drafted an act to be introduced before the legislature of Delaware, one of the four non-free states that remained loyal,[2] for compensated emancipation. However this was narrowly defeated. Lincoln also was behind national legislation towards the same end, but the southern states, now in full rebellion, ignored the proposals.[3][4]

Only in the District of Columbia, which fell under direct Federal auspices, was compensated emancipation enacted. On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. This law prohibited slavery in the District, forcing its 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the government paying owners an average of about $300 for each. In 1863 state legislation towards compensated emancipation in Maryland failed to pass, as did an attempt to include it in a newly-written Missouri constitution."

message 42: by Chrissie (last edited Dec 29, 2012 04:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Michael, thank you!!! So compensated emancipation only in the District of Columbia, and it was decided in 1862 before the end of the war. I assumed this would have been discussed afterwards with he former Confederates, but I guess they were so weak then this was no time to place demands. What I was surprised to learn form this book was also how conservative Lincoln was in fighting for emancipation. His prime target were the new territories. Seward was far more radical, Lincoln more conservative!, but that is the whole point. Lincoln actually managed to achieve it because he was such a shrewd politician and balanced the opposing groups. Thank you, Michael. I have certainly learned a lot from this book!

Simran, don't worry a bit! We all read things wrong. Part of the trouble is that there is too much to read. I know I read too quickly often. OR I make false assumptions.

laura, re disagreements/opposing views, I tell myself to assume nothing bad was meant and to ask specifically what they mean! Sometimes I forget.......

message 43: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura I hear you, Chrissie, I think we are the same!

Michael thanks for that info also!

Isn't it great that we're all trying to learn history? Yay! I love you, GR! lol

Chrissie I have really loved talking about this book with all of you!

message 45: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Me too! Your reviews seem to generate lots of conversation! I love that.

Chrissie I have such interesting friends!

message 47: by CatBookMom (new) - added it

CatBookMom Chrissie wrote: "I have really loved talking about this book with all of you!"

I am slowly catching up a large backlog of Smithsonian magazines, and by chance came across this little article (, which I thought you might enjoy. Apparently Abe's image as a rail-splitter was a gimmick that was thought up for the 1860 Illinois nominating convention.

Chrissie That was interesting! Thank you very much. Politics has always been politics - trying to sway people toward a desired action. It is the attempt to play with facts rather than provide the truth that annoys me.

It was amazing the fascination people had, and I guess still do have, for things coupled to a famed person! Why are people like that? I am going off in different directions here.....

I am still thinking about this book and I highly recommend reading "They Have Killed Papa Dead!": The Road to Ford's Theatre, Abraham Lincoln's Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance immediately afterwards. Wow, there is a lot more to his assassination than we have been told in school! Very interesting stuff. i recommend reading it. It is complicated and packed with info. Lots to think about. Who else wanted Lincoln killed?!

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