Eveningstar2's Reviews > Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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's review
Dec 19, 2012

it was amazing
Read in December, 2012

"Now he belongs to the ages," said Edwin M. Stanton at the death of President Lincoln. Lincoln's life, his legacy, his iron resolve in the face of terrible hardship, his masterful statesmanship and exemplary stewardship of our country have endeared him into legend. He has achieved, in a way, a national apotheosis. Not a man, but an ideal.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has taken upon herself a seemingly impossible task of restoring humanity to a monumental man, such that Abraham Lincoln the Man does not disillusion us to Abraham Lincoln the Monument, but the two strengthen one another; those qualities that made Lincoln an object of our reverence--his courage, his brilliance, his willpower and his moral character--become illuminated in the familiar light of his humanity, as a man of empathy and compassion, capable of great magnanimity and yet suffering great pain, filled with doubt and yet resolute in his determination.

And in making Lincoln a man whom we understand, with whom we relate and share our own empathy, Mrs. Goodwin belongs to the highest order of historians.

Her writing is sharp and perspicacious, yet her presence invisible. She resides where a historian should stay, in the shadows of human drama, translating the action for the reader, unraveling its insidious complexities, yet living vicariously through history itself. Her eloquence is the eloquence of Lincoln, Seward and Stanton; supported by exhausting historical research, Goodwin's prose is seemingly interwoven with an almost endless supply of quotations, letters, speeches, memoirs. So much of this book belongs, literally, to the characters who embody it. Goodwin never lectures; she shows. And the history of Abraham Lincoln and his political milieu become alive with their own voices.

Abraham Lincoln was a great man; this much goes without saying. But Mrs. Goodwin shows us that he is also a good one. And so are, at that, the men and women around him. Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon and Kate Chase, William H. Seward, Montgomery Blair, Mary Todd Lincoln. History has a way of relegating the past to unattainable myth, but Goodwin allows us to understand these people as they were: as human beings, human in their suffering, human in their greatness.

Perhaps it is no longer academically or intellectually vogue to admire our statesman, and to do so smacks of hero worship. But I don't care. Having finished a thousand pages of their intimate and political lives, I find myself impressed of the indelible feeling of sincere empathy, solemn regret, and genuine wonder.

Godspeed, Mr. Lincoln, and thank you, Mrs. Goodwin.
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