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

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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's review
Jan 03, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography, non-fiction, history, female-authors, own, does-my-book-look-big-in-this, 2011-best-reads
Recommended to Cindy by: Dad

(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!
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Reading Progress

January 3, 2010 – Shelved
January 3, 2010 – Shelved as: biography
January 3, 2010 – Shelved as: non-fiction
January 6, 2010 – Shelved as: history
January 28, 2010 – Shelved as: female-authors
February 3, 2010 – Shelved as: own
August 30, 2010 – Shelved as: does-my-book-look-big-in-this
February 13, 2011 – Started Reading
February 21, 2011 –
page 189
20.63% "When a Southern congressman beat unconscious Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor, the antislavery movement was galvanized, and sparked an emotional division between North & South. I had no idea."
February 24, 2011 –
page 347
37.88% "Miscommunication leads to attack at Fort Sumter."
February 28, 2011 –
page 548
March 3, 2011 –
page 666
72.71% "Yeah, I'm taking a break at the Devil's number."
March 4, 2011 – Finished Reading
January 2, 2012 – Shelved as: 2011-best-reads

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Nathaniel Such a good book.

message 2: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer This is a cool pairing, Cindy!

Cindy Yeah, that time period is really interesting. I might also throw in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to round it out?

Heather I'm with Nathaniel, this is a really great book. I've loved everything I've read by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Cindy Woohoo!

Heather I'm glad you liked it! I heart Goodwin, a lot. As far as other Lincoln books, I have A. Lincoln: A Biography, but I haven't gotten to it yet. It looks good, though :-)

Cindy Oh crud, that one looks good. Especially that people say White analyzes Lincoln's speeches.

message 8: by Meghan (new) - added it

Meghan What Jennifer said--awesome combo.

message 9: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Heard today that this book is being made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Just wanted to pass that information on to you.

Cindy Whoa, crazy. I wonder who will play Abe?

message 11: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Daniel Day Lewis is Abe and it is being filmed now, suppose to be released the end of next year.

Cindy Wow, great choice! If you have a link to a story, let me know!

message 13: by Brenda (new)

Brenda you might like to read Russell Banks' 'Cloudsplitter', a novel about John Brown. When I finished this book I wanted to get more of the Civil War story, and that led me to 'Team of Rivals'. I liked both of them, were each great reads.

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