Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Description

This multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history. Historian Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius, as the one-term congressman rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals to become president. When Lincoln emerged as the victor at the Republican National Convention, his rivals were dismayed. Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery led inexorably to civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was because of his 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 that enabled Lincoln to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union.… (more)

Media reviews

"We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet," Lincoln replied. "These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services." They were indeed strong men, Goodwin notes. "But in the end, it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all."
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"But this immense, finely boned book is no dull administrative or bureaucratic history; rather, it is a story of personalities -- a messianic drama, if you will -- in which Lincoln must increase and the others must decrease."

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals is panoramic and wonderful. The broad outlines of the story are well-known, but just in case, I'll give a Spoiler Alert, for those who don't want to know more about the book before reading it. And apologies in advance for the length of this - it's a big book!

It starts with Lincoln on the lawyer circuit in Illinois, gaining renown as a storyteller and orator. It then takes us through his adolescence and his marriage to Mary, and his astute jockeying for the Republican nomination over more celebrated and well-heeled rivals. After that is his election, and his forming of the cabinet of the best possible men from which the title derives, including those he defeated in the election. His attempts to avoid civil war, his learning to be commander-in-chief and to get the generals he needs to win the war (get out of here, McClellan!), the waging of the Civil War, and his brief time after its conclusion comprise the rest.

He famously educated himself, somehow overcoming that log cabin upbringing.

"Lincoln's book hunger was regarded as odd and indolent. Nor would his community understand the thoughts and emotions stirred by his reading; there were few to talk to about the most important and deeply experienced activities of his mind." He'd have been a great LTer, yes?

He even read geometry books, and worked on math problems in his office, to improve himself.

He lost loved ones early in life to disease - including his mother, his sister, and the great love of his life, Anne Rutledge. Contemporaries often remarked on his melancholy look that would become animated and sharply intelligent as soon as he began talking to people or telling stories. Seems like it would be hard not to be melancholy with what he experienced throughout his life - including those early losses, and the devastating war that he was responsible for, that killed over 600,000 Americans (out of 31.5 milllion in the country then), more than the rest of our wars put together.

The ubiquity of death by disease and in childbirth is staggering to read about. At the same time, families of nine and ten and more children were common - although those numbers would dwindle as family members were struck down by diseases such as tuberculosis. His wife Mary Todd's family had 16 children; her mother died in giving birth to her seventh child, and her stepmother had nine more children.

I loved learning that Lincoln was an irrepressible storyteller, constantly illustrating his points with down to earth stories, and Goodwin persuasively conveys his honesty, integrity, and personal charm. He was well aware of his physical deficiencies. When someone called him two-faced, he responded, "If I had two faces, do you really think I would have picked this one?" I read somewhere (not in this book) that he may have had Marfan's disease, a genetic disorder that causes unusual height and long, thin limbs.

A surprise for me was how personally vilified he was by rivals and skeptics, especially early in his career. "Ape", "long-armed gorilla", "imbecile", "second-rate Illinois lawyer", the list goes on and on. He came out of "nowhere" to be elected, and there were many who doubted his qualifications. Goodwin's portrayal of the rivals also is compelling - especially Salmon Chase, chock full of his belief in his wonderfulness and his predestination to be president, who instead became Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Seward, a beloved politician who was expected to carry the nomination easily and instead bitterly lost to Lincoln. Seward became Secretary of State and an admiring close friend of Lincoln. He ended up calling Lincoln, this unknown upstart from Illinois, "the best and wisest man he had ever known."

Goodwin's extensive research supports that conclusion. Lincoln's ability to keep his eye on the big picture, to defuse animosity and to cause opponents to work productively with him, reluctantly or enthusiastically, and his sense of timing, waiting for the opportune moment for success, all come through vividly. It is fascinating to watch Lincoln inch his way toward emancipation of the slaves and passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. His pragmatic approach, beginning with pushing for a restriction of slavery to those states in which it already existed and not permitting its extension to new states, to publicly proclaiming, to assuage fears, that slaves would not be given rights equal to whites, to advocating full equality, is a much fuller and thought-provoking story than I had known before reading this book. Even after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a carping congressman said, "Strange phenomenon in the world's history when a second-rate Illinois lawyer is the instrument to utter words which shall form an epoch memorable in all future ages."

Lincoln's astounding eloquence, as an "instrument to utter words", is heard throughout this book. I was happy that she gave us the Gettysburg address in full, and it is quite moving to read it in context. I can't say enough about what a good book this is. You finish wishing you had a chance to meet this great man, whose kindness to others was perhaps his most fundamental trait.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
Did you ever read a book when your heart just wasn’t in it? Everyone you know has raved about the book and you are left wondering what it is you failed to see. This has happened to me a couple of times lately (The Beautiful Mysterycomes immediately to mind, and I might be Louise Penny’s biggest fan and had waited impatiently for an entire year for its publication!) When I started reading Doris Kearnes Goodwin’s mammoth book about how Lincoln chose a cabinet comprised of men he had run against or whose policies ran counter to his own, I was fully expecting to be completely absorbed in a compelling narrative. Instead I all too often found myself, (yawn) having a hard time maintaining interest and every time I sat down with the book I noticed that in the time I would normally have knocked off a hundred pages in any other book, I was horrified to find I’d only read twenty or twenty five pages in this one. Keep in mind, the book is 754 pages without the end notes. I thought I’d never get to the end. I kept waiting for…..something ….anything…to click. And then it got to a battle of wills: I will finish this book and I will discover the “thing” that everyone else loves about this book. I WILL LOVE THIS BOOK!

Sadly, it all escaped me and I was left feeling simply disappointed. Yes the story is told from the humble beginnings of Lincoln’s early life and leads up to his unlikely nomination, over more qualified and much more experienced, candidates, by the Republican Party for the presidency in 1860. I think I knew all this already. It told how he brought together improbable individuals, particularly his former rivals for the nomination William Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon Chase. The rest of his cabinet came from the Democratic Party. Unusual, especially as compared to the tense and vociferous divide we have between today’s political parties, but again, no compelling narrative. Mary Lincoln is portrayed as a very unstable personality, verifying all that I already knew about her. And it broke my heart when she and the president lost their sweet son Willie. As the war rages we meet the incompetent McClellan, who my partner was just swearing at on the TV several months ago as he watched a program on the Military channel. At that time, he explained to me, in detail, the uselessness of the Civil War general, spoiling it for me to read about now. It’s not until Grant takes on a greater role that the war starts to turn in Lincoln’s direction. Interesting that Goodwin gave such short shrift to the bloodiest battle of the war. Only a couple paragraphs for the Battle of Gettysburg where over 50,000 soldiers gave their lives. That seems like a complete oversight for a book that almost drowns in tiny, insignificant details and minutiae.

The last hundred pages were the best part of the book. Well written, compelling, somehow suspenseful even though I (and everyone else) knows that Lincoln will be assassinated, and by whom, and how, and the collateral damage that will ensue, as well.

So I have no answers. I don’t know what made this book seem like a slog through knee-deep molasses with heavy rubber boots, but that’s how it came off to me, one lonely voice in a sea of over-exuberant admirers.
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LibraryThing member sjmccreary
The very substantial (over 900 pages in print or 42 hours in audio) examination of the political career of Abraham Lincoln. It begins with Lincoln's nomination as the Republican party's canditate for president in 1860, but then flashes back to examine the political paths that led Lincoln, and his 3 rivals for the nomination, to that point. It ends after Lincoln's death, but an epilogue briefly describes the life and accomplishments of those who had been closest to Lincoln until their own deaths.

The key point - at least in my mind - was that Lincoln was a natural politician. He had the innate ability to get people to do what he wanted them to do by making them believe that they also wanted the same thing. He was reasonable, always willing to listen to opposing viewpoints, but always making his own decision. He was a master at diffusing tense situations and potential scandals. He was humble, but not weak. He was generous whenever he could be. He was willing to give nearly anyone the benefit of the doubt in a given situation. He had the rare ability to see the strengths of men he disliked or disagreed with and was willing to give them appointments to high and powerful positions in the government if he believed they were the best men to serve the interests of the country.

I'm sure the book is not flawless and that a more learned historian would be able to point out inaccuracies. But I give the book 5 stars for its ability to make the political atmosphere of the day, the problems facing the nation and its people and its leaders, clear and easy to grasp by ordinary but interested readers. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member cushlareads
The good: if you don’t know much about the background to the US Civil War, you will by the end of this book. Goodwin describes events in great detail and I now feel equipped to read Battle Cry of Freedom, which I bought years ago and had a go at but got bogged down, and Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War by David Donald. There is lots of great material in this book - American politics in the 1850s and 1860s, changing attitudes to slavery, and the legal issues around secession and the slide into civil war. The book definitely gets better and the last 300 pages verged on gripping in places.

The bad: By choosing to write not just a straight biography of Lincoln, but instead to focus on some of his cabinet, we get to read the early lives of Chase (Treasury secretary), Bates (um... I forget), and Seward (secretary of state), as well as their every waking thought. These three guys were also in line to run for President in 1861. I could have done without much of this, or at least some heavy editing. Then Stanton (secretary of war) and Welles (secretary of the navy) get chucked into the mix later in the book. Others aren’t in it at all – I kept wondering what the VP, Hamlin, spent his time doing. Although I felt like Goodwin did a great job at making the characters distinct, there was so much repetition. Yes, I got it that Chase was desperate to be President until he ended up as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Yes, I got it that Seward and Lincoln started off as rivals for the Presidency – with Seward the favourite by a mile – and ended up working really well together and becoming very close. And Goodwin treats Kate Chase (Salmon’s daughter) like tabloids today treat Kate Middleton. I didn’t need to know all about her wedding and how long Lincoln stayed at the reception.

Lincoln was obviously an amazing guy but I found myself wanting Goodwin to write something – anything – negative. His ability to lead from the side comes through, as does his integrity most of the time. I’m not sure I’d describe him as a genius based on her book. I like a bit more criticism in my non-fiction. There just isn’t that much analysis in the book and the writing style had me falling asleep. And I’m not afraid of chunky non-fiction. And there wasn’t really that much about the horrific civil war either. Maybe Goodwin felt she wasn’t writing a history of the civil war and too much background would have made it even longer.
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LibraryThing member cyderry
I think I know Abraham Lincoln. This book has so many details and delves so deeply into the personality of Abraham Lincoln as well as his cabinet members that I feel as if I've actually met this man and what a great man he was.

This book reveals the private details of the lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln as well as William Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, Edwin Stanton, and Montgomery Blair during the time of the Civil War. The images of these great men depicted in this volume place the reader within the Lincoln's circle of confident antes so thoroughly that you feel that you are part of the decision making Team of Rivals.

Beyond that and because of that, you see every facet which made Lincoln the great man that he was. "His speeches possessed unmatched power, conviction, clarity and moral strength." Lincoln was always known for his humor as well as his drive, but the reader also sees his spirit of generosity, his gentleness, his ability to bring out the best in anyone. Lincoln was not a vain man and knew that there were abilities that he did not possess and so he turned to the men that he knew had those abilities and drew them to his support. He seem to know exactly how to convince his former rivals to become his friends and his allies. Each of these men wanted to be President and Lincoln "stole" the nomination in 1860. These men could have turned against him, but Lincoln used his abilities of persuasion and placed them in the position that aided in the preservation of the nation.

It is remarkable that a basically self-educated man was able to accomplish what he did at such a volatile time in our history. Men who served before and after him in the Presidency had more education, but perhaps, it is the spirit of the man, that in the end, succeeded where others would have failed. How sad that he was cut down before he was able to complete the task of reuniting our nation. History definitely would have been quite different.

Suzanne Toren on the Audio version (I had both hardback and audio) was tremendous making this 750+ page come alive.

I rarely give a book 5 stars, this one I couldn't give less - it should have more.
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LibraryThing member jcvogan1
A very well written book. Goodwin clearly thinks the world of Lincoln and some of her judgements about his political judgement being practically perfect strain credulity. The book does provide an excellent description about the challenges of building effective teams and putting the right people in the right place. The contrast with Bush is frightening.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes Tolstoy saying: “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.

When conservatives aren't trying to co-opt Lincoln as a Republican in order to entice the votes of Democrats, they often decry him as a usurper of state's rights and seem to dislike him as much as they do Obama, and for good reason. Both men seemed weak at times because they strove so hard for political compromise putting the good of the country above the desires of even their most ardent supporters. Both seem without vengeance in dealing with those who oppose them. But what is hated about both is that they promoted human rights above economic rights.

Goodwin's book explains the meaning of the Gettysburg address and Lincoln's 2nd inaugural address so that even those of us who had to memorize them in school finally understand the enormity of his words. And stupid John Wilkes Booth who so loved the South did it immeasurable damage by expressing his vengeance in killing the man who may have been able to bring the country together at the end of the Civil War: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about US history and about the contributions one person can make to the world.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
As of this writing, there are 90 other reviews of this book on LibraryThing, so detailed descriptions of its content would seem rather superfluous...let me just cut to my opinion: this is easily one of my most absorbing reads for this year.

It didn't start that way. The first few chapters were interesting but it was easy to set the book down for one reason or another. I enjoyed the content but it had a bit of an episodic feel to it as the author moved from Lincoln to Seward to Chase to Bates and back, round robin.

All that changed when we reached May, 1860 and all the figures were drawn into a single story. From Lincoln's surprise nomination as the Republican candidate for the Presidency onward, I felt as if Doris Kearns Goodwin had plunked me down as a fly on the wall and I was actually there. Lincoln and his cabinet became real and only the demands of my job or my eyes closing of their own accord kept me from opening it. I feel that, although she is obviously a bit in love with her main character, Goodwin accomplished the objective of the book's subtitle, showing us the political genius of Lincoln. More than just a history lesson—however analytical and in-depth such a lesson might be—she manages to convey the certainty that this was, perhaps, the only man who could have navigated the country through those years intact and that his assassination in 1865 cost both the North and the South in the following years.

Beyond Lincoln, she also gives us the members of his cabinet. Some remain relatively minor participants in the drama, but Seward, Stanton and Chase leap into life...no longer just names but fleshed out figures whom I can admire (for the first two) or faintly despise (the third).

For anyone even vaguely interested in the era, the people or the war, this is a must-read.
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LibraryThing member Dorritt
Just – wow! Admit I approached this enormous volume with some trepidation – could even a subject as vast and fascinating as the life and death of Abraham Lincoln hold my interest for so long? The answer is a resounding yes! This riveting and superbly-told tale of Lincoln’s life and political career not only held my interest: it kept me up nights, pinned me at home on beautiful weekend afternoons, and had me turning down invitations for lunch so that I could bolt down my food while reading.

Obviously, Doris Kearns Goodwin is a wonderful storyteller. But it helps that her protagonist is such an extraordinary individual. Over and over again I was amazed by Lincoln’s wisdom, his decency, his patience, and his extraordinary political acumen. Goodwin’s intent here, it’s pretty clear, is to focus on the latter of these attributes. While most Americans know of Lincoln’s moral courage, his social legacy, and (of course) his exemplary oratorical skills, few (I’m betting) fully appreciate his political genius. Over and over again he pulls political miracles out of his hat – extracting victory from defeat, forging unforgeable compromises – armed with little more than an unwavering moral compass, an encompassing empathy, humility, patience, and a seemingly endless stock of jokes, puns, and folksy anecdotes. Few anecdotes illustrate his politicla genius as clearly as the fact that he staffed the major posts of his new cabinet with political rivals …. or that, in time, those same rivals became his most adamant supporters.

I thought I had a fairly good background knowledge of Lincoln’s life and his administration, but by the end of the second chapter I jettisoned this misconception. Goodwin’s scholarship is as exceptional as her storytelling skills. Scarcely a page passed without exposing me to some startling new bit of information, constantly enhancing and challenging my preconceived notions.

There are so many lessons here that I wish modern politicians would embrace: do the right thing for the right reasons, no matter how unpopular; always allow your political opponents to save face; invite – don’t avoid (or worse, squash)- dissenting opinions; compromise always trumps conflict; and, above all, always put the good of the nation above your own personal ambitions. Alas, since our politicians seem to be too busy doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, humiliating each other, squashing dissenting opinions, seeking out conflict, and placing their own interests above those of the country, perhaps it’s up to us U.S. citizens to absorb the lessons from this book on their behalf and then let them know the standards against which we intend to hold them accountable!

I don’t give out many 5 star ratings, but if I could give this 6 stars, I would. This is one of those rare volumes that has permanently changed the way that I view our country, our political system, our destiny, and – above all – the potential of ordinary Americans to accomplish extraordinary things.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Someone gave this to my husband for Christmas and I had no intentions of reading it as I'm a fiction lover at heart. American history has never been especially interesting to me; however, I picked this up just to thumb through but found myself reading the first chapter and then couldn't put it down. I've learned more American History than I did in all my high school or college.

The author does a great job in blending the political and personal. After all, political leaders are much of what they are because of personalities and add that to the culture of the times and one begins to get a much more interesting and insightful view of why things happened the way they did. The Civil War was a complicated affair; it wasn't just a case of the good guys fighting the bad guys and it certainly wasn't just about slavery.

In short, I would highly recommend this book to anyone especially those fiction lovers who normally don't consider non-fiction.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
I have always loved and admired Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure exactly why, but he was certainly one of those people that we studied often in school. Later, the more I read of his words, the more I found to admire. But I have such a profound respect for him after reading this book.

I think what I learned most from this book is that his very qualities that made him such a great man - his generosity, his good humor, his even temper, his kindness, his drive, his affection - were the qualities that made him a great leader. He was able to work with just about anyone. He tried to bring out the best in people, but if they were still unwilling to cooperate, he usually found ways to get around them. His best friend was a man who could have been his worst enemy.

I admit that I cried when I read about Lincoln's death. It wasn't exactly a surprise ending, but it still made me cry as I read of his death, and even more when I read of how deeply he was mourned by all who knew him. Every man in his cabinet was deeply saddened by the loss of a man they each considered a friend.

For a man who was very private about his own religious beliefs and could not accept the existence of an afterlife, I can't help but believe that Abraham Lincoln was preserved by God for the very task he accomplished. It's hard to imagine another man who could have saved the union and end slavery at the same time. It is a miracle that he was able to accomplish as much as he did, and although his convictions cost him his life, Lincoln himself would have thought that a very small price to pay for his country. 5 stars
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LibraryThing member jburlinson
So much has been written about the events recounted in this book; at this point in time, all the facts, as such, are known. So what else is to be done, what more can be said? One or more of three things, it seems to me. Re-interpretation, for instance; although it's getting hard to come up with something new to say, it's not completely impossible. Or, one could re-combine the facts in a way that might shine a special light on some aspect that, perhaps, has, I say again, perhaps, been underemphasized. Or, one could try to tell the same tale better than anyone else has before, either in terms of literary style or communicative skill, if there is any difference. Goodwin has focused on the second and third of these options, it seems to me. Her theme is Lincoln's skill, genius if you will, in manipulating people, whether friends or enemies. He was extraordinarily successful at this, particularly in the political realm. The consequences in terms of national policy or military accomplishment, however, are debatable, to say the least. The first part of the book is the best, as Goodwin contrasts the early lives of the four leading contenders for the Republican nomination in 1860: Lincoln, William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates. Then, Goodwin settles into a straightforward chronicle of the War, with a spotlight on doings in the cabinet. Finally, and disappointingly, she succumbs to Lincoln hagiography. Never having tried, I guess it's very hard to write anything about Lincoln without ending up on your knees, although at least Gore Vidal only descended to one knee. But, then, he was overtly writing fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member read.to.live
I found this book to be a quick and easy read, despite its length. It's well written, well-organized, and easy to follow. The focus on the interaction between Lincoln's cabinet members is an interesting angle that totally justifies the time spent introducing the main characters. In fact, unlike many of the reviewers on this site, I found the pre-story (1860 and earlier) to be the most compelling and tightly written part of the book. After the war starts, the focus on the cabinet fades, which seems like a wasted opportunity after such a solid introduction.

My other disappointment in the book was the lack of focus on the Cabinet's reaction to events on the battlefield. For example, in Kearns, the Battle of Shiloh gets less than one sentence: "After a ghastly battle at Shiloh two months later left twenty thousand casualties on both sides, the Union would go on to secure Memphis and the entire state of Tennessee."

Twenty thousand casualties was a watershed at that time, but if we were to go by Kearns' book, the Cabinet never discussed it.

In contrast, after a 30-page narrative of the Battle of Shiloh, here is how Shelby Foote concludes: Total casualties in all three of the nation's previous wars -- the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War: 10623+6765+5885 -- were 23273. Shiloh's totaled 23741, and most of them were Grant's . . . [Grant] later said quite frankly that, from Shiloh on, "I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest."

Of course, Kearn's book is not the place for the narrative we find in Shelby Foote, but in a book about the workings of Lincoln's cabinet, I would have liked to learn what Lincoln, Seward, Stanton, and Welles thought and said about the battle. Instead we're treated to a three-page discussion of the wedding of a cabinet member's daughter, and other gossip about various ways Mary Lincoln insulted various cabinet members and their families.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to this book for introducing me to some of the major characters in the cabinet, whom I hope to find the time to get to know better in other biographies. Also, its description of the months between the election of 1860 and Fort Sumter does a great job of highlighting just how taken aback the Republicans were by the South's desire to secede. This turning point in history has always puzzled me, and I appreciate how Kearns has contributed to my understanding of the clash of cultures that brought on the war.
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LibraryThing member themistocles480
All I could think about when I got this book was "great another book about Lincoln as President." I did not expect any new information or insight. I am pleased to state that I was wrong. A truly insightful and important book that is now a must read in both the Lincoln cannon and the history of the Civil War. It is a very good view of Lincoln as the master politician something we tend to forget in our idolatry. Lincoln was human and had to make very difficult decisions all the while confronting a cabinet of primadonnas that all thought they could do the job better. However, it is also clear that the the cabinet did think Lincoln a well meaning baboon, they also learned to respect him and managed for 4 very turbulent years work together to preserve the union.… (more)
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Before reading this marvellous, comprehensive yet eminently accessible biography I was lamentably ignorant about the life of Abraham Lincoln - I knew that he was tall and that he was assassinated (Oops! Sorry if that spoils the ending for anyone!), but very little else. Professor Goodwin's excellent book has certainly remedied that.

The "Team of Rivals" to which the title alludes was the four leading contenders (Lincoln, William Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon Chase) for the Republican nomination for the 1860 Presidential election. It was a great testament to Lincoln's personal charisma that he was able to secure the cooperation of the three people whom he defeated to secure that nomination, and then to induce them to serve in his Cabinet. Professor Goodwin details the prior history of all four rivals, and we see the whole panoply of class and family prosperity laid out. Perhaps the only things they shared in common were their growing hatred of slavery and their heavy baggage of personal tragedy ... and their sheer determination to improve (themselves and their people).

She also offers a concise, yet still appalling, history of slavery within the United States. One aspect of my previous ignorance of the details of Lincoln's life was reflected in my subscription to the general canonisation of him. I was, therefore, surprised to find that while Lincoln abhorred the practice of slavery, he was less emphatic in his acknowledgement of freed slaves' rights for absolutely equal treatment. For instance, as late as 1860 he was still unconvinced of the appropriateness of African-Americans serving as jurors. Indeed, within the Team of Rivals it was William Seward who took the lead on seeking untrammelled equality of rights.

Professor Goodwin covers the Civil War with great clarity, evoking the horror of a nation torn in two but never clogging the reader's attention with unnecessary detail. Similarly, her coverage of the passage of the key legislation through the two Houses is handled sensitively, and the potentially dry material relating to political process is handled in a lively way.

I wish that more biographies managed to achieve Professor Goodwin's adept combination of scholarly depth and clarity of expression.
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LibraryThing member bigmoose
A beautifully researched and written history of Lincoln's times and interactions with his cabinet and other government officials. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in U.S. History. Getting to know and understand this particular president is a worthy endeavor.

From page 624: at the time of his reelection campaign, Lincoln was nominated by his party during a convention attended by over 20,000 republicans. One prominent republican bolted the party to start his own and campaign for the presidency. Upon hearing that their convention, nominating John C. Fremont to oppose him, was attended by only 400 supporters, Lincoln was reminded of a scripture. Turning to 1 Samuel 22:2, he read to his associates, "And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men." And, so, was the way of our 16th president to always have at the ready a humorous response to almost every situation.

The story on page 747-48 about Leo Tolstoy in 1908 visiting a far flung wilderness in North Caucasus is astounding. The tribal chief gathered family around to listen to the great author and asked that Tolstoy relate the history of the great leaders of the world. After expounding on the greatness of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Tolstoy was surprised by the chief's response that he had left out the greatest of all, Abraham Lincoln. Such was the reach and legend of this great leader born of the American plains.
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LibraryThing member frederikv
Focusing on the intriguing choices made by Lincoln as his cabinet members, this account of the US civil war period is a good read. The book deviates a little from its main purpose throughout the high-level account of the civil war that is included. In that section, we learn a bit about the relationship that Lincoln had with his generals. That isn't the best worked out part of the book though. In a way, one could skip this part altogether and still capture the main message of the book: Lincoln was a master at putting the right people in the right place politically.… (more)
LibraryThing member PointedPundit
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
A Unique Look at a Presidential Administration

Team of Rivals
By Doris Kearns Goodwin
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 4594 KB
Print Length: 944 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (December 20, 2006)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B000N2HBSO
Rating – 5 stars

Abraham Lincoln’s political life has been the subject of many books. Yet with Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin provides a unique and provactive look.

Much of what she covers is familiar. Yet this book is more than another Lincoln biography. It is a multi-faceted reviewof the entire team of personal and political competitors that he assembled to lead the country through its greatest crisis – The American Civil War. She profiles five of the key players in her book, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and all of whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet - Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, William H. Seward and Edward Bates.

The author provides insight into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin presents a case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with cabinet selections, three of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: Seward, Chase, and Bates. These nationally known, accomplished men, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience Each was shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer.

Yet Lincoln convinced them to join his administration. He gained their admiration and respect. The tale of his soothing egos, turning rivals into allies, and dealing with challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, defines the book. Without the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, the author argues, Lincoln would have failed to lead the nation through one of its darkest chapters.

Well-written and throughly researched, this book was a joy to read. Its only negative is when the reader compares Lincoln leadership style to that we have experienced in this country during the past two decades. It leaves the reader to ponder why gifted individuals no longer aspire to public service.

Penned by the Pointed Pundit
June 11, 2008
10:59:57 AM.
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LibraryThing member keely_chace
Kearns Goodwin's "team" approach with this Lincoln biography reflects our great poet president's approach to people and politics. I was fascinated throughout, both by her rendering of Lincoln's personality, and also the bigger picture she paints in telling the story of the men Lincoln gathered to himself alongside his own story. I'm glad I chose this book to fill in the depth I missed out on in history class.… (more)
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
This is one of the most enjoyable history books I have read in years. At first I thought, "who needs another Lincoln biography?" but Goodwin takes a very interesting tack with Lincoln, looking at his interaction with his cabinet to get a handle on who Lincoln was. Excellent.
LibraryThing member rvhatha
I can't say anything more articulate than what other reviewers have already written, except to say that I found myself far more engrossed in and moved by this book than I ever imagined possible. I am by no means a history buff, and I feared this would be a tedious account of every battle of the Civil War--but it was really a character study of Lincoln and the members of his cabinet. I came away feeling awed and humbled by Lincoln's magnanimity, humanity, empathy, and willingness to be challenged and to challenge his own thinking. I can see why Goodwin admitted to Stephen Colbert that she found Lincoln sexy! At the very least, he's become a real hero of mine via this remarkable book.… (more)
LibraryThing member ncunionist
No doubt a very good book, and starts out very solid. Thanks for rescuing Bates from the political graveyard. But the interactions of Lincoln and members of his cabinet have been examined and fairly well by David H. Donald and others. No new ground in those interactions. Both before Lincoln's presidency and during. And the major flaw in the work is that the paradigm set up by the author, the team of rivals, frays apart as Lincoln asserts his political will on the group. Only Chase remains a rival but then again he is off the team. Once that focal point for the lens is moved, as one after another the rivals either fall under Lincoln's sway or are eliminated from the team, the work has no central argument. But the author fails to end the tale where the team of rivals succumb. Instead we plod along to Lincoln's death, long after the interpretive frame of the piece is AWOL. Still, I would recommend it to others.… (more)
LibraryThing member Joycepa
With the immense number of books written about Abraham Lincoln, one would think that there is hardly room for another. Yet Goodwin has written a superb addition to the literature on Lincoln, examining the relationships, not only between Lincoln and his Cabinet members, three of whom were his rivals for the 1860 Republican nomination, but among the Cabinet members themselves, showing how Lincoln was aware of the differences and tensions and managed to extract from each man the best that man had to offer the country.

The first part of the book examines the lives of the four candidates up until the 1860 Republican convention: William Henry Seward from New York, considered at the time an abolitionist; Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, a radical Republican; Edward Bates of Missouri, a slave-holding, conservative Republican, and Lincoln himself, a moderate from Illinois. In a series of chapters, she recounts the lives and political development of each man in turn; in “longing to Rise”, she brings the story of each to young adulthood; in “The Lure of Politics”, what brought each of them into public service; and continues, in succeeding chapters to follow each through the turbulent years preceding 1860. She gives her greatest attention in each chapter to Lincoln, but the accounts of the other men are extremely absorbing.

I found this structure disturbing, because all four men were fascinating characters; I’d just settle in with Seward, in, for example, “The Lure of Politics”, when suddenly Goodwin would shift to Bates or to Chase, which jarred me. But it did give a sense of contemporaneity to the accounts; you really are following each man up until the fateful year of 1860, not just reading a biography of each. The accounts are excellent on pointing up both similarities and differences in attitudes and approaches to the major question of the day, which was slavery. During those early chapters, you also meet important political figures such as Thurlow Weed, Charles Sumner and others who, if reading biographies of the 4 men separately, would not not appear in one or more of them.

The story of the Republican nomination is well known, but Goodwin adds details of errors made by Seward, Chase’s delusions of support, and Bates’ lack of organization that really fill out and explain what happened at the convention--how Lincoln, who was not quite the unknown as most believe, and his managers snatched the nomination away from Seward (Bates and Chase never really had a chance although they were in the running). It is a marvel of good writing coupled with enough drama for a novel in itself.

Goodwin thoroughly goes into Lincoln’s reasons for choosing his Cabinet the way he did; there really is nothing new there, but what is new and fascinating is the way those chosen viewed not only the President but each other. Lincoln had the most incredibly disparate and divided group of human beings to ever fill those positions: radical, moderate and conservative Republicans, war Democrats, the works--many of whom at least in the beginning viewed themselves as far better equipped to run the country than Lincoln. Throughout the book, in a masterful way, Goodwin recounts the shifting alliances and perceptions, the rivalries, and the antagonisms; she is especially good at portraying Chase, who was a brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, who was obsessively driven by his need to be President, as a man of little to no integrity while posturing as the purest of abolitionists and one who had only the country in mind. Chase winds up as a despicable character--something Lincoln knew well and did not lose sight of but for whom he had understanding; his handling of Chase alone is a marvel. Throughout all this we see other, lesser known figures and the roles they played. Montgomery Blair was the Postmaster General, from a politically powerful Maryland slave-holding family. The family home of his father, Frank Blair, is now the official guest house of the government and the place where the President-elect and his family stays just before the inauguration. Gideon Welles from New England was the extremely competent Secretary of the Navy. Edwin Stanton, the gruff, irascible Secretary of War performed miracles in handling the army. Bates was the Attorney General and played a crucial role in providing Lincoln with the legal opinions he needed, especially on the war powers of the Presidency, which Lincoln used to publish the Emancipation Proclamation. Goodwin makes it clear that with the exception of Chase, who was blinded by ambition, all of Lincoln’s cabinet, including later additions, loved and respected Lincoln; Seward was Lincoln’s best friend.

The story of the war years in any decent writer’s hands is a page-turner, and Goodwin handles it well, weaving the political and military situation in with the accounts of Lincoln’s dealings with the Cabinet, with Congress, with the armies, and with the people. She demonstrates Lincoln’s genius at never getting ahead of the people, but preparing them for those leaps forward, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he believed. The tension of the summer of 1864, in which it appeared that Lincoln would lose the election is well-done; and Goodwin really pulls a coup by making it clear that the fall of Atlanta, which happened 3 days after the Democratic convention that nominated McClellan as its candidate, was a perfect piece of timing on Fate’s part to give Lincoln the election.

Everyone knows the ending to the story. I, for one, can never keep from crying. For 143 years, the United States paid the price of Lincoln’s assassination.

Most accounts of Lincoln’s death end, as Goodwin’s does, with Stanton’s famous “Now he belongs to the ages”. But most accounts do not give any details of the attempt on Seward’s life, which was part of the assassination plot; Seward and his son Fred were so gravely injured that it was thought both men would die. Others in the house at the time, including a soldier who was stationed to guard Seward, were badly injured as well.

The book ends with an epilogue that briefly recounts the lives of the major characters in the drama. Seward lived to remain as Secretary of State under a much, much lesser man, Andrew Johnson, and satisfied himself with yet another controversial act in a controversial career, the purchase of Alaska, widely know as Seward’s Folly. Bates retired from public life. Chase schemed unsuccessfully to the end to become president. Stanton basically worked himself to death. Mary Lincoln never recovered from Lincoln’s death. After living in the blazing light of one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known, they ended up as ordinary mortals, with ordinary lives and deaths.

Team of Rivals is a brilliant book.
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LibraryThing member BookMarkMe
The Team of Rivals was my introduction to the life of Abraham Lincoln. I admit to being an Englishman with a profound ignorance of American History and read this shortly after Battle Cry of Freedom. I believe the two complement each other without great overlap.

I cannot comment on the accuracy of the author’s views being little read on the subject but from page 1 the author captured my interest in her subject with her bright, clear and seemingly authoritative knowledge of Lincoln’s life, times and equally importantly those around him.

She managed to achieve an unusual feat in a non fiction work, she had me engaged with her characters, I had an emotional attachment to them, this I only realised myself, during the chapter on Lincoln’s death.

I can now understand why American’s are justly proud of their 16th President, and I am thankful to The Team of Rivals for my introduction.
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LibraryThing member dudara
The whole world knows a little bit about Abraham Lincoln. Emancipator and US president during the American Civil War, he is a revered figure. When I visited Washington D.C. last December, the most impressive memory I have is of the Lincoln Memorial. Standing, looking up at the huge seated statue of Lincoln, I felt a sense of benevolence and watchfulness.

Preparations were underway while we in Washington for the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black man to hold the office of the President of the United States. You would have to wonder what Old Abe would have made of it all. Obama often cites Lincoln as an inspirational figure and the cover of Team of Rivals is emblazoned with the words "The book that inspired Barack Obama".

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a famous historical writer who has taken a fresh look at the life and politics of Lincoln. She has chosen to view his achievements by studying his cabinet, a range of diverse men who Lincoln deliberately appointed to positions of power despite their opposing views. Three of his cabinet had been opposing rivals for the Republican candidacy and all had considered Lincoln to be a backwards country lawyer. Firstly, there was William Seward, the expected nominee, who Lincoln later appointed as Secretary of State. Seward initially expected to act as "the power behind the throne" but later came to consider Lincoln as one of his closest friends. Secondly, Salmon Chase, an ambitious man who desperately wanted to be president. Appointed Secretary of the Treasury, he raised much needed funds for the Union during the Civil War yet still strove for the presidency. The third candidate was Edward Bates, a kind genial family man who Lincoln appointed as Attorney General.

When it came to appointing his Secretary of War, Lincoln turned to Edwin Stanton. Stanton was a famous lawyer who had once dismissed Lincoln in a famous patent case. Yet when it came time to appointing his generals, Lincoln held no grudge and called on Stanton as the best man for the job.

Lincoln corralled a diverse range of men, and unified them into a strong and cohesive leadership during one of the toughest times faced by the United States. It is testament to his leadership and empathy, and lack of grudges, that by the time he died, all men considered him a true friend and a gifted leader.

This book is an amazing insight on so many levels. Initially, it reveals the immense talents of Lincoln, but on a deeper level, the talents of Lincoln provide many guidelines for modern business and politics. It is a truly great work and will continue to ensure that the legacy of Lincoln will "belong to the ages".
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