Book review

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham LincolnTeam of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by the author, and thought it excellent. (Authors as narrators is a not always complimentary concept, but in this case, Goodwin herself proved worthy as both author and narrator.) This biography of not only Abraham Lincoln but key cabinet members – including Henry Seward, Salman P. Chase, and Edward Bates – was intricately-detailed and I can understand why it was 10 years in the writing. I looked forward to listening to it on my hikes and during my commute and didn’t want it to end. I have now have a much deeper understanding of our 16th President. The book could easily have been titled, And Malice Toward None because Lincoln indeed truly embodied this practice and philosophy, it appears, in every aspect of his life. He had so many reasons to dislike so many (I, for one, wanted to choke Salman P. Chase for much of the book for his underhandedness toward Lincoln’s good nature and I felt the same toward General McClellan), yet he refused to do so and treated all with almost a supernatural magnanimity. Truthfully, I find myself now trying to harbor less malice towards those to whom I would normally feel it is rightfully deserved. I find myself trying to live by Lincoln’s example.

Many excerpts from the book stand out for me. For example, I found myself early on in the book relating to his love of reading and of literature. I absorbed the fact (once again) that he schooled himself at home. (I remember a sketch of Lincoln from my childhood reading on the floor by the light of a candle.)

“Allowed to attend school only ‘by littles’ between stints of farmwork, ‘the aggregate of all his schooling,’ Lincoln admitted years later, ‘did not amount to one year.’ He had never even set foot ‘inside of a college or academy building’ until he acquired his license to practice law. What he had in the way of education…he had to pick up on his own. Books became his academy, his college. The printed word united his mind with the great minds of generations past. Relatives and neighbors recalled that he scoured the countryside for books and read every volume ‘he could lay his hands on.’…[G]aining access to reading material proved difficult. When Lincoln obtained copies of the King James Bible, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables,…[and] Lessons in Elocution, he could not contain his excitement. Holding Pilgrim’s Progress in his hands, ‘his eyes sparkled, and that day he could not eat, and that night he could not sleep.”

At one point, as I arrived home with the book playing, I parked and left the car running, remaining riveted to my seat because (even though I obviously knew the outcome) I was just about to hear the nomination at the Chicago Republican Convention of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency and, oh, what a story it was!

Near the end of the book as the assassination neared, having grown to love the President even more (for in the reading of the book, Lincoln became a great man in my eyes, even greater than all the abstractions from my childhood history books), I dreaded his going to Ford’s Theater. And, when he was gone, my brain and heart could hardly bare it. Silly me – even 150 years after the event, I found myself wishing that it could be avoided, that it hadn’t happened. I immediately put the tragedy on the “surreal shelf” because I couldn’t, at the time of the reading, consider it as the reality it was. Is.

Team of Rivals is beautiful in its ability to simply tell the story of the humble greatness of Abraham Lincoln.

Anyone interested in American History or Lincoln, specifically, or the Civil War, or who wishes to visit Civil War sites, would glean much inspiration and knowledge from this book.