Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The cover blurb on this 2009 re-issue of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team Of Rivals (first published in 2005), raves that this is the ‘book that inspired Barack Obama’. That was enough for me to want to read this hefty tome on ‘The political genius of Abraham Lincoln’.

I know next to nothing about Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War, so Team Of Rivals provided a bit of a crash course. I’m glad I started my course on the American Civil War with this book.

The great thing about Goodwin’s biography / history of Lincoln and all the other major players of his administration, including the influential women that provided counsel and advice to these men, is that it is so vividly brought to life. The author effortlessly weaves so many quotes into her narrative, and finely paints in so many small, day-to-day details, that you feel like you are physically there at all the important events described. This makes every page of this 750 page history compelling reading.

As for the character of Lincoln, he is almost like a ‘grown up’, trying to temper the vanities, ambitions and human foibles of the men who composed his cabinet into a working political machine. His political genius was not to harbour any grudges, and to be of a magnanimous character. The more you read of him in this book, the more and more you come to deeply respect this extraordinary figure.

The lesson Lincoln teaches is that everything is not always about you, and that you must put your vanity to one side, as there are human and historical events that are of more importance than your own ambitions.

I also liked how he said you must be patient, and wait for the times to be propitious. Lincoln never attempted anything without first having public sympathy on side.

The last chapter of the book, which details Lincoln’s last weeks before his assassination were absolutely riveting. I never knew a triple assassination was planned for the Secretary of State and Vice President as well.

The epilogue details what happened to the other major characters. I audibly gasped when I came to the last page, and discovered that poor Mrs Lincoln, after suffering so much grief at the loss of her son Willie, and then her husband, had to deal with losing another son, Tad, at the age of eighteen. It seemed incomprehensible to me that fate could be so cruel. Mary Lincoln virtually went mad in her final days, and ended her life a virtual recluse.

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