Reader reviews for Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

I don't want to say much here except that this was an absolutely fantastic book. I usually enjoy history, but I don't think I've ever read a non-fiction book that was so hard to put down. The book reads like an epic novel. Read it now if you love history.
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And I thought I knew enough about Abraham Lincoln. Doris Kearns Goodwin brings to life Lincoln, the major political figures of his day, and the major issues. She also recaps the history of attempts to deal with slavery through the first half of the nineteenth century. I understand American history much more thoroughly after reading this book.
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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.
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A history lesson that reads like a fast‐paced novel. A great and true tale about the astonishing courage of America's greatest President.
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As good as everyone says. Well-researched, well-written, completely absorbing. It probably helps a little that I have a tiny crush on Lincoln, but this book doesn't need much help, if any.
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Don't blame Doris Kearns Goodwin for my mediocre 3.5-star assessment. She did an admirable job capturing the "essence" of Abe, including his brilliant strategy of including his rivals in the Washington power structure. I found the first part of the book (pre-presidency and the transition) utterly fascinating. Ditto for the final section. My problem is that I've just never been a student of the American Civil War. "Team of Rivals," for completely justifiable reasons, focuses many of its pages chronicling a variety of battles. Put simply, I lost interest in the middle of the book. Still, I learned quite a bit about Lincoln, his family and the era.
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Wonderful author, great subject, incredible human being....how lucky we were.
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A fabulous book describing the administration of Lincoln's tenure as president. Taken from both republican and democratic perties thie group lead the country during the Civil War and overcame their own prejudices to save the Union. five stars
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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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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.
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