Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Abraham Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometow...

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Title:Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Author:Doris Kearns Goodwin
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Edition Language:English

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Reviews

  • Ellis

    I would have given this book more stars if I could have. I think I loved this book so much because Abraham Lincoln was such an absolutely amazing person. We are all taught that Lincoln was one of America's great presidents, and we know that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but he is so much greater of a man than I ever knew. Lincoln was super smart, wise, and incredibly compassionate and empathetic. While unsure of his own faith, Lincoln, through his own care for others, was so much more

    I would have given this book more stars if I could have. I think I loved this book so much because Abraham Lincoln was such an absolutely amazing person. We are all taught that Lincoln was one of America's great presidents, and we know that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but he is so much greater of a man than I ever knew. Lincoln was super smart, wise, and incredibly compassionate and empathetic. While unsure of his own faith, Lincoln, through his own care for others, was so much more of a Christ-like person than the overtly pious self-righteous Salmon Chase (Lincoln's former rival and Secretary of the Treasury who, while disparaging of others characters, allowed himself to be uncritical of his own unethical actions [much like our current president - in my opinion]).

    This book showed Mary Lincoln in a better light than I had expected. I had always had the impression that Mary was a real stinker, and while she definitely had her faults that must have been caused real difficulties for the president, she also had many good qualities. One thing that impressed me is how she personally gave service to soldiers while not allowing any of her kind actions to be made known to the Washington social elite. While Mary may not have always been easy to live with, I felt kind of bad for her since she suffered from such severe migraines and depression. Who's to say for sure, but this book left me with the impression that Mary probably really tried to be a good gal despite her mental/physical problems.

    I did like the point of view of this book. Telling the history of Lincoln's political and personal life inclusive with the lives of his opponents-turned-collaborators not only gave a more complete view of the times and happenings of the mid 1800s, but it demonstrated in a few cases what Lincoln did so widely, humbly, and deftly; turn those against him into believers and supporters of his work.

    One interesting thing that Lincoln did that I loved about him, and can't stand about George W. Bush, is that Lincoln, while not being dishonest, again unlike our current president, used much political slide-of-hand to get things done. I guess the biggest difference between Lincoln and some of our modern politicians is that while this technique is used today to cover up wrongdoings or cheating, Lincoln used it to help bring unity back to the nation and freedom to all people.

  • Dana Stabenow

    I heard Goodwin talk about this book on NPR, and she sounded like she'd been an eyewitness to the events. Sold me the book.

    On June 17th--I've been a hundred pages from the end for ten days. I don't want Abe to die.

    July 17th -- Okay, I finally made myself finish. Abe's dead and I'm a wreck.

    In this book Goodwin puts Abraham Lincoln in the context of his peers, many of whom ran against him for the first Republican nomination for president (remember they'd just invented that party) and one of whom,

    I heard Goodwin talk about this book on NPR, and she sounded like she'd been an eyewitness to the events. Sold me the book.

    On June 17th--I've been a hundred pages from the end for ten days. I don't want Abe to die.

    July 17th -- Okay, I finally made myself finish. Abe's dead and I'm a wreck.

    In this book Goodwin puts Abraham Lincoln in the context of his peers, many of whom ran against him for the first Republican nomination for president (remember they'd just invented that party) and one of whom, Stanton, had treated him with outright contempt in a law case years before. Seward accepted the job of Secretary of State thinking Lincoln would be his puppet, and Chase literally ran his second campaign for president out of the Department of the Treasury. Lincoln understood them all, tolerated them all, put them all to work for the nation that needed them so badly, and jollied, coaxed, cajoled and reasoned them all to victory. A reporter asked him how he could take all these vipers to his bosom and Lincoln replied that these were the best and most able men available and their country needed them, and that he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't put them to work for it. There can't be anyone who has ever occupied the Oval Office more selfless than Abe.

    This book is wonderfully written, accessible even to the most casual reader, full of humor and choler and kindness and vitriol, and wisdom. Goodwin has that ability known only to the best historians (David McCullough does, too) to pluck the exact quote necessary from the record to illuminate the scene she is describing, and make the transition from past to present seamless. Listen to Goodwin on Lincoln in his 1862 state of the union address (pp. 406-7):

    The American Dream, articulated, in words guaranteed to be understood by everyone. You close this book knowing not just about these people, you actually feel like you know them, especially Abe.

    Impossible, after reading this book, not to wonder what our nation would look like had Lincoln survived his second term. Impossible not to grieve his loss.

  • Sue

    Put aside whatever you're reading now--yes, even those compelling vampire/romance books--and pick up this book. It's that good. Even though Goodwin is writing about Lincoln's cabinet, her work is eerily contemporary, given Obama's situation. Everyone but a handful of people thought Lincoln had risen too fast and was too untried to take charge of a desperate crises facing the country. Goodwin uses the main characters' diaries, letters, journals, and speeches to show how that opinion gradually cha

    Put aside whatever you're reading now--yes, even those compelling vampire/romance books--and pick up this book. It's that good. Even though Goodwin is writing about Lincoln's cabinet, her work is eerily contemporary, given Obama's situation. Everyone but a handful of people thought Lincoln had risen too fast and was too untried to take charge of a desperate crises facing the country. Goodwin uses the main characters' diaries, letters, journals, and speeches to show how that opinion gradually changed. If Obama has half of Lincoln's greatness of heart, we are in good hands.

  • David Baldacci

    This is the book that the film “Lincoln” is somewhat based on. President Obama has said that he looks to Lincoln as a model leader. He should. In TEAM OF RIVALS Lincoln brings genius to the adage “friends close, enemies closer.”

  • Steve

    When Rod Blagojevich was impeached and hauled off to prison, that made four of the previous seven Illinois governors to have done time. Countless representatives and aldermen have been locked up, too. Then there was my wife’s favorite: a former Secretary of State found after his death to have $800,000 stuffed in shoe boxes. Our reputation for corrupt politicians is, I dare say, unsurpassed. Fortunately, we here in the Land of Lincoln (as we call it on our license plates) have one historical figu

    When Rod Blagojevich was impeached and hauled off to prison, that made four of the previous seven Illinois governors to have done time. Countless representatives and aldermen have been locked up, too. Then there was my wife’s favorite: a former Secretary of State found after his death to have $800,000 stuffed in shoe boxes. Our reputation for corrupt politicians is, I dare say, unsurpassed. Fortunately, we here in the Land of Lincoln (as we call it on our license plates) have one historical figure capable of tipping the scales back towards respectability.

    I’ve taken a real interest in Abe and his legacy in recent months (more on why in a minute). Of the books I’ve read, this one and David Herbert Donald’s

    are my favorites. They both deserve credit for finding unique space within what is arguably the most densely populated expanse of American history. Goodwin focused on Lincoln’s clever leadership in bringing together a group of his former opponents, thinking them to be the most capable cabinet members at a very challenging time. We get thoroughly researched sketches of:

    Naturally, most of the spotlight fell on Lincoln himself. Goodwin showed us the tricky waters that led to the Emancipation Proclamation on 4/1/1863 – a Good Friday in every way – as well as other less famous but still important milestones that required a masterful helmsman. I give her ample credit for underscoring his sound judgment, his political savvy, his wry sense of humor, and his superabundant humanity.

    So why my sudden interest in Lincoln? I thought you’d never ask. Aside from the fact that he is probably the most analyzed and lionized figure in American history, it looks like I have a personal connection as well. I was revisiting some genealogical research I’d started years ago, knowing that the internet now reveals more ties than those dusty tomes I used to find in libraries and court houses ever did. One of my ancestors, Joseph Hanks, had a sister named Lucy who I’d never bothered following up on before. Anyway, according to ancestry.com, she was the mother of an illegitimate daughter named Nancy who was, by all known accounts, Abe’s mother. It was one of those can-this-really-be-true moments. But I triple-checked every link and am as sure as anyone can be given existing records that Abe is my second cousin six times removed. I’d originally thought to look into a DNA test like the one they did to explain all those red-haired, brown-skinned kids running around Monticello, but then decided against it. I wouldn’t know who to contact, it would likely be expensive, and I’d rather just

    that it’s true.

    Of course I realize this is a watered down relationship, and for all I know hundreds if not thousands of other people can make this same claim. I have to confess, though, that for a while I thought of myself differently. My gaunt face and hollow cheeks were no longer flaws, but indicative family traits. And though I haven’t tried to grow a beard in years, I’m certain if I did, it would be scraggly. I even looked for examples where I could count myself as a cut above in probity, eloquence and fair-mindedness.

    Before I got to the point of imagining Daniel Day-Lewis playing me in a biopic of my soon-to-be famous life, I realized that I was still just me – a guy who needs to remember that humility is one of his few attractive traits. Besides, (this is the really weird part) I did more digging into my family roots and discovered that my great-great-grandmother, Cora Claudine Flickinger from Byhalia, Ohio had a sister named Lula Dell Flickinger who the internet shows was the grandmother of one Barbara Pierce Bush. That makes me a somewhat less diluted third cousin once removed of George W. Bush. Suffice it to say I now think of these genealogical ties as less meaningful. I lack the power and initiative to unshackle an oppressed segment of society, but then I don’t feel any compulsion to invade Iraq either.

    So please understand I’m not obsessed by my connections, but today of all days, after reviewing this wonderful book, I feel enough of a kinship to quote my famous cousins. As Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Cousin Dubya modified the quote (for real) observing that, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”

    Are any of you picturing Pinocchio in a jester’s hat right now, perhaps in place of a white Rubik’s cube? Any theories on why I feel compelled to do this? I’m curious myself. Am I dissatisfied with reality and need the artifice to spice things up? (No, I’m luckier than most and I know it.) Am I simply attempting to entertain? (Hmm… sounds a little too noble and generous – probably not.) Am I trying to switch the focus away from anything relevant to shine the light on me, myself and I? (That’s probably closest to the mark. Either that or I’ve got a genetic predisposition for

    honesty.) If there’s any good that’s come of this, it’s that I’m now truly eager to read

    .

  • Perry

    Pres. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in F. B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House (1869).

    Truly, I didn't start out

    Pres. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in F. B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House (1869).

    Truly, I didn't start out reading this book to compare President Donald J. Trump to Abraham Lincoln. Yet, the differences are so Radical, one would have to be marooned on a desert isle for the past year not to notice them. I am so glad I read it now.

    One anecdote was most powerful and revealing in illustrating what most would agree is paradigmatic for any LEADER: taking responsiblity and loyalty. In early 1862, Congress made findings of financial mismanagement in the early months of the Civil War by the Secretary of War Simon Cameron, which it followed with a censure of Cameron by which time Lincoln had already replaced him. Instead of letting that be the end of the story and of Cameron's career, Lincoln sent a letter to Congress saying, "

    "

    Now, whether you are a Trump supporter or hater, Republican or Democrat, can you imagine President Donald J. Trump writing such a letter or, Lord help us, "tweet," acknowledging fault,

    ?

    Ever?!

    is an absolutely outstanding and incisive biographical narrative showing Lincoln's road to becoming U.S. President and his Presidency as well as the lives of the most significant among his cabinet members, three of whom ran against him in 1860: William Seward, Secretary of State; Edward Bates, Attorney General; and, Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. Hence, the name Team of Rivals; no doubt was there ever who was the Captain, my Captain.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin is amazing (a term I almost never use) at showing how President Lincoln resolved the numerous conflicts among the egotistical cult of personality and among the radical and conservative factions among his Republican party. A hint: we are all human, all make mistakes and even the President must maintain a sense of humility and (this really should go without saying [see Twitter, 2017]) dignity.

    Perhaps it's unfair to compare our MODERN DAY PRESIDENT to Lincoln. Maybe I should offer this as a plea and a hope that Lincoln should serve as the Standard Bearer for ALL PRESIDENTS for demonstrating the meaning of

    . If not, I am assured that "[a]ny people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the

    to rise up, and shake off the existing government...." Lincoln, Speech in House of Representatives, 1848.

    President Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Albert G. Hodges, 4 Apr. 1864.

    No one can rationally argue that Lincoln was not the greatest leader of the United States and will go down as one of the greatest in history. I love the quote from Tolstoy in the book, a quote I had not before seen:

    You can fool all of the people some of the time; you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. Attributed in N.Y. Times, 27 Aug. 1887

    Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. Attributed in Golden Book, Nov. 1931.

    That [man] can compress the most words in the fewest ideas of any man I ever knew. Quoted in Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln (1892).

  • Asif Kazi

    According to Oxford Dictionary: Team=Two or more people working together and Rival=A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.

    So this oxymoron title caught my attention when I was in the final semester of my college. I bought this book out of whim with slight consideration what is written inside because I am one of those people who are crazy in love with Great Honest Abe.

    Having said that let me come to the commentary on the

    According to Oxford Dictionary: Team=Two or more people working together and Rival=A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.

    So this oxymoron title caught my attention when I was in the final semester of my college. I bought this book out of whim with slight consideration what is written inside because I am one of those people who are crazy in love with Great Honest Abe.

    Having said that let me come to the commentary on the book what can I say about a book written on the as vast a subject as civil war,slavery, abolition and quest for integrity of greatest nation on Earth!

    The book "Team of Rivals" as the title suggests is the story of uneasy alliance of brilliant minds of era forged by the greatest leader of the time. Story begins with the earlier struggles of abolitionists and pro slavery legislators to maintain their position at that time Seward was the apple of eye for the abolitionists and his fiery speeches roused the spirits of the camp, at that time lawyers like Stanton and Lincoln were not that significant in politics and could not imagine at the time their subsequent rise in the ranks of government. A western backwoodsman and rail splitter and prairie lawyer who seemed to enjoy his country side stories more than intricacies of the politics of capital was abruptly convinced and nominated as candidate for presidency; at that time the ambitions of then to-be president Seward were destroyed when he came to know that an obscure Prairie Layers has been nominated as the candidate for presidency by newly formed republican party instead of him(most likely).Also another ambitious man Salmon chase could not find support to be candidate from his own state Ohio which if am not mistaken is considered the state which decides president for every election.

    When Lincoln assumed presidency country plunged into war with seceding southern Confederacy, this entire book is dedicated to the saga of managing country during the testing times some historians think that Lincoln was the god sent man for American union I also hold the opinion as in my view there was no any man as astute in running the affairs as Lincoln and as magnanimous as him to allow his crucial cabinet position to his bitter rivals like, Chase and Stanton. In the end chase was to be the one lasting villain with his never ending ambition for presidency and i am equally startled to know he never got much respect outside the sphere of Lincoln by himself as he was regularly snubbed for the candidacy long after the death of Lincoln.

    This book is definitely worth reading not only for the purpose of understanding history, politics and government of the era but also for the sake of a lesson in management. I think modern leaders belonging to any region can get valuable lessons reading this book and gaining immense insight on what it means to be statesman and how to manage in crisis situations.

    Coming towards some characters in the book, throughout the book Kate Chase appears to be the most charming and sought after lady in the book in her peak years she was the center of attention but when I am finishing the book I have found that her last years were pure testing times as she cheated her husband and due to alleged affair she ultimately divorced her husband and lived her last years in abject poverty Alas! this reminds me Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone. Secretary Seward(Abraham Lincoln lovingly called him Governor) was one of the most faithful member of cabinet and he was intellectually most towering personality among cabinet members due to his unfortunate accident during the last days of Lincoln which made him bedridden for many days he could not celebrate the success of Union victory or could see and mourn his best friend death this made me cry! this whole drama perhaps has shadowed the greatness of a lady who inspired me in the book was Frances Seward a lady of love of Great Seward she was the architect behind her husband's firm views against slavery and she served as ideological guide to cement the support for the cause today African Americans should pay tribute to this great lady for her unwavering support for the cause of their liberty. Her demise and immediate death of daughter Fanny was perhaps most tragic events following the death of his beloved leader, Seward has another feather in his crown he purchase Alaska for US too as mentioned in book. In my opinion after Lincoln, the true heir and ablest man in US at that time was Seward he should have been the US president but fate gave Johnson to American people. Stanton as always was to be the most stiff of the persons in the cabinet he could not get along with Johnson. Welles continued to be loyal to next president. At the conclusion of my review i would like to mention the most important person in the life of Honest Abe, his love and wife Marry, It strikes me she was a bit out of mind always, my this proposition is supported by argument that his own son admitted her in mental hospital. Mary was westerner and not suitable for high life of Washington but she managed nonetheless good time at capital,Finally i would say Lincoln was a center of gravity of government who held many distinct elements like capricious, ambitious and intriguing Chase, always skeptical and gruff Stanton, suspicious and indecisive Welles and intellectual and gregarious Seward all of them were in one way or other rivals but this great man turned them into team and rallied their strength for the cause of Union. If history do not exhaust to count the great achievements of Honest Abe in Managing country, Abolition of slavery,Emancipation Proclamation, Magnanimous behavior to enemies one last thing to credit Lincoln is his befriending his enemies and thus destroying them.

  • Matt

    As a history lover, I'm a bit of a snob. While everyone is rushing to purchase the newest warm-milk entry from David McCullough, I make a show of purchasing turgid, poorly edited treatises put out by university presses about some guy who did something long ago that doesn't really matter anymore. Of course, as every snob eventually learns, being snobbish is like slamming a hammer down on your thumb: you only hurt yourself; and everyone thinks you're an idiot.

    When it was published,

    As a history lover, I'm a bit of a snob. While everyone is rushing to purchase the newest warm-milk entry from David McCullough, I make a show of purchasing turgid, poorly edited treatises put out by university presses about some guy who did something long ago that doesn't really matter anymore. Of course, as every snob eventually learns, being snobbish is like slamming a hammer down on your thumb: you only hurt yourself; and everyone thinks you're an idiot.

    When it was published,

    became the "it" book of popular fiction, achieving something of the mass audience of McCullough's

    . That meant, of course, that I put on my beret, grew a pencil mustache, and turned up my nose at the very notion of reading it.

    While I was ignoring

    , however, it did something more than sell millions of copies: it added something to the cultural lexicon.

    The phrase "team of rivals" is this year's "perfect storm." Used by Doris Kearns Goodwin to describe Abraham Lincoln and his Presidential sounding-board, it has been hijacked by cable newscasters as a quick way to add false insight into President Obama's selection of the Cabinet. To demonstrate my belief that the phrase was overused, I decided to play the "team of rivals" drinking game while watching Wolf Blitzer one afteroon. At some point, I blacked out. Before I did, however, my pillow came to life and told me that Stephen A. Douglas cheated during his debates with Lincoln by using a teleprompter. Then I threw up in the fireplace.

    Anyway, my point is, I've forgotten what I was talking about, due to the short-term memory loss I have from playing the "team of rivals" drinking game.

    Now I remember. I eventually got over myself and read

    . And it appears that everyone reading it on the subway was right: it's super.

    is a Lincoln book that manages to find a fresh angle on a man written about as much as Jesus. Rather than placing Lincoln directly front-and-center, Goodwin focuses on Lincoln's cabinet, providing us with mini-biographies. of Salmon Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), Edward Bates (Attorney General), and William H. Seward (Secretary of State).

    The book starts with the Republican National Convention of 1860, where Lincoln faced off with Chase, Bates, and Seward (the favorite). This is the best part of the book - learning about the lives of these three exceptional men. Goodwin does an amazing job making these characters come to thrilling life in just a few pages. She weaves them together while highlighting both their similarities and their differences. For instance, she introduces Lincoln's Treasury Secretary:

    Then there's my favorite character, Edwin Stanton, the beautifully-bearded Secretary of War:

    Stanton originally thought Lincoln an incompetent boob. Lincoln didn't take this personally, and replaced the actually-incompetent Simon Cameron with Stanton after the first year of the war. The two developed an incredible working relationship, and upon Lincoln's death, it was the distraught Stanton told the world he uttered the immortal phrase: "Now he belongs to the Ages." (Strikingly, no one around Lincoln's death bed remembers Stanton saying this. Maybe he just thought it, and wished he'd said it).

    After giving us a quadruple bio of Lincoln, Seward, Chase and Bates, the rivals for the nomination, Goodwin takes us through the Civil War. Her focus is not on the ins-and-outs of the various battles, which have been well covered in several million books; rather, she views everything through the prism of Lincoln's cabinet. This is a well-told, lucid, propulsive story. Even someone who's never read a book on Lincoln or the Civil War will follow along just nicely (this is why Goodwin is such a marvelous popular historian, in the vein of McCullough).

    I do have one major complaint, however, and it is fairly substantive. The book's title and its focus is its thesis: that Lincoln's "team of rivals," his disparate cabinet, was a good thing.

    This just isn't borne out in the story she tells. Bates, after a big rollout, nearly disappears. Salmon Chase is a wrong fit from the start, and Lincoln eventually has to appoint him to the Supreme Court to get rid of him. Lincoln had to sack Cameron and install Stanton, who eventually turned out to be a good choice. In the end, Lincoln took on a great deal of responsibility himself. Long before Truman, the buck stopped with him. Some of his big moments, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, came as a surprise to his Cabinet. Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation shows how bad the "team of rivals" idea can be. It sharply divided the cabinet, with Lincoln receiving advice of varying degrees. (Bates and Stanton for it immediately; Chase and Caleb Smith against it). Then there was Seward, a smart man who wasn't as smart as Lincoln:

    Here, Goodwin is telling a great story. This is a powerful narrative that takes something we all sorta know about - the Emancipation Proclamation - and gives us all the nitty-gritty details in a fascinating manner. This is what great history writing is all about. However, this scene also helps also demolishes her thesis. This was a bickering, troublesome, quarreling cabinet. Lincoln was left to make his own decisions (though in fairness to Seward, he did have the clever idea of waiting until a victory in battle to announce the Proclamation).

    I also don't agree with the foundation of Goodwin's thesis: that Lincoln was a dark horse candidate and felt he needed to nominate Seward, Chase, Bates, et al. in order to shore up his Presidency. Lincoln was not the unknown, backwoods rustic portrayed by Goodwin. Rather, he was an extremely talented and successful lawyer; was backed by a coterie of powerful ex-Whigs and Republicans; and had become nationally famous during and after the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Heck, the convention was held in Chicago, Illinois! Coincidence? Hardly.

    continues beyond the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, following the lives of the Cabinet members beyond the Administration. Seward, of course, had the most impact post-Lincoln. His purchase of Alaska ensured our great nation decade-after-decade of iconoclastic, individualistic citizens who hate the intrusion of the Federal Government but love the hundreds of millions of dollars they get from the Federal Government. (Thanks, Seward! Ya big dumb jerk!)

    The end of the book is touching, powerful, and melancholy. I admit I got chills when Goodwin related a story told by Tolstoy: Tolstoy was visiting a tribal chief in the Caucuses and he was regaling the tribe with stories of Alexander, Frederick the Great and Caesar. When Tolstoy stood to leave, the tribal chief stopped him:

    If you want to learn about that man, and the great thing he achieved, or even if you think you know the story front to back, this is a readable, genuinely enjoyable addition to the Lincoln canon.

  • Kemper

    (Please forgive me resorting to a tired trick and leading off with a definition from the dictionary, but there is a point to it.)

    Americans these days seem to think that 2B is the only

    (Please forgive me resorting to a tired trick and leading off with a definition from the dictionary, but there is a point to it.)

    Americans these days seem to think that 2B is the only definition for the word, and even the first meaning is considered an insult because if you actually know how the government works, then you’re guilty by association. Hell, politicians now deny being politicians as they try to get reelected to political office while screaming about how all politicians suck. (Or the Tea Party just finds the angriest moron around to run.)

    It’s weird that it’s become such a dirty word because one of the greatest Americans by almost any sane person’s standard was Abraham Lincoln. While the myth may be that he was just this humble log splitter and backwoods lawyer who bumbled into the White House during one of the country’s darkest hours and fortunately turned out to be the perfect leader for the time, the truth is that Abe was one super bad-ass politician in the sense of definitions #1 and #2A, but luckily 2B didn’t apply at all.

    All American kids hear about Abe in school. We learn about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 13th Amendment, but they never really tell you how Abe managed to win a war that should have permanently split the country and end an evil institution that even the Founding Fathers had just left as some future generation’s problem.

    Reading

    gives you an understanding of how Lincoln accomplished this, and the simple answer is that he was a politician of uncanny skill. He had a great sense of timing as well as being empathetic enough to see the other side of any argument while never swaying once he had fully committed himself to a course of action he thought right or necessary. The thing that made him unique was the almost inhuman way he could put his own ego and anger aside to find ways to work with people he had every reason to distrust or even hate.

    As this book details, Lincoln’s selection and handling of his own cabinet highlight what made him such a great president. He managed to convince some of the biggest power brokers and politicians of his day, many of whom he had beaten out for the presidency, to work for the common good as members of his administration. Even though this meant dealing with constant bickering and political intrigue, Lincoln still got outstanding achievements from all of them, and most of the men who once saw him as an overmatched fool eventually came to regard him as one of the smartest and most honorable men of the age.

    Well researched and written in an entertaining style, this book also shows how little has changed in American politics. The tactics of the kind of people who would defend slavery and smear Lincoln seem familiar in many ways. They just used newspapers instead of a cable news channel and talk radio.

    One odd thing: I started this after seeing the Spielberg movie, and I knew that only a small part of the book was actually about the passage of the 13th Amendment that the movie centers on. However, there’s not nearly as much as I thought there would be. It seems like only a few pages are spent on it, so it’s a little weird that the movie would cite it so heavily. On the other hand, the details of Lincoln's personality in here are all over Daniel Day-Lewis’s great performance.

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