Of all the American Presidents, I admire Abraham Lincoln the most because he stalwartly endured so much: rebellious states, incompetent Federal generals, a fractious Republican Party, near-treasonous Democrats, a financially irresponsible and mentally unstable wife, and the death of a son. Finishing this thick work, my esteem for him is in no way diminished.
TEAM OF RIVALS by Doris Kearns Goodwin is, above all, a political biography of Lincoln as he rose through the ranks from country lawyer to Illinois state legislator to U.S. Congressman to presidential candidate to Chief Executive. As the Republican nominee for President in 1860, he beat out several formidable rivals for the nomination, including Salmon Chase, William Seward, and Edward Bates. Once elected, Lincoln was wily enough to keep his former (and potentially future) adversaries within immediate sight by cajoling them into his Cabinet - Chase at Treasury, Seward at State, and Bates as Attorney General. Thus, TEAM OF RIVALS is necessarily a political biography of each of these three men and, to a lesser degree, also one for each of the other prominent members of the Cabinet - Montgomery Blair as Postmaster General, Edwin Stanton as War Secretary (succeeding Simon Cameron), and Gideon Wells as Navy Secretary. The remarkable teamwork the Cabinet displayed to steer the Union through the darkest days of the Civil War is its, and Lincoln's, great achievement.
In her memoir of growing up, WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR, Goodwin is charmingly engaging. At 754 pages with two extensive photographic sections, TEAM OF RIVALS is hardly that but erudite, detailed, and lucid. The author's treatment of her subject is obviously admiring. At no point does Goodwin's narrative slime Abe's reputation with any perception which one normally ascribes to the currently incumbent band of dubious, self-serving, vacillating, and morally compromised public parasites whatever their party affiliation. Perhaps Lincoln was truly a wise and steadfastly principled man, or Goodwin just chose not to notice any blemishes. Or perhaps time itself serves as an airbrush.
It took me almost four months to gnaw my way through this lengthy volume; it's not a book I couldn't put down. For that reason, I'm knocking off a star, though I freely admit that this is more a deficiency related to my attention span than anything else. Others, not wearied by too much of a good thing, will justifiably award 5 stars.