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Customer Review

78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A majestic work of narrative history, 25 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Paperback)
I bought "Team of Rivals" because I was curious to see what sort of book got a recommendation from the new US President, and because I'm interested in American history. I didn't expect it to be as good as it is. I very rarely give five stars to things on Amazon - only to items that I think are perfect or exemplary in some way. "Team of Rivals" is popular history, but of the best kind: scrupulously researched, packed with anecdote and detail, and intelligently structured. It's up there with James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" as one of the essential works about the American Civil War for the general reader.

Goodwin's argument is that Lincoln was not just a humanitarian, a great statesman and the man who saved the Union, but also a political genius. She makes a good case. This is essentially a group biography of Lincoln's cabinet, and what Goodwin shows very well is Lincoln's remarkable capacity to take a bunch of powerful men with big egos, almost all of whom came from socially superior backgrounds to his own, and have them all jockeying for his approval within months of his election. Lincoln's political genius seems to have been fuelled by both his hard-won self-confidence and his extraordinary absence of personal malice. When, as a tyro politician, he would be defeated, he would go out of his way to be friendly to the victor. As a President, he was continually harried by the political ambitions of his vain and self-righteous Treasury Secretary, the implausibly named Salmon P. Chase. Lincoln's friends marvelled that the President tolerated Chase's all-too-obvious desire to be president himself, but Lincoln put up with Chase on the grounds that Chase was a fine Treasury Secretary and didn't have a cat in hell's chance of ever being elected to the White House. In this, as in so many things, Lincoln was right.

He had timing; he knew when to reply to letters that were designed to put him on the spot in such a way that the tables were turned on the sender. He managed the incredible feat of steering America through a hideous civil war. He liked a good joke (he had an apparently inexhaustible fund of stories, including some remarkably salty ones that I won't repeat here) and even his enemies were forced to admit that he knew how to hire good people. In retrospect, it's not difficult to see what Barack Obama sees in this book. Now you too can impress your friends with the intimate knowledge of the marital difficulties of Salmon Chase's daughter.

A fine, epic book. It has whetted my appetite for Lincolniana. Now I want to save up enough money for Michael Burlingame's monumental two-volume Lincoln biography. In the meantime, I unreservedly recommend this moving and stirring book. If Goodwin hero-worships Lincoln, it's only because most people who knew him did the same thing. And if Lincoln - with all his faults - wasn't some sort of hero, then the term surely has little meaning.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Jul 2011, 09:22:24 BST
S. Jahromy says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2011, 02:19:09 BST
lexo1941 says:
You're entirely wrong, as I explained in my review. This is in fact a very good book, and the fact that you found it 'tedious' (what's wrong with good old 'boring'?) says more about you as a reader than it says about the book.
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