Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review-Team of Rivals

During my blogging hiatus I was fortunate to read a few really great books that I thought I would catch up writing a review on. I decided to read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin is a popular writer, but I have never read any of her books before, but because this one was on Abraham Lincoln I thought I would give it a try. I was pleased that I did. I found her analysis of Lincoln fascinating. I have read many books on Lincoln, but where this one made its mark was looking at how he dealt with other people. I came away from this book with a new appreciation of the man, and in fact I found that this book made me want to be a better person. Goodwin brilliantly documents how Lincoln had a knack of making enemies into friends. Instead of just getting angry at every slight towards him, and there were many; he found a way to get those making the slights to eventually support them. Bridges that most people would have burned down were not by Lincoln; so later in life he was able to cross them again for his own benefit.

I will give one example. Lincoln early on had difficulty getting along with his Secretary of War Cameron. Several times Cameron threatened to quite if he did not get his way, knowing Lincoln would never accept. Or so he thought. During one disagreement Lincoln accepted his offer by writing him a letter saying he had accepted and planned on nominating Cameron as ambassador to Russia. Cameron was crushed by the news and considered himself fired and worried what the public humiliation would do. Cameron had treated the President very badly while in office including publicly insulting him. Now that Lincoln had a chance for revenge, he did not take it. In letters to the press Lincoln set himself up for disgrace, taking all the blame on himself. He even brought Cameron in and asked his advice on his replacement. Cameron suggested Edwin Stanton, who Lincoln had already decided on, but let Cameron leave thinking Stanton was his idea. Cameron was a man who detested Lincoln, who was fired by Lincoln, yet as Goodwin writes, “Cameron would never forget this generous act. Filled with gratitude and admiration, he would become . . . one of the most intimate and devoted of Lincoln’s personal friends. He appreciated the courage it took for Lincoln to share the blame at a time when everyone else had deserted him. Most other men in Lincoln’s situation, Cameron wrote, “would have permitted an innocent man to suffer rather than incur responsibility.” Lincoln was not like most other men, as each cabinet member, including the new war secretary, would soon come to understand.” (Goodwin, 413)

This is just one example of the kind of man Lincoln was. He allowed himself to look foolish when it came to dealing with his leading General, George B. McClellan. As long as little Mac was the best man for the job, he would keep his job. It was not the constant insults that got Mac fired, it was his ineptitude on the battlefield. Lincoln was not a perfect man. In my own book and recent article I wrote about the Kentucky governor’s election in 1863, Lincoln restricted civil liberties to the point of being unconstitutional. It is hard to judge him, he was trying to save the nation. Goodwin bring to life this extraordinary president with her ability to tell a great story. The book is 755 pages, but reads easy and her writing style makes it easy to finish. In the end it was one of the more enjoyable book I have read. As I said it made me look at my own life and my dealings with people. If I could try to be more like Lincoln, life would be just that much easier.

One exciting note is that I believe they are making the book into a movie, possibly staring Daniel Day Lewis.  We are due for a good Lincoln book, but no matter how good it is you still need to read the book.  There is no way any movie can cover all the information.

1 comment: said...

glad to have you back. We just saw the movie "Conspiracy". Well done and I cried but I will never know if this was true but Redford tries to do his homework.