Recently, I finished reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005). My inspiration for choosing to tackle this 944 page biography came after viewing the recent Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln (2012). I was not disappointed.
Team of Rivals is a review of Abraham Lincoln’s life, essentially from birth through his assassination. The book masterfully weaves the political and familial histories of Lincoln and those around him from his early days in the Illinois Congress to his becoming President of the United States and beyond. Using extracts from journals, letters and newspapers, the author, Goodwin, strives not only to provide an accurate historical account of Lincoln’s political rise to President of the United States and his administration of the country during the Civil War, but also provides a personal picture of WHO Lincoln was and WHY he was.
It is that perspective – the personal aspects of Lincoln – that made this book such a fun read. When I finished the book, I felt like I actually KNEW Abraham Lincoln and that is what makes a great biography.
What Stuck with Me
Although there are many “take-aways” from Lincoln’s life, what “stuck with me” the most after reading Team of Rivals was:
The Progressive Growth of Lincoln. Lincoln “grew” into the great man who we remember today. While there certainly were many character and personality traits that formed the basis of who he was fundamentally, by viewing his life progressively, it was clear that one of Lincoln’s great strengths was to learn from mistakes and not repeat them again. Over time, drawing from his experience and past failures, Lincoln became one of the most adept political leaders ever.
Lincoln’s Patience and Magnanimity. President Lincoln exhibited immense patience with the people around him, many of whom routinely attacked him personally and publicly. While the members of his Cabinet and the generals under his authority often made decisions for their personal benefit rather than for the country as a whole, many times to Lincoln’s personal detriment, Lincoln was able to set aside what must have been extreme temptations to exact “revenge” in order to continue to lead and work with such individuals as long as their services were consistent with the country’s best interest.
Lincoln’s Disciplined Decision-making Toward Accomplishing Goals. President Lincoln was a master at staying focused on the big-picture. He consistently and methodically made choices that advanced his objectives in achieving the goals he set for the United States and that moved the country closer to his vision for a country where “all people are created equal.” From whom he chose to serve in his Cabinet to whether to advance an idea (or “sit on it” for awhile until the time was right), Lincoln stayed true to his objectives, in spite of circumstances and people who sought to push him in other directions.
I fully recommend this historical biography. It is well worth the time and effort. I give it a 5/5 rating.