Monday, May 9, 2011

Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
By Doris Kearns Goodwin
Published by Simon and Schuster

This is the second (and final book) that I read on the recommendation of Drive (go here to see that review). I have to warn you that I highly recommend this book but you will have to be very dedicated to get through all 749 hardcover pages (not including the 165 pages of notes and index) of detailed information about Lincoln and his famous Cabinet. The really good news is that Goodwin is a fabulous writer who really makes all these historical figures come alive and the writing holds your attention. You know what is going to happen but she writes in such a way that you just can't put down the book.

I really liked how she put several different historical texts together to make one book for all of these bigger-than-life Americans. You and I don't have to search through all those books to find these wonderful descriptions, private thoughts and complete character sketches. In fact, I never knew how much people in the 19th century wrote - letters, telegrams, diaries! Certainly, you will come away learning far more than you ever knew about Lincoln, the Civil War, politics and Washington DC in the 1850s and 1860s.

As you may already know, this year (2011) marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. If you wanted to read a book about that time period and wanted to know less about the battles and more about what was happening behind the scenes, this is the book to read. I learned an incredible amount about this period but I especially came away with a wonderful impression of Lincoln. This book is also being made into a movie directed by Stephen Spielberg so it would be worth your effort and time.

For me as a Southerner, Lincoln and the Union Army are not as well known as General Robert E. Lee or the Confederacy. The impression I always had of Lincoln was that he was simply an abolitionist and that is what made him so popular as well as so great a target for assassination. I was wrong. Although Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation he never was an actual abolitionist. His views on slavery developed with the help of his very unusual cabinet, and the amazing ability that Lincoln had to read people, politics and public sentiment.

Because most of Lincoln's portraits are so serious looking (due to the fact that photos developed over several minutes and the subject had to stay still for that length of time) I took him for a serious man. Goodwin changed my impressions of this President. Lincoln was warm and caring. He had no fancy airs but was a genuine and highly moral person. He also was a brilliant speech writer, storyteller, and humorist as well as being self-differentiated. He was able to deal with the political machinations of allies and enemies alike because he knew himself, stuck to his ideals, and took the time to relax (reading humor, great literature and going many times to such places as Ford's Theatre). Those that at first knew him or knew of him often had very negative things to say until they spoke with him or got to know him. Their opinions about Lincoln were often turned around and he had many, many admirers at his death. Lincoln was also a very forgiving and lenient person. At the end of the book, I realized how Boothe's action was a tremendous blow to the South in terms of reconstruction.

From a faith perspective, I came to realize that, although Lincoln himself was not what I would consider a Christian (he appears to be more agnostic than anything), he is a powerful example of what makes a great leader. I think all Christians who are in any type of leadership should know themselves, be able to listen to various points of view, have the ability to not take themselves too seriously and to stick to their values (developed over time and through prayer and others' wisdom) while remaining calm and closely connected to others. Sometimes that means surrounding yourself with persons with whom you don't always agree and being willing to wisely hear their point of view. That certainly would be the complete portrait of the Lincoln portrayed in Goodwin's book.

Happy Reading,


Copyright 2011 Amelia G. Sims

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