“Team of Rivals” book review

Team of RivalsThe book of the month for our book club actually took two months to wade through.  Just the “Notes” section at the back of the book is 121 pages long … small type!  It’s a long book.

You might wonder why the world needs another book on Lincoln.  I would have to guess that he is the most written about president in history.  What makes this book different is that it focuses strictly, and in great detail, on the political genius of Abraham Lincoln, which so happens to be the subtitle of this book.

You might think that the world absolutely loved Lincoln, given that there about a million things named after him.  However, it turns out that he was barely elected and only by great luck and brilliant politicking!  There was as much hate for him as there has been for any president, perhaps a lot more.  Throughout his entire presidency, the United States was in turmoil.  You might think it’s bad now with all of the bipartisanship going on in Washington, but it’s nothing compared to those days, hence the Civil War.

It not only took a political genius to get elected during this time, but it also took one to keep the U.S. together.  Every step of the way he had to make decisions that worked towards the goal of keeping the Union together.  They called it a “Union” back then.  When you think about all of the opportunities at the time for everything to become unglued, and the U.S. splitting into two, and then most likely a number of different smaller nations, it’s almost amazing that we are now a strong and powerful nation.

And this book provides the opportunity to think about all of that.  It goes into extraordinary detail about not just the events of the time, but the personal lives of Lincoln and his cabinet.  It’s called “Team of Rivals” because Lincoln put together a cabinet of men that largely included those that rivalled him for the presidential nomination.  He was able to recognize the particular skills that each had and was able to put aside any differences so that he could get those he thought were the best for the different jobs.  He held no grudges and had enmity for no one.  He was described to be “above it all”.  He selected his main rival, William Seward, to be his secretary of state and eventually became his closest confidant.

The book starts out rather slow and difficult to read, but then becomes quite engrossing.  It goes into great detail about the lives of each of the “rivals”; William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates.  Each of these men ran against Lincoln for the nomination and thought he was a backwoods “railsplitter”.   They were all more likely than Lincoln to win, but because of rivalries within the party none of them could get enough votes and Lincoln sort of emerged from the dust.  He realized that they all had great qualities and hired them to be a part of his cabinet.  The whole premise of this book is how this cabinet worked together to get through the Civil War.

They say that the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” was based on this book, but it’s only barely linked to the book.  The book is about a thousand times longer than the movie and some aspects of the movie are not captured in the book.  They’re both good.  I would recommend anyone to read the book and watch the movie!

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