For a person who has enjoyed a life long addiction to books, I usually write suprisingly crappy book reviews, comments on books, etc. But bear with me on this one.
My shnoogly woogly bought be Doris Kearns-Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" for my birfday earlier this month.
What an excellent gift.
This book is an examination of how Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet functioned. Of course, the focal point is Lincoln himself, however the true focus is how these different individuals-- a most unlikely selection for team work-- delivered their best under Lincoln's unique direction.
I don't doubt that there are more complete biographies of Lincoln, Seward, Chase, Stanton and Bates in existance. And of course we have Nicolay's and Hay's first hand accounts from the period. And, for civil war military buffs, this book will probably add little to their encylopedic knowledge of military campaigns. However, it will doubtless add background and a fuller understanding of the political and social dynamics behind men like Grant, Sherman, Fremont, McClellan and Lee, to name a few. I think the book is singularly unique in that it examines the interaction of these people in orbit around Lincoln.
Of particular interest to many babblers is the difference between what the media and various political factions thought was going on in the Cabinet, and their assumptions about the members of it, and what was actually happening in the Cabinet. Examinations like this might prove instructive on interpreting current events.
Goodwin also gives the proper due to the women around these men, and how they impacted their careers. Mary Todd Lincoln in particular gets a better treatment than other historians have been willing to impart. I wouldn't call it sympathetic-- just, for a change, more complete, which leads the reader to see her as something more complicated than a confrontational spend thrift. And, I doubt many historians have paid attention to someone as interesting and impressive as Kate Chase before.
For those who have little or no background in the U.S. Civil War, don't be afraid that this book will leave you behind. Kearns--Goodwin supplies the necessary background without being tedious or pedantic. And, for those that are familiar with this time, there is bound to be new to the reader information.
For those who like to observe or participate in politics, the book provides a pretty good-- though I suspect not comprehensive-- study in the dynamics of the coalition of Whigs, Know Nothings, pro-Union Democrats and Abolitionists that founded the Republican Party. And, we get to see how the minority view of Abolitionists finally carried the day.