fortnightly occasional summary of what I’ve been reading and listening to.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Hardcover, my own library
I finally finished this book, subtitled ‘The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’. It’s a fascinating study of Lincoln and the men he appointed to his cabinet, several of whom had been his bitter rivals for the nomination of the Republican Party. Can we see a certain repeat of history today in that Lincoln appointed his main rival – the person whom almost everyone thought would win the nomination – as Secretary of State? Certainly we know that President Obama was reading this book between his election and the inauguration.
But modern parallels aside, I found this a really gripping read, as we see Lincoln practically lift himself up by his bootstraps from extremely humble beginnings, educating himself and then following the law and eventually stepping in to politics, to become the unlikely nomination of his party. This, however, was not mere luck. Lincoln had a careful plan and built up his support at the expense of his much richer and much more well-connected rivals – William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates – and snatched the nomination. Most people at the time, and certainly those rivals, thought it a bizarre and unwise choice by the party, and Lincoln was much disparaged as a ‘backwoods lawyer’ and a ‘rail-splitter’. This book demonstrates how Lincoln overcame those perceptions and built the initially grudging and then full-hearted respect of men like Seward, his Secretary of State.
The book also tells, of course, the story of the Civil War, but dwells only briefly on the campaign itself, and more on the personalities and the politics of the war which Lincoln shrewdly managed.
As an Australian, my knowledge of American history is only limited. I learnt a lot from this book, and enjoyed it greatly.
I’m currently part-way through:
- American Empire: Blood and Iron by Harry Turtledove (Audiobook).
- Angel’s Flight by Michael Connelly (Ebook).
- Ruled Brittania by Harry Turtledove (Ebook).
- American Journeys by Don Watson (Hardcover, my own library).