I feel I'm being somewhat presumptuous adding this, the 246th review to date of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" but I have my two cents and aim to chuck it in. My perspective is not only that of an avid reader and student of US History, but as a teacher of it. From any standpoint I can most unequivocally add my endorsement of this masterful work.
I did not feel so much as I read about Abraham Lincoln as hung out with him and to a slightly lesser extent his cabinet. For one thing the book is long ( I was glad for every page and could have gladly read several dozen more) and for another it is rich with details of the time, events and mostly the people -- particularly, of course old Honest Abe himself.
I recently heard a professor of U.S. history with 20 years of service at a leading university and several books to her credit, assert that it is a misnomer to credit Lincoln with freeing the slaves. Granted, Lincoln did not walk unto plantations and swing open the gates, but his contributions to full emancipation are second to no other single person. Likewise it is he to whom the overwhelming credit must be granted for keeping the country whole in the face of secession and civil war.
And while there is little argument in my mind as to Lincoln's accomplishments as 16th president, there is absolutely no arguing about the manner in which he went about his duties. Finding a president who was more thoughtful or articulate a writer, more persuasive or eloquent a speaker or more compassionate a human being would be a futile task.
Rising from humble origins with nothing much to speak of in the way of a formal education, Lincoln managed to become a successful lawyer and a passionate well-regarded opponent of slavery. That he parlayed his speaking talents and a single brief term in public office to become the first successful Republican president is a remarkable story best told by Goodwin. Speaking of stories...Lincoln was a master at regaling audiences both large and small and Goodwin herself is superb at relating to the reader Lincoln's gift. This is a crucial gift in understanding Lincoln and his talent at governing.
In addition to a thorough Lincoln introduction, Goodwin presents for our consideration his rivals for the presidency who would, not coincidentally, later form his cabinet. William Seward of New York who became Lincoln's Secretary of State, was my personal favorite, while Ohio's Salmon Chase, Treasury Secretary, was someone I never warmed up to as he continued machinations against Lincoln until the end of his term. Readers will also become acquainted with secretaries Edwin Stanton and Edward Bates, along with other important government officials, various generals, Lincoln's family and friends.
The hook on which Goodwin hangs her account of the Lincoln presidency is his eager use of those rivals and how shrewd politically he was to make them the center of his governing circle. But this was not merely politically adroit, Lincoln also recognized he had brought in the most able minds of the time to serve him and thus the country at its most vulnerable point I (a far cry from recent political leaders who surround themselves with like-minded loyalists).
Readers can expect to have their understanding of Lincoln greatly enriched whether they agree or not with all aspects of Goodwin's interpretation of the man. They will also develop a keener appreciation for the era prior to the Civil War and the war itself. Mostly they will have the great pleasure of spending time in Lincoln's Springfield home and the White House of his tenure.
As a history teacher reading "Team of Rivals" has left me feeling better equipped to tell my students Lincoln's story and thus the story of our country at it's most decisive moments.