I’m neck-deep in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and despite uncharacteristic slow going I’m really enjoying it. I’m probably about a week away from a real review, but in the meantime I want to share some of my thoughts.
Lincoln served one undistinguished term in the House of Representatives, attained the presidency seemingly by accident, and proceeded to surround himself with his competitors — the very men who disagreed with and ran against him. Then of course there’s the matter of getting the country through a Civil War. How did a man born and raised in a log cabin in the backwoods of Illinois do it?
One thing about Lincoln that Goodwin emphasizes over and over again is Lincoln’s astounding political acumen, as well as his gentleness.
[Lincoln’s] success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources.
Another thing Goodwin makes numerous mentions of is Lincoln’s habit of storytelling — he always had a story to tell, and it always had a moral relevant to the conversation. He knew how to talk to people, how to make them feel understood and appreciated.
America’s 16th president attended less than one year of school in his entire lifetime, yet was a successful lawyer, incredible writer and speechmaker, and genius politician. Goodwin attributes the foundation of this success to—hallelujah!—Lincoln’s insatiable desire to read and learn and improve himself.
Though the young Lincoln never left the frontier, would never leave America, he traveled with Byron’s Childe Herald to Spain and Portugal, the Middle East and Italy; accompanied Robert Burns to Edinburgh; and followed the English kings into battle with Shakespeare. As he explored the wonders of literature and the history of the country, the young Lincoln, already conscious of his own power, developed ambitions far beyond the expectations of his family and neighbors. It was through literature that he was able to transcend his surroundings.
It’s deep reading, but it’s good. The more I learn about Lincoln the more I believe he would be a person with whom I’d like to be friends.