My copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln has been sitting on my bookshelf since it was first published in 2005. Having read her Pulitzer Prize-winning No Ordinary Time about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, I was most excited to delve in Lincoln. Why did it take me three years to get around to it? I have no valid excuses. But I think reading it amid the political maelstrom surrounding the country only enhanced my enjoyment of the book.
Goodwin knows how to bring history alive. Taking the familiar topics of Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War, Goodwin brings the reader deep into war-torn and contentious cabinet: the team of rivals. The personalities of the main characters–William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Edwin Stanton–breathe through their own words. And after eight years of a country crumbling around us, there are few places more inspiring than Lincoln’s world.
With so much hanging in the balance of the upcoming election, reading Goodwin’s enthralling history reminds us that politics have always been contentious and, for lack of a better word, “political.” But occasionally one man can make a difference. The 21st century is far different from the one nearly 150 years ago. But we still find hope in our presidential candidates and in the democratic process…hope for a better future and hope for a return to a moral center to our government. Until then, we have historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin to show us the highs and lows of the American political, and how it can occasionally rise above the commonplace.