That's not to say that Team of Rivals is not an excellent book. It is. But it is massive and dense and full of lion-like characters who dominate the page. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I am glad I gave myself the leisure to read it whenever I felt like it, instead of all at once.
I am not going to do a summary here because I think it would be somewhat fruitless. The book is about Abraham Lincoln's ascendancy to the Presidency (I just made that phrase up, and it has quite a ring to it, doesn't it?) and what he did when he got there. How did he deal with his Cabinet? How did he manage to abolish slavery? What was his personality? Did people have confidence in him?
Being from Illinois, it is hard to go through life without knowing a lot about Abraham Lincoln. But it's easy to look back through rose-colored glasses at a President who accomplished so much, and ignore the reality of the situation. Of course everyone had faith in him! He ended slavery! He won the Civil War! He lived in a log cabin! He was from Illinois!
So what did I learn from this book? That Abraham Lincoln was a very nice man. Ridiculously nice. He forgave people when they betrayed him. Multiple times. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was kind to everyone who wanted to speak to him. He was patient. He was honorable. He was amazing.
I kind of fell in love with him.
But I am not alone in this! Everyone who got to know Abraham Lincoln fell in love with him. He was just that great.
Do you know how fabulous it is to read about a hero of yours and find out that he really was as wonderful as you were brought up to believe? Let me tell you- it is uber-fabulous. Of course Lincoln had flaws. He did suspend Habeas Corpus. I think Goodwin portrayed Lincoln almost too positively- everything that went wrong during his administration, she seemed to blame on someone else. Which is ironic, because time and again, Lincoln took the blame for anything that went wrong. Because he was just that nice a guy.
This book is ostensibly about Lincoln's Cabinet members, and I learned a great deal about them and their personalities, too. But Lincoln towers above them all, directing the war effort, gaining support for his policies, and making all the final decisions. He is often highlighted as our best president due to all the landmarks he achieved during his terms, but I feel we never realize that a large part of his greatness was his ability to empathize with people. He knew how to admit when he was wrong. He knew how to make people laugh at a tense moment, how to diffuse tension. He gave people second chances. He was humble, but he always believed in his own abilities. And in that way, he is a hero we can all look up to- not just for keeping the country together, but for being a really outstanding human being.
As Leo Tolstoy said,
Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.
Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country-bigger than all the Presidents together.
We are still too near to his greatness, but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.
I sound like a fangirl. But that's fine because it's warranted. And I can understand now why we in the US are so reluctant to get rid of our pennies. It's nice to go through life with Lincoln in my pocket.