A leader of grit and generosity
Doris Kearns Goodwin examines the political genius of Abraham Lincoln
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They include Lincoln's favorite ribald jokes, Vice President Andrew Johnson's gloriously addled 1865 inaugural address (during which he actually stopped mid-speech to boom, "What's the name of the secretary of the Navy?"), and the story of the young Army captain who yelled "Get down, you fool!" as Lincoln - in a moment of foolhardy curiosity - craned his neck to get a closer view of the action in a Civil War battle.Skip to next paragraph
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The captain is Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of many 19th-century luminaries who appear in "Team of Rivals." But as intriguing as the supporting characters in this book may be, they can't hold a candle to three vibrant and influential women who appear here.
Frances Seward is even more of a fiery abolitionist than her husband, and her perceptive and forceful letters seem to strengthen the deep love the two have for one another.
Mary Todd Lincoln, maligned by history, here shows glimpses of the warmth and wit that must have won over the future president.
And Chase's captivating daughter Kate becomes the reigning queen of the nation's capital - no thanks to a jealous First Lady - even as she works to juggle a drunken suitor and a father with overpowering ambition.
He's no saint, as revealed by his truth-stretching political maneuvering and lapses in his vaunted tolerance for criticism.
No matter. His self-confidence grows during his presidency, blending with his natural charm to win over skeptics. He conquers grief and melancholy.
And his "astoundingly magnanimous soul" allows him to accept blame - and deflect it from others - with almost unfathomable ease.
Goodwin herself, deflated by a recent plagiarism scandal, could learn a lesson here. Some critics feel that she still hasn't demonstrated a Lincolnesque willingness to accept full responsibility for her errors.
Ultimately, though, any past missteps Goodwin may have made do not detract from the powerful story she tells in "Team of Rivals."
Bolstered by faith in a higher power, Lincoln instinctively understood the value of both grit and generosity. Taken as a whole, his all-too-brief presidency has more to teach us about real leadership than any seminar or self-help book ever could.
• Randy Dotinga is a freelance writer in San Diego.
Every year brings new explorations of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Here are a few notable recent efforts.
April 1865: The Month that Saved America (2001) Historian Jay Winik tackles the last weeks of both the Civil War and Lincoln's life, revealing the emotional and physical strain on everyone from generals to politicians.
We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (2003) By focusing on Lincoln's friends, including two young aides who lived in the White House, biographer David Herbert Donald offers new views of his private side.
American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (2004) What turned a handsome actor into an assassin? Historian Michael W. Kauffman searches Booth's private life for the answer in this riveting book.
Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (2005) Journalist Joshua Wolf Shenk makes a provocative argument for the vital role of Lincoln's inner struggles.