Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize winner for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; The Home Front and World War II , presents a study of Abraham Lincoln that focuses on his unique political talents during the last decade and a half of his life. The author seamlessly intertwines discussion of Lincoln with her tracing of his three main rivals for the 1860 Republican nomination for President, Salmon P. Chase, Edward S. Bates, and William H. Seward. By placing these men in subsequent key cabinet positions, President Lincoln, according to Goodwin, transcended emotional and personal grievances while still retaining complete control of administrative decisions at the height of the Civil War. She asserts that Lincoln's keen ability to interpret people enabled him to reach compromise and maintain working relationships during the sectional crisis and throughout his presidency. Goodwin's use of primary-source materials is exhaustive (120 pages of notes and no bibliography), but her overuse of exact quotes often detracts from the flow of her analysis. This book should be supplemented by other Lincoln scholarship, such as David Herbert Donald's Lincoln , Phillip S. Paludan's The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln , and Mark E. Neely's The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America . Despite its shortcomings, Goodwin's work will be a beneficial addition to public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]--Gayla Koerting, Univ. of South Dakota Libs.[Page 63]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
While Goodwin's introduction is a helpful summary and explanation for why another book about Lincoln, her reading abilities are limited: Her tone is flat and dry, and her articulation is overly precise. But the introduction isn't long and we soon arrive at Richard Thomas's lovely and lively reading of an excellent book. The abridgment (from 944 pages) makes it easy to follow the narrative and the underlying theme. Pauses are often used to imply ellipses, and one is never lost. But the audio version might have been longer, for there is often a wish to know a little more about some event or personality or relationship. Goodwin's writing is always sharp and clear, and she uses quotes to great effect. The book's originality lies in the focus on relationships among the men Lincoln chose for his cabinet and highest offices: three were his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, and each considered himself the only worthy candidate. One is left with a concrete picture of Lincoln's political genius--derived from a character without malice or jealousy--which shaped the history of our nation. One is also left with the painful sense of how our history might have differed had Lincoln lived to guide the Reconstruction. Simultaneous release with the Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 26). (Nov.)[Page 58]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Goodwin (No Ordinary Time ) seeks to illuminate what she interprets as a miraculous event: Lincoln's smooth (and, in her view, rather sudden) transition from underwhelming one-term congressman and prairie lawyer to robust chief executive during a time of crisis. Goodwin marvels at Lincoln's ability to co-opt three better-born, better-educated rivals--each of whom had challenged Lincoln for the 1860 Republican nomination. The three were New York senator William H. Seward, who became secretary of state; Ohio senator Salmon P. Chase, who signed on as secretary of the treasury and later was nominated by Lincoln to be chief justice of the Supreme Court; and Missouri's "distinguished elder statesman" Edward Bates, who served as attorney general. This is the "team of rivals" Goodwin's title refers to.
The problem with this interpretation is that the metamorphosis of Lincoln to Machiavellian master of men that Goodwin presupposes did not in fact occur overnight only as he approached the grim reality of his presidency. The press had labeled candidate Lincoln "a fourth-rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar." But East Coast railroad executives, who had long employed Lincoln at huge prices to defend their interests as attorney and lobbyist, knew better. Lincoln was a shrewd political operator and insider long before he entered the White House--a fact Goodwin underplays. On another front, Goodwin's spotlighting of the president's three former rivals tends to undercut that Lincoln's most essential Cabinet-level contacts were not with Seward, Chase and Bates, but rather with secretaries of war Simon Cameron and Edwin Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.
These criticisms aside, Goodwin supplies capable biographies of the gentlemen on whom she has chosen to focus, and ably highlights the sometimes tangled dynamics of their "team" within the larger assemblage of Lincoln's full war cabinet. Agent, Amanda Urban. 400,000 first printing; BOMC, History Book Club main selection; film rights to Steven Spielberg/DreamWorld Entertainment. (Nov.)[Page 74]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.