Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: "Team of Rivals", Part 2

I'll just add a few more things to what I wrote in yesterday's post.

I always look for faults in book, either in the writing, the organization, the failure to communicate--anything--and report them in my reviews. I'm hard pressed to find any in this one. If there is one, it may be that it paints Lincoln as a man with almost no faults.

Maybe it's just that he was so adept at managing his cabinet (which is, after all, the purpose of the book) that it appears he did so faultlessly. If from reading this it appears Lincoln had a fault, it might be that he was too slow to act in many instances. However, that could also be seen as a virtue, depending on your point of view. Today we might all wish our president moved a little slower on some issues. Lincoln sometimes seemed to move agonizingly slow on some things. As Doris Kearns Goodwin says, he tended to be a good judge of popular opinion and not move far ahead of it. He waited for popular opinion to catch up with events and with what he wanted to do. Then, when he made his move, the public would seem to be behind him.

The role of the press is carefully brought out in the book. Today, with all the talk of media bias, we tend to forget that in Lincoln's day newspapers were biased and unashamed of it. The Democrats had their newspapers and the Republicans theirs. Each reported in a partisan way. Between them, the balance was struck.

One lack I felt as I read the book, which could not be helped due to the limitations on the subject, was being totally cut off from what was going on in the South during the war. We are presented the North's side of things, but have no idea what the South was doing, thinking, feeling, wishing. That cannot be helped, for the South was not the subject of the book. Still, I might rather the book had run 50 pages longer and we had a few more paragraphs now and then about the Southern viewpoint and activities.

The last chapter, which deals with Lincoln's assassination, brought me some new information. I had no idea that this was a plot among several people and that Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson were also targets, and that Seward's assassin was almost successful. I thought the book well pointed out how Lincoln's death was a tragedy for the South. The same plodding forbearance Lincoln demonstrated during the war would have served the South well during Reconstruction, and possibly eliminated much of the animosity that even now exists between the two regions.

Edited in on 26 June 2009: Kearns has an odd way of handling notes for sources. Well, to me it is odd; possibly it is a standard method for this type of publication. The book is heavily dependent on a large number of independent sources. Rather than use footnotes, Kearns uses endnotes, not at the end of the chapter but after the end of the story. However, she does not provide a superscripted note reference at the location within the text. Rather, where the notes are, she quotes a short piece of text, eliding much, and indicates the source. This, I suppose, is less distracting then those having those superscripts. A typical page of text would have ten endnotes. However, I like footnotes, even more so than endnotes. I would rather have the superscripts on the page, letting me know this material was taken from some primary source. I am more likely to check the note than with the method Kearns uses. This, of course, is an incredibly picky comment.

As I said in my last post, the book is well written, highly readable yet scholarly, and did not at all seem as long as the page numbers indicated. Read it. You will be better for it.

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