Monday, May 25, 2009

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

About Lincoln
This is a comprehensive book about one of the greatest, if not the greatest US President, Abraham Lincoln. It tells grippingly of the political campaign that won him the surprising nomination and it focuses on his magnanimity in forgiving his rivals and elevating them to significant positions in his team.

Hologram History
Pulitzer Prize winning author, Doris Kearns Goodwin, has a remarkable ability to popularize history without ‘dumbing down’ or ‘gilding the lily’. Like her subject, she writes in colorful language and with vivid images. For instance she likens her approach to seeing through a hologram:

“Just as a hologram is created through the interference of light from separate sources, so the lives and impressions of those who companioned Lincoln give us a clearer and more dimensional picture of the president himself.” (pxv)

Lincoln and Obama
Team of Rivals has been billed as “the book that inspired Barack Obama.” This statement and his recommendation—“a wonderful book…a remarkable study in leadership”—has done much to see this 900 page history book selling over one million copies.

Readers will be tantalized to identify the similarities between the two presidents—their emergence from humble beginnings, their indebtedness to their mothers, their rise from obscurity, their inexperience compared to their opponents, their stirring oratory, their hands-on training in grassroots politics and their coming to the White House at a time of crisis and war.

Study in Leadership
Subtitled, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin makes a study of her subject’s leadership qualities—his ability to connect with people through apt stories, his passion for rendering experience and practical wisdom into powerful language, his skill in moral persuasion, his strategy to give offense to no one, his sense of understanding the pulse of his people, his ability to earn trust and the possession of a mysterious persona that set him apart from others.

The book tells of dreams, ambitions, disappointments, mistakes, Lincoln’s attentiveness to regulating his emotional balance, and the ways he found relief from the burdens of the office. It is interesting throughout the scope of this book to observe Lincoln’s growing confidence, his ease in exercising leadership and also his increasing despondency, through bearing the strains of war, controversy and personal grief.

Lovers of speechmaking will enjoy learning about the process by which Lincoln’s speeches were crafted (including the Gettysburg Address) and the immediate impression that his oratory made on his hearers.

Appointing a team of rivals (‘like a crossword puzzle’) is one step, but how Lincoln forged them into a powerful force, is the thesis of this book.

And More
Readers will experience the tension of the political campaigns, sense the challenge of abolishing slavery without splitting the country, gain insights into the tantrums of the First Lady, discover details on the renovations at the White House and learn of the intrigue amid the social life of the elite in the capital.

Team of Rivals will prove to be the definitive manual for US Presidents and all those seeking to be effective leaders.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (London: Penguin Books, 2005, 2009).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 72.00.

Excerpts from the book on Lincoln’s ability as a storyteller are posted at this link: ‘Abraham Lincoln the Storytelling President,’ Stories for Speakers and Writers.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Team of Rivals.