Visionary leadership in ‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln introduced me to the writing of Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian “best known for authoring biographies of American presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln” (Biography.com).

While interesting to note that Goodwin has treated three presidents that died in office, as well as a fourth that succeeded the last to die while in office, the subject of this review is my reading of Goodwin’s treatment of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Team of Rivals 2(Doris Kearns Goodwin)

While I felt going into this reading that I had a fairly decent layperson’s understanding for the way that history viewed the sixteenth president of the United States, what I found with this reading is that my understanding was (and perhaps still is) a largely textbook understanding of the man and his presidency as offered through some of my grade school, high school, and slight introduction to the man in college.

Team of Rivals introduced to me some of the means for how Abraham Lincoln went about making decisions, receiving information, taking advice and council from those around him, and largely had a keen insight tempered with reflection that guided a compassionate, and perhaps a largely Midwestern United States viewpoint, of the larger world. The means and feeling of these points were revealed in a way that helps me understand the man in a way that a history class would not.

I enjoyed getting to know Lincoln, Senator William Henry Seward of New York, Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and judge Edward Bates of St. Louis, Missouri, the four men who, together with Lincoln, made up the first candidates of the political party in the United States that today is called the Republican Party, even if the politics of what a Republican was then is quite different than today. It is partly through the introduction to these men that Kearns Goodwin offers what was a partly well known tale:

“The unifying theme is the growing sectional polarization over the issues of slavery and its expansion. But each story follows a separate track until they begin to converge with the death of the Whig Party and the birth of the Republican Party in the mid-1850’s.”–quote borrowed from a 2005 New York Times review of the book by James M. McPherson.

The four men entered Lincoln’s cabinet when he became president following his 1860 election. The men disliked each other, yet served the president well in large part owing to Lincoln’s deft, compassionate insight into human motivation. The book gets into how Lincoln conducted the war and politics, not so much the interpersonal touches that I found in reading about Theodore Roosevelt at the hands of Edmund Morris.

Team of Rivals 3(The team of rivals)

Since I came away with the reward of new insight and a larger understanding for the professional relationships that Abraham Lincoln had in his presidency, I give Team of Rivals 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, September 9, 2017

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George Stephanopoulos apologizes to his ideals in All Too Human in recapping service to U.S. President Bill Clinton

All Too Human by George Stephanopoulos serves as a young yet powerful political consultant’s experience inside the presidential administration of former United States President Bill Clinton. The presentation is largely early presidential career biography with firsthand storytelling for Stephanopoulos in his early 30’s, from transition to the 1992 campaign for president through much of Clinton‘s first of two terms as United States President in 1996. This book gives insight into much of Stephanopoulos‘ role within the campaign, the first term administration, and offers the political junkie a lens through which to see a layperson’s view into the day-to-day of becoming, then serving, inside a presidential administration.

All Too Human 2 (George Stepanopoulos)

George Stephanopoulos spends much of All Too Human apologizing for his actions in serving idealism and ambition as a political aide to the most powerful person in the world. He ends up confessing to an endless compromise of pragmatic decisions that wound up undercutting the good fight for an agenda that he, Stephanopolous wanted for the administration of 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

All Too Human 3 (Former First Lady and President Hillary and Bill Clinton)

Much of my motivation for reading the book, which I started last fall when I thought that Clinton would wind up in the White House again as First Gentleman, was to reacquaint myself with the dynamic of both Bill Clinton and former U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Getting to know them more, through the eyes of somebody near the inside for the better part of five years, seemed like a way to gain insight.

Truth be told, I struggled through much of the second part of the book because I lived so much of the Bill Clinton presidential narrative the first time around. The nature of the advice and council that Stephanopoulos offered never really is addressed in the book, though largely I think his role was to be a voice in the room, understand the moods of the president and his wife while serving as a buffer for them, and to sometimes help as speechwriter.

All Too Human 4 (Bob Woodward)

It was interesting to see how Stephanopoulos was played a bit, within the evaluation of the Clintons and others, for bad council that Stephanopoulos had given in offering background for Bob Woodward‘s book The Agenda. It was interesting to see how Stephanopoulos butted heads with Dick Morris, who championed much of the re-election campaign for Bill Clinton‘s second presidential term by moving the president from many Democratic Party positions in America towards, at the time, more Republican Party positions.

All Too Human 5 (Dick Morris)

I sense from Stephanopoulos own account that he never came to grips with accepting, if even understanding, much of why the Clintons needed Morris for getting a second term. I think this was evidence that fed the narrative feeling of the tale; the tale of of George Stephanopoulos losing some degree of influence and idealism and suffering over the loss of the moral platform that he felt he shared with former president Bill Clinton.

Overall, the presentation was clearly and forthrightly told. While difficult to stay with at times, I found myself entertained. My rating for the book is 3-stars out of 5 stars.

Matt – Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Year in Reading 2016 Part 2 – Nonfiction

Continuing with the example of the New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks on Twitter), this reading list for 2016 includes works of non-fiction read this past year.

  • “Colonel Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris on 9/12/16 – 4/5 stars.

With The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, Colonel Roosevelt completed a satisfying 3-volume look at the life of the 26th president of the United States.

A man of his time, the colorful, multifaceted, military progressive leader was a proponent of projecting military power with a well-read personality. Looking at Roosevelt 100-years later, I see an embodiment of the contradiction of a country wherein he was macho trending to misogyny, a man-of-the-world trending toward racist / antagonist of “hyphenated-Americans,” a naturalist / conservationist that liked to hunt / kill for food, sport, death, and trophy. He also was well-read yet anti-dielectic, progressive yet conservative, insightful about male human nature yet bullying.

As argued in the book, Theodore Roosevelt quite possibly was the most interesting American of his time. The narrative of this three-book biography told an interesting, human story of Roosevelt the man, the leader, the servant, the husband, the father, and the rest. The volumes worked. I recommend them should you be inclined to read them.

  • “Cleopatra: A Life” by Stacy Schiff on 11/08/16 – 4/5 stars.

Quality biography of a time, place, and sensibility of a world, woman, and the circles of a queen that are largely unknowable due to time and tellings lost to the principle that “history is told by the victors.”

The life that can be gleaned is remarkable and presented in today’s terms quite fairly, in my opinion. That a Pulitzer Prize winning woman, Stacy Schiff, tells this story helps the quality of the narrative, in my opinion. Certainly there is context I would have struggled to bring out. Schiff also is talking to an American audience that can appreciate how certain analogies were placed in a context informed by Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Cleopatra.

Some reviews on Goodreads mention finding the writing style somewhat verbose. Taking that further, the decision to not separate paragraphs more was mentioned. I disagree.

4-stars out of five.

 

Matt – Wednesday, December 21, 2016