Team of Rivals

by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Reviewed by Jeanne

An interesting, insightful read, if not always exciting.


An in-depth look at Abraham Lincoln's political genius as displayed in the formation of his cabinet, and how he made a team of men who were personally and politically rivals.


Pragmatism is the moral code generally adhered to. It should be understood that Abraham Lincoln, although a great president, was not the saint he is commonly portrayed to be and may very well not have been a Christian at all. Politicians debate whether to announce the emancipation of Negro slaves at once or to wait until a favorable time in the war, and even when the Emancipation Proclamation is given, it only affects "states in rebellion" - that is, those states over which the government has no control. Lincoln weighs the importance of not offending the border states with the necessity of emancipation. Many people support sending former slaves back to Africa.

The morality of many of Lincoln's decisions is debated, but the conclusion is usually that the decisions worked and therefore were right. The authoress does not draw any conclusions other than those pertaining to Lincoln's skill as a politician.

Spiritual Content

God and His Providence is mentioned in speeches and letters. Salmon Chase, one of the members of Lincoln's cabinet and a frequent back-stabber, is a very pious but self-righteous man. Mary Todd Lincoln uses seances and the like to "speak" with her dead son. Lincoln attends something similar for fun.


The horrors of war are a recurring theme. Casualty numbers are mentioned. The assassination of Lincoln and the attempted assassination of his Secretary of State, William Seward, is related in detail. There are also some violent scenes such as a carriage wreck.

Drug and Alcohol Content

General Grant's propensity to drink is mentioned.

Sexual Content

The flowery letter-writing style of the time is mentioned, as is the unlikelihood of several historical figures being homosexual. Kate Chase, the daughter of Salmon Chase, was involved with a married man when she was in her late teens. Her romance with a rich young man is chronicled, as is the unhappiness of the marriage that followed.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"S***" is used in its proper (though of course still crude) context.


"Team of Rivals" is an interesting, detailed, well-written account of Lincoln's presidency and how he kept the nation running. Ms. Goodwin does not deify Lincoln and, although she does not pass overt judgment on any of his actions, portrays him as he was through letters, first-hand accounts, and speeches. Nor does she focus only on Lincoln; she also presents side-by-side biographies of the top men in his cabinet, particularly William Seward (the man who purchased Alaska) and Salmon P. Chase. The glimpses into the lives of the men who made up Lincoln's cabinet, and into the lives of their family members, was especially interesting.

Not all of the book is equally exciting; the beginning, which goes through the backstories of the primary figures, is rather slow. It is, however, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Lincoln, the Civil War, and the United States in general.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: adult

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