Book Review: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

There are many Lincoln autobiographies out there. This book goes into the detailed working of the his cabinet members during his presidency overseeing the biggest crisis of this young country – the Civil War over slavery. As a good lawyer, Lincoln realized there are always many perspectives to an argument. He brought together many of political foes (William Seward, Salmon Chase, Montgomery Blair, Edward Bates, his Republican nomination opposition) into one place so that the best solutions can be produced by the rigorous debates and proposals. Ultimately, Lincoln has the final say and took responsibilities for his decision. That’s the genius of Abraham Lincoln.

During the Civil War, he had to make many tough decisions on the selection of generals and strategy. He often had to push his generals, especially the self-serving McClellan, to move their troops with a sense of urgency. At the same time, he needed to maneuver around the meddling by the Congress. It took lots of patience and political smartness to maintain a sense of normalcy.

The Proclamation of Emancipation was a stroke of genius that kill two birds with one stone. Ultimately, it’s Lincoln’s act and the underlying intentions that won the hearts of the people as shown in his Gettysburg’s address.

I particularly like his quote, “… I have no other [ambition] so great that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rending myself worthy of their esteem.” With that goal in mind, he overcame many failures, personal tragedies, and constant state of depression. I think his genius lies in his love of people, his good understanding of human natures and his ability to communicate effectively.

This is a good leadership book for those who want to lead and advance a great cause or a great company. Building up a team of rivals is essential that difficult issues are properly debated and the right people are selected to execute the mission. It’s not easy as it takes a person of a big heart to foster that kind of environment. Lincoln showed the world why he will be remembered as one the best leaders this country and the world ever had.