Aha—the book club selection for March . . . remember March? Well, we met and discussed (what we had read of ) the book. I had read to page 503 of 783 pages and stopped. One member only read it entirely—good for her! you say.
And hurray for me while you’re at it—I renewed the book and began reading again at page 503 and finished it! I had missed reading it at nighttime–so glad I kept at it and finished it properly. (this added May 3rd).
Yes, it’s long, but hey, Goodwin is good! A blurb on the back says the book is
“absorbing’. I can’t go quite that far, but it IS good and interesting to read.
The book (published in 2005)starts out with the election in 1860 of four candidates and Goodwin leads us through their biographies in such an interesting way that I found my self wondering who I should “root” for to win: Seward from New York, Chase from Ohio or Bates from ST. Louis. But then I stopped and said, Hey, wait! I’m rooting for Lincoln! And maybe I don’t have to tell you that he won the nomination–
The campaign, like many, had been tough and rife with bad feelings and false accusations (against Lincoln), but still, Lincoln recognized that FOR HIS COUNTRY, the best choices for his new cabinet posts were these men! Team of rivals–get it? And yet, from this page on, Seward, Chase and Bates never give up their dreams of becoming president some day. Chase loses two wives, but has an elder daughter, Kate, who takes over the position of hostess for her father’s entertaining and throughout the book ably commands a winning role in Washington for Chase.
The book primarily covers the period of the unsettling Civil War and Lincoln’s quest to hold the country together over the divisive issue of slavery. Some southern states secede and there is always the risk of others doing so as well as continental Europe siding with the south because they need the cotton that the south produces with the help of slave labor.
And yet, it’s not really a Civil War book, more of a people and personalities of the times book. Goodwin tells some with tongue in cheek. For instance, one wily politician of the times was Simon Cameron, who has a famous quote of saying that “The only honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought.”
Later in the book, Cameron is appointed Secretary of War despite a
questionable history/resume of honesty. Soon disaster strikes and it is found that millions of dollars, millions of dollars have been squandered by the War Dept on rifles that don’t work, horses that are blind and so on. It is noted that Cameron has no decent records to consult. A congressman from Ohio, Albert Riddle, says at the time that when Cameron was asked about the progress of a
particular matter, “he would look about, find a scrap of paper, borrow your pencil, make a note, put the paper in one pocket of his trousers and your pencil in the other.”
This kind of ineptness flourished along with a myriad of jealousies among the Cabinet and military generals, making Lincoln’s job of being president like a
cartoon of herding cats.
Still, he remained steadfast and true to the people he had appointed and would often take the blame himself for plans gone awry rather than embarrass an inferior officer under him.
This was a time in America when the young country was flourishing and ready for qualified educated young men to take advantage of opportunities. In the week of Lincoln’s inauguration thousands of people flooded the White House looking for positions and opportunities in the new administration. Lincoln met and spoke with them all despite his aides’ advice to ignore them.
Doris Kearns Goodwin is well known for her historical writings and she has done an outstanding job with Lincoln. The book is also a pleasure because of all of the pages of historial photographs included.
Mary Todd Lincoln is given a more forgiving portrait in this book—and her volunteer work during the Civil War in the hospitals in Washington DC is noted, as well as that of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott.
Altogether, an interestingj–maybe even absorbing read–try it. Our book for April is Dead Wake by Eric Larson–the Lusitania saga.
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