Team of Rivals - my own notes 1/2

Delving into Goodwin's Team of Rivals, one makes a number of unsettling discoveries. The main thing is that there is a huge discrepancy between the marketing memes and what the book actually is and tries to do.

The main marketing gloss appears in a blurb from James McPherson: "Goodwin has brilliantly described how Lincoln forged a team that preserved a nation..." In her book tours, this was a talking point. I believe it was an easy way for people to understand why this new biography was worth reading.

I don't find this claim in the introduction to her book nor in the text. She sets for herself the task of writing a comparative biography in which Lincoln is at the center; her method is to use neglected primary sources; her vehicle is narrative with almost no analysis. The closest she comes to the generally known marketing claim is to say that Lincoln made himself captain of a pack of rivals; I see no evidence of a claim for teamwork or functionality. Garry Wills summed up this way: "[Lincoln's] political shrewdness ends up being indistinguishable from wisdom."

It is a credit to the marketers and Goodwin herself that among the enormous number of blurbs selected to pepper the paperback edition, none except McPherson's, plays into the notion of a functioning, working team forged by Lincoln. Here we would do well to recall the earlier title of the book, Master of Men.

This is a tale of manipulation for the higher good: that kind of mastery. Men who detested each other could not be made to function as a "team" but could be conned into serving Lincoln's ends. Or to put it in Lincoln-friendly terms, "A portrait of Lincoln as a virtuosic politician and managerial genius" (N.Y. Times). The "managerial genius" BTW refers to the management of his own agenda, not to management of a body of advisors.

And so, it seems like missing the mark for me to launch a series of posts ridiculing a meme that portrays a team forged by managerial genius. But few people realize how enormously bad Lincoln's cabinets were, tempermentally and functionally; nor do they understand how badly managed his cabinets were. In this culture, where hype can become reality , there is a danger that the notion of a "Team of Rivals" will take root. The series will continue.