I had been planning for some time to read “Team of Rivals,” by
Last week, when I reviewed Linda Robinson’s “Tell Me How This Ends,” I mentioned that I had heard General David Petraeus speak at Harvard’s
I thought I knew quite a bit about Abraham Lincoln, but Kearns research and writing in this book shed new light on many aspects of his life and presidency that I had been unaware of. For me, there was a special familial treat in reading about
I have written often – in this space and elsewhere – about the power of narrative. So, I was struck by a passage in which Goodwin recounts the early influence on
“Night after night, Thomas Lincoln would swap tales with visitors and neighbors while his young son sat transfixed in the corner. In these sociable settings, Thomas was in his element. A born storyteller, he possessed a quick wit, a talent for mimicry, and an uncanny memory for exceptional stories. These qualities would prove his greatest bequest to his son. Young Abe listened so intently to these stories, crafted from experiences of everyday life, that the words became embedded in his memory. Nothing was more upsetting to him, he recalled decades later, nothing made him angrier, than his inability to comprehend everything he was told.
After listening to adults chatter through the evening, he would spend, he said , 'no small part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of some of their, to me, dark sayings.’ Unable to sleep, he would reformulate the conversations until, as he recalled, ‘I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I knew to comprehend.’ The following day, having translated the stories into words and ideas that his friends could grasp, he would climb onto the tree stump or log that served as an impromptu stage and mesmerize his own circle of listeners. He had discovered the pride and pleasure an attentive audience could bestow. This great storytelling talent and oratorical skill would eventually constitute his stock-in-trade throughout both his legal and political careers. The passion for rendering life experience into powerful language remained with
What a marvelous picture of the origin of the headwaters of the river of eloquence that flowed from Lincoln’s mind and mouth and branded the 16th President as one of the greatest communicators in history. I once heard a great Black preacher talk about making complex concepts accessible to even the most humble members of the congregation: “Sometimes you just need to put the cookies on the lower shelf so all the folks can reach them!”
Another significant early influence on the inchoate leader was the power of reading to turn the prairie-bound lad into a vicarious world traveler:
“’There is no Frigate like a Book,’ wrote Emily Dickinson, ‘to take us Lands away.’ Though the young
“Finding a large crowd in the hallway, Douglass expected to wait hours before gaining an audience with the president. Minutes after presenting him card, however, he was called into the office. ‘I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man than in that of Abraham Lincoln,’ he later recalled. The president was seated in a chair when Douglass entered the room, ‘surrounded by a multitude of books and papers, his feet and legs were extended in front of his chair. On my approach he slowly drew his feet in from the different parts of the room into which they had strayed, and he began to rise.’ As
The section of Goodwin’s book that treats the events of
This is a book for our time. If you have not yet read it, bump it to the top of your list. I am glad I did.