Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

By Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 944 pages, $35)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is Doris Kearns Goodwin's first book since the scandal of 2002, in which Goodwin admitted to plagiarizing portions of her 1987 history of the extended Kennedy clan, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. When one considers Goodwin's research methods, it's easy to see how such an error could occur. Goodwin's style is to focus on a distinct aspect of an otherwise well-worn subject and then to research her topic to within an inch of its life, quoting liberally from primary and secondary sources, as well as sources with no apparent connection to her subject at all. She simply can't bear to leave anything out. The Kennedy book got her in trouble because, after blathering on for 900-plus pages, she lost track of what she'd copied and what she'd composed herself. Team of Rivals, Goodwin's 900-plus-page postmortem of Abraham Lincoln's relations with his cabinet, overcompensates for this blunder: Tanker trucks of ink were spilled to print the legions of quotation marks and voluminous endnotes included in this book. Goodwin sometimes quotes three or more passages per page but often doesn't identify the source of a quote until the endnotes. So, in her account of the Buchanan inauguration, for instance, it's unclear, without flipping to her notes, whether she's quoting eyewitness testimony, a later historian's reconstruction, a later historian quoting an eyewitness, or all three. Goodwin has much to say about Honest Abe that readers will find illuminating: She pretty convincingly refutes the notion, raised by Kinsey psychologist C.A. Tripp, that the log-cabin Republican may have been a Log Cabin Republican (gay, that is). Goodwin also restores Secretary of State William H. Seward's rightful reputation as a rival who may have envied Lincoln but risked his own political standing to back him during the secession crisis. It's too bad Goodwin didn't spend as much time grooming her own insights into Lincoln's character as she did quoting (and scrupulously citing) the opinions of others.

Doris Kearns Goodwin appears as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures series at First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., 227-2583. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 22. $5-$12.