Lincoln: Doris Kearns Goodwin: Review

Lincoln: Circa 2019


After what seems to be an unacceptably long time, I was finally able to finish the book on Lincoln that I got back in 2019 by Goodwin. I was not sure where to post this review as in the past I have used Goodreads, but I a sick of everyone else owning the information I write, so I figured that the best spot would be here on my website. I can always “syndicate” the content OUT from here if I feel like being especially social. As I mentioned before, this blog is less social, and more “here is a microphone on a platform” oriented. Back to the book!


My church took a trip to see the Lincoln museum in Springfield Illinois. This was in the deep beforetime of all the Covid nightmares which seems like quite some time ago. The museum offered us the chance to join some sort of Lincoln Friends of the Museum club which they referred to as the Time Traveler’s package or something like that. The idea was that you could come into the museum with special privileges since you were a time traveler and bring guests. Neat gimmick, right? Right. So we joined, as a church. For joining, you got to pick from several items, and one of the items availabe was this book. I therefore procured this book, and it got left in the back seat of my car up near the back window for about a year as everything went topsy-turvy with lockdowns and what I would term “cluster fucks”.


So, Lincoln kept staring at me from the reflection in the back window of my car and I kept thinking “Boy, I need to read that.” Between working on some computer networking and doing some grounds keeping, though, it seemed I rarely got the chance to do any reading. When I finally DID get to start reading it, 2020 was coming to a close and the fun of 2021 had begun.

What About The BOOK?

This book is well researched in the sense that it contains some interesting perspectives and source details on Lincoln. For instance, it mentions a barn fire where Lincoln kept his horses in Washington, which is not a frequently mentioned matter. The characters are brought to life in a multidimensional way such that their characters feel organic. We learn about the facets of the characters around Lincoln as well as those within the Lincoln family. Mary Lincoln makes some appearances, but hers are fairly narrow in scope and do not seem to be able to avoid the standard interpretations of what Mrs. Lincoln was or was not like. Mostly, the standard vituperative hell cat is present when it comes to her. Occasionally, the author says that perhaps her actions were warranted given climate X.

What Lincoln Was Reading

What Lincoln was reading and why is often a topic of discussion as well within the book. Against the backdrop of Stanton, we learn just how pissed off this made everyone because they regarded Lincoln’s sense of humor as being some impropriety to the post. Of course, had Lincoln been as grave as the undertaker, it is likely they would have also found that objectionable since he would have been as humorousless as a stump. What you learn about the history of the Civil War is that everyone is extremely opinionated about something, and someone else is to blame. The buck stops, of course, at Lincoln’s desk for most of the stuff people wanted to complain about. First, we learn, Lincoln is not radical enough. Then, later, he is too radical. Still later, he is too conservative. Later yet, he is not conservative enough. Mary Lincoln falls under a similar light. Everybody has some bitching to do, and of course, everyone knows how to solve the problem except no one appears to be doing it EXCEPT Lincoln and that is only after wrestling with what is essentially the entire nation.

Risks In Scholarship

Goodwin avoids taking any especially risky steps in her scholarship except addressing the ridiculouss claim that Lincoln was gay because he slept in the same bed as Joshua Speed. Shocker, he was not gay. That is about as far as her risk taking from the standard Lincoln narrative goes. Why is that disappointing? Well, I will tell you why.

Everybody Wanted Lincoln Dead

Everybody around Lincoln had a reason to want Lincoln dead since everyone saw him as an impediment or some chess piece to be overcome or used. However, the guys responsible for the death of Lincoln are primarily two: His Secretary of War–that is to say Stanton, and his Vice President–that is to say Johnson. There were plenty of others who were complicit in his murder such as some of the Radical Republicans. They all somewhat knew what was going to happen at the theater that night, since nearly everyone refused to go sit in the box with the President and Mrs. Lincoln. Standard scholarship does not address these matters because it paints the history of the US in a very, very distinctly different light from the story that is handed down. When you understand Stanton was actively plotting the death of Lincoln so he could, in his mind, become President you understand why he was weeping so much after his death. His own sin was before him. Likewise, you understand why Johnson seemed like some drunkard during his speech. He was drunk with the desire to become President which he would later do.


Yeah yeah, the south had reason to want Lincoln dead, but Lincoln was literally wounded to death in the house of his supposed friends due to ambition and envy. Then, the story was covered up. Goodwin does not get into any of these matters, but I cannot believe it was because she did not encounter any of the evidence of these issues in her research. Rather, nobody wants to make movies about the truth as a general rule, because the truth makes people squirm in their seats when they learn that all these “Fine Christian men” plotted a murder of the man who brought them through the most troubled time the nation had then known. Booth, in the end, was just a patsy who thought everyone would love him for what he did. He did not think he would simply be another pawn in the crimson red game of chess being played.


Still, even though Goodwin did not have the courage to go into the eye of the storm on these issues, that hardly makes her unique among Lincoln authors. All the ones that DO go into these subjects seem to wind up marginalized. It is a little like the Russian Collusion narrative concerning Trump. Whatever the truth of it is, you better not go near it because it is as radioactive as a subject matter as you can hope to find. Wouldn’t that normally make you suspicious? Anytime there is something so touchy that just the mention of it makes people bristle, somebody, somewhere is trying to hide something. If you do not believe me, just catch your children with the hands in the cookie jar.

When Murderers Get Along…

Murderers get along when they are facing a common foe. It was so with Lincoln and his Cabinet. When the danger has passed, though, that is when the “chickens come home to roost”. Indeed, the chickens all plotted and schemed to get the war over with Lincoln at the head, and then everyone thought that they could do the job of Reconstruction. Instead, they all caused a rift in the nation that still has not fully healed to this day. Great job, guys!

Do You Think It Is Any Different Today?

Do you think, today, that the world is any different? Everywhere things do not make sense, someone is hiding some motive for some reason. You cannot swing a dead Talaco–ahem, I meant CAT, without hitting something that does not make sense. Conclusion? Some very ambitious people are still trying to do the Lincoln act. Problem is, they, and by extension everyone else, is out of time for that.

Check Out The Book…

If you wanted detailed, cowardly scholarship that is not taking many risks. In other words, check it out if you want to basically understand a modern academic understanding. Other than that, you would be better off reading something like Dark Union which is courageous enough to advance another sort of thesis. Right or wrong, at least that work tries to explain something that has historically made little sense.

JB Schirtzinger

Jacksonville, USA
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