As the 2012 commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War draws to a close, it seems fitting to pay tribute to the life of Abraham Lincoln, the most notable figure from that time. Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln, released nationwide on Nov. 9, took its inspiration from the final weeks of the war in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book itself focuses on Lincoln’s mostly successful attempts to reconcile conflicting personalities and political factions on the path to abolition and victory in the Civil War. One of the most poignant photographs of Lincoln was taken by Alexander Gardner during the time period portrayed in the film. Gardner had been a member of a team of photographers hired to make a visual record of the war. A poster-size rendering of this photograph, which was taken a mere two months before Lincoln’s assassination, hangs in the entrance to our library director’s office. [The poster was provided as part of the Picturing America series of artwork awarded to classrooms and libraries across the United States by the National Endowment for the Humanities in cooperation with the American Library Association, many others of which also grace the walls of the library.] It reveals a haggard 55-year-old president, weary and worried from his struggle to preserve the Union. The online library catalog lists more than 270 titles written about this great man. A few of the more recent ones are fictionalized such as “The Lincoln Conspiracy” by Timothy L. O’Brien, “The Lincoln Letter” by William Martin, and even an alternate history by Stephen Carter “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln”.
On an ancillary note, you might also consider checking out local author Mary Trindal’s book Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy about the boarding house owner who was convicted of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln and became the first women executed by the United States Government. The library also has a copy for checkout of Robert Redford’s film The Conspirator on the same topic.
But by all means, if you haven’t already read it, put Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin on your “must read” list. Though Goodwin can’t help but cover some familiar territory from many biographers before her, her perspective offers fresh insights into Lincoln’s leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation, something necessary for any great leader.